World Wildlife Day: From Traps to Stupas—Conservation Story of Ladakh’s Wolves Using Community-Based PARTNERS Approach | The Weather Channel – Articles from The Weather Channel

Vast expanse at Hanle in Changthang

(Udayan Rao Pawar/Nature Conservation Foundation)

Not long ago, enforcement agencies considered local communities a threat to conservation, driving them away from “reserved” forests and blocking their access to natural resources like honey and fodder. Repeated conflicts remained widespread and constant from colonial times up until recent years.

After decades of struggle, policies worldwide slowly started to recognise the rights of local communities. Over the past few years, however, conservationists have begun recognising them as assets and partners.

Community-based conservation is a relatively new concept that emerged in the 1980s, promoting the idea that long-term success in conservation mandates two-way collaboration with local communities. This new approach also involves several principles, among which PARTNERS (Presence, Aptness, Respect, Transparency, Negotiation, Empathy, Responsiveness, and Strategic Support) has been gaining prominence since 2017. Such principles help address the numerous conservation challenges in landscapes with complex human -animal interactions

Ladakh is one such mountain landscape exhibiting a complex relationship between the native communities and its unique biodiversity. Among the traditional livestock rearing preventive communities here, a common practice is the retaliatory or killing of large predators like wolves. How can one navigate this challenge where the human-animal conflict stems from the basic necessity to protect one’s livelihood?

This World Wildlife Day, let’s relive this story of how conservationists from the Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF) convinced livestock rearing communities to turn the traditional wolf traps into religious stupas to conserve wolves.

Shangdong, a traditional wolf trap (Rigzen Dorjay / Nature Conservation Foundation)

Shangdong, a traditional wolf trap

(Rigzen Dorjay / Nature Conservation Foundation)

Karma Sonam, a field manager at NCF, says that they gained the communities’ trust using the PARTNERS principles approach. Last year he received the NatWest Earth Hero Award for his efforts.

“We built long-term relationships with multiple visits and interactions (following the principles of Presence, Respect, Transparency, and Empathy) before we initiated actual conservation interventions. Amongst other learnings, this helped us understand that the intention behind killing wolves was purely to protect their livestock (Respect, Empathy). We did not entertain or pursue any wish to penalise community members involved in hunting wolves, nor did we seek to destroy the Shandongwhich represents an important part of the cultural heritage (Aptness, Respect, Transparency),” explains Sonam.

The traditional trapping pits, locally known as Shandong, is the most prevalent practice of killing wolves in the region. These last pits have inverted funnel-shaped stone walls with a live domestic animal as a bait, explains the study. The trapped wolves cannot escape due to the shape of the pits and are usually stoned to death despite prohibition under India’s wildlife protection laws.

The neutralised Shangdong and stupa at Tsaba valley (Rigzen Dorjay/Nature Conservation Foundation)

The neutralised Shangdong and stupa at Tsaba valley

(Rigzen Dorjay/Nature Conservation Foundation)

The researchers recorded nearly 100 such pits among the surveyed communities in just 3 of the six blocks, many of which were still active. In 2017, researchers proposed neutralizing the Shandong while maintaining the cultural heritage by building a stupa. They also initiated discussions with religious leaders and scholars and witness enthusiasm among the local community towards conservation.

“Our conservation initiative is founded on and strengthens the links between culture, ecology, and conservation,” says the study. However, researchers warn that one should not be view such efforts in isolation. A mere shutdown of such practices without involving communities may lead to increased livestock followed predation by wolves, by other forms of retaliatory killings. Therefore, such comprehensive approaches to community-based conservation hold the key to long-term success.

The study describing the entire initiative was published in the reputed journal Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution last week and can be accessed here.

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