Want a long trek in the Himalayas? Curl up with a great read.

January 27, 2010

Garry Weare

I’ve just finished a wonderful book about the Himalayas. Snow leopard country. It’s called “A long walk in the Himalayas – a trek from the Ganges to Kashmir” by Garry Weare.

Weare’s story of his five-month trek from the sacred source of the Ganges through the Kullu Valley, remote mountains of Zanskar and Ladakh (known as Little Tibet) to his beloved houseboat on a lake in Kashmir is an entertaining read. Throughout many years of travel in the Himalayas he has come to know the region, its peoples and cultures well and he writes about them with compassion, empathy and understanding.

"A long walk in the Himalayas"

Weare has serious Himalaya credentials. He’s a life member of the Himalayan Club, a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, a noted mountain photographer and a founding director of the Australian Himalayan Foundation.

The book is a travel log, a meditation on walking, a memoir of places visted and loved and a tale of adventure. His journey, which is taken with a secret stash of rum and whisky, involved walking 2500 kilometres, most of it above 5000 metres and crossing at least 20 passes, a tough experience and he lost over 15 kilos.

During a trek in September 1995 Garry was lucky to actually see a snow leopard. “I had left camp early to cross the Konze La, a pass in western Ladakh. There had been an unseasonable snowfall and ….I stopped to watch a herd of yaks. At that point I sensed I was not the only one watching the yaks. Glancing around I caught a glimpse of a large cat. I had seen enough snow leopards in zoo enclosures to know what I was looking at. I just had a glimpse and no more but it was sufficient and for a while I did not move, hoping against hope that the elusive cat would reappear. It was not to be.”

Garry recently tod me, “The cat sighting was after a particular early but heavy snowfall in September. However as you appreciate the best opportunity to get a cat sighting is during the winter soon after the first winter snowfall when the bharal (Himalayan blue sheep, a favourite snow leopard prey) head to the valleys and the cats follow.” Lucky him!! Is all I can say.

Currently Garry is working on a Primary Health Care project in Zanskar and Ladakh, Northern India supported by the Australian Himalayan Foundation. The project trains the local Amchis, traditional faith healers in basic western medical advice.  Often these Amchi are the only medical help available to villagers in remote parts of the mountains. Last year the ABC’s ‘Foreign Correspondent’ did a segment on this project (see it here.) Absolutely fascinating.

You can support this and other Australian Himalayan Foundation projects here.

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Forest fires threaten snow leopards in Nepal

January 19, 2010

Annapurna ranges from my last trek in the region in 2004.

Over the years I’ve heard of many different threats to the survival of snow leopards in the wild. In Nepal it now turns out that forest fires are also a threat to the cats. Last week a fire in the Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP) broke out after two hotel porters threw marijuana stubs onto a heavily wooded area.

“Though there have been no human casualties, forests of rhododendron and nigalo (arrow bamboo) worth millions of rupees have been destroyed in the fire. Many endangered species may have also died in the fire.” ACAP´s Ghandruk office chief Sudeep Adhikari said.

ACAP Project Director Lal Prasad Gurung said he has not seen fire on such scale in his 25-year conservation career and that the region is home to snow leopards and tahr (a large wild goat that is a prey species of the snow leopard) as well as numerous other animals. (Full story here.)

I live in Melbourne Victoria and know all too well the danger of bush or wildfire. Sadly we had horrendous fires here in February last year with the loss of 173 lives. Melbourne Zoo officials estimated millions of wild animals like kangaroos, koalas, wombats, possums and birds lost their lives in those fires too.


Rare bird joins snow leopards in Afghanistan

January 19, 2010
Photo WCS.

Photo by WCS.

“Researchers for the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) have discovered for the first time the breeding area of the large-billed reed warbler — dubbed in 2007 as “the world’s least known bird species” — in the remote and rugged Wakhan Corridor of the Pamir Mountains of north-eastern Afghanistan. Situated between the mountainous regions of the Pamirs in Tajikistan, Pakistan, and China, the Wakhan Corridor supports a surprisingly wide range of large mammal species, including Marco Polo sheep (or argali), ibex, lynx, wolf, and the elusive snow leopard.” (Full story here.)

WCS camera trap photo of snow leopard 2009.

When I read this story this week I recalled that in August last year the WCS found evidence of snow leopards in the region too. (Read blog post here.)So what is this Wakhan corridor and why is it still home to rare birds and snow leopards at a time of such massive conflict in this country for the last 30 years?

Turns out (according to Wikipedia) the Wakhan Corridor is a long and slender land corridor along the easternmost section of Afghanistan in the Pamir Mountains. It’s approximately 210 kilometres (100 miles) long and between 20 kilometres (10 miles) and 60 kilometres (40 miles) wide.

It’s named after the Wakhan region of Afghanistan and connects the country to China in the east. It was once part of the Silk Road, the trade route that for hundreds of years connected central Asia with the Mediterranean countries. The Wakhan corridor region only has about 10,000 people and is one of the most peaceful regions in the country today. Both the low population and the fact that it isn’t an active war zone have made it possible for biologists to find this rare bird and snow leopards in the region in recent years. Let’s hope the objective of the WCS to establish a large wildlife protected area here can be pulled off.


“My grandmother says”….a story of snow leopards

January 13, 2010

"My grandma says" childrens book about snow leopards.A few years ago after I returned from a trek in the Mustang region of western Nepal with a wonderful guide, Binod Rana, he introduced me to his brother, Dipak. Dipak was doing community work and fundraising for a school in a village in the Langtang region and I wondered what I could do to help. One afternoon I went to that fabulous Kathmandu institution, Pilgrim’s Bookstore in Thamel…boy can I spend time and money there!

Anyway I found a beautiful book called “My grandmother says” about a young girl looking after wild snow leopards and helping to educate her friends about snow leopards in Nepal. This lovely little book was produced with the help of the Snow Leopard Conservancy and published in English and Nepali. I had a great idea. I bought a hundred copies and gave them to the village school. Dipak told me the kids loved them.

It turns out the Snow Leopard Conservancy has now produced another edition in English, Chinese and Tibetan. It would make a beautiful gift for any young child. The drawings are lovely and the story an inspiring one about young people and caring for their environment. If you have some young children in your life or are a teacher they would be an enjoyable read and a learninge experience. You can purchase the book from the Conservancy here.


Sleeping in a cave to save snow leopards and report on Himalayan climate change

January 12, 2010

Navin Singh Khadka, environmental journalist for the BBC. Photo by The Nepal Monitor.

Navin Singh Khadka is an environmental journalist from Nepal with a keen interest in how climate change is affecting the Himalayas. Currently based in London, he is an Environment Reporter for BBC News.

Navin has had some tough adventures doing his work. In today’s interview with The Nepal Monitor he not only talks about climate change coverage in Nepal’s media but also how he once battled altitude sickness to cover a story about risks faced by Everest porters (see story here) and slept in a mountain cave doing a story on snow leopard poaching.

Navin Singh Khadka at 4000m with Sherpa porters. Photo by BBC.

Asked what inspired him to become an environmental reporter and focus on climate change Navin says – “Environment has been one area I have been consistently and intensively covering since I began journalism more than one and a half decades ago. Wildlife used to be my favorite beat, and I have slept in caves in trans-Himalayan region to investigate, for instance, poaching of Snow leopard. But over the years I have witnessed how climate change is changing our natural environment, and that is how I was drawn into covering this phenomenal global issue. With so much of regional and global politics increasingly surrounding it, as a journalist, there is no looking back, I guess.

“Reporting climate issues for the BBC Nepali service is quite satisfying as I can reach millions of those very rural people who are already bearing the brunt of climate impacts but have no idea about climate change.” Read the full story here.

See Video of Navin talking about climate change in Nepal.


Enjoying snow! Superacrobatic snow leopard!

January 9, 2010

Blizzard, the young female snow leopard at the Port Lympne Animal Park in Kent, UK. She’s just over 3 years old and had to be hand reared after her mother, Kosh died when Blizzard was 8 weeks old. But today she’s a fit cat and doing wonderful acrobatics in the snow during a cold snap in the UK this week. Pic from BBC website.


Herders leaving way of life as climate change affects them

January 8, 2010

A former nomad is now trying to earn a living as a weaver in Ladakh, Indian Himalaya, as climate change impacts her traditional way of life. Photo by Nisa Khatoon, WWF.

With the Copenhagen conference late last year I posted a few stories on how climate change is affecting the Himalayas and in consequence the local people and the wildlife. Researchers recently found dramatic changes in Ladakh, northern India where nomads made their living for centuries herding goats, yak and sheep. They found that many herders have abandoned this way of life as huge fluctutaions in winter snowfall threatens livestock. If there is too much snow the animals can’t reach the fodder and die of starvation.

But in this desert mountain land where 80% of farmers and herders depend on snow melt for water it is the increasing years of too little snow which leads to drought and changes in pastures. It also means frequent locust swarms destroying crops and traditional grasses which are replaced by unplatable new grass that animals won’t eat.

“The grasses have started to die out due to less level of snowfall in the region. It has been a continuing phenomenon for a decade or so, and now it has become alarming,” said Nisa Khatoon, a researcher with the World Wildlife Fund based at Leh.

Ladakh is a part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir in northern India. The whole region is in the high Himalayas. The capital Leh is at 4000m. Ladakh's culture is based on Tibetan Buddhism and it is sometimes called "Little Tibet." Map from Wikipedia.

Today there are over 50 former nomad families in Leh, capital of Ladakh, trying to earn a living by newer means. “Some of them have set up small shops selling various items while most the women are working as daily wage labourers,” Khatoon said.

“Some of us have started tea shops and shops selling various items,” said Csawang Rigzin, who gave up his nomadic life three years ago. Now “we are not able to earn up to our expectation. We had high hopes when we came here but now we are shattered economically,” he said.

Thiksey monastery is one of the main Buddhist monasteries near Leh. Photo from Wikipedia.

“Many of the nomads sold off their livestock and went to the town to seek a better place but now they feel they are nowhere economically,” said Rigzin Chondol of the Snow Leopard Conservancy, which is active in the area. “Earlier a nomad family used to earn a good amount of money, which often used to be 50,000 to 60,000 rupees ($1,100 to $1,300) a year but now they are not able to make savings.” Full story here.