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.


Russian borscht recipe…Russia is also home to snow leopards

January 6, 2010

The Borscht I made today. A very easy recipe and the soup is delicious.

Late last year when this blog celebrated its first birthday I said I’d cook a recipe from every country that has snow leopards (12 of them.) So far I’ve posted a Mongolian recipe – Buuz, a savoury pastry filled with meat and Tibetan Khapseys – a  Tibetan New Year bread like donut.

Russia is another country with snow leopards, current estimates around 100 cats although this number has not been confirmed for some years. The southwestern Siberian Republic of Altai has prime snow leopard habitat although poaching unfortunately is still happening with helicopters being used for illegal shooting of the cats and their prey, the big Argali. See story here.

But to get back to the recipe…..there are more Borscht recipes than there are Russian grandmothers and naturally everyone believes theirs to be the best. This one is a very simple one, evolved from one of my German grandmothers who made some great soups. Like most Borscht it can be eaten either hot or cold, although I prefer hot, the flavour being more tangy. I also like the fact that most of the vegetable in this recipe is beet, a flavour I really like and don’t get to eat too often.

You can adapt this simple recipe with other vegetables depending on what you have in your kitchen at the time. As well as Russia there are many other countries that have Borscht including Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, Romania.

6-8 beetroots, cut small and cubed
oil for braising (I use olive)
1 sliced onion
½ litre stock (you can use beef but I prefer chicken – homemade is always best but sometimes bought stock is more practical)
Handfull of chopped cabbage
2 carrots, sliced finely (optional)
2 potatoes sliced and cubed (optional)
1 diced tomato (optional)
Salt and pepper, sour cream and parsley

Braise sliced onions in oil and add cubed beetroots and chopped cabbage, braise for a few minutes. Add stock and turn up heat until boiling.If you have any optional vegetables add them now. Turn heat down and simmer for 45 mins. Add salt and pepper to taste. When cooked through you can serve with a big dollop of sour cream and sprinkle parsley on top. Eat with crusty baguette or to be authentically Russian a big piece of black sourdough or Pumpernickel!

Optional. When all ingredients are cooked and before you add the sour cream you can puree the soup with a blender. I like to do this as it makes it thick and creamy. Bon Appetit J


Himalayan villagers and snow leopards won’t find too much to like from Copenhagen

December 19, 2009

Failure or the beginning of something better? Only time will tell. But the deal struck by world leaders at the end of the talks will not halt global warming and President Obama admits it just doesn’t go far enough. Not enough money committed to it  and the decision on targets for reducing carbon emissions by 2020 was put off.

I have to say I’m dissapointed after all the time, effort, energy, money and hype for this conference. I wonder how long before the Himalayas and the rest of the planet gets some real action? Read full story here.


Everest Declaration to protect home of snow leopard from more climate change impacts

December 17, 2009

Members of Nepal's cabinet wearing oxygen masks at their Everest Declaration Climate Change meeting over 5000m on Kala Pathar. Photo CNN.

Early in December in the lead up to the Copenhagen Climate Conference Nepal came up with a 10-point declaration for dealing with the environmental impact on Everest and the Himalayan region caused by global warming.

A few years ago Peter Hillary warned that some areas around Everest are sinking, with Base camp, (used by his father Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay) having shed about 40 meters of ice.

The Everest Declaration was issued following the Nepalese cabinet ministers’ historic session held at the Kala Patthar base camp at over 5000m high. Full points to the ministers for going there and coming up with the Declaration. I was at Kala Patthar myself some years ago and found it hard to breathe let alone think 😉 I guess it helped that they had oxygen masks.

The Nepalese Prime Minister Madhav Kumal Nepal said “Mt. Everest is an icon of world environment. The 2,700 kilometer east-west range of the Himalayas is witness to the culture, tradition and natural heritage of 1.3 billion people.”

Effects of global warming are causing increasing natural calamities, impacting wildlife as well as putting pressure on the nation’s socio-economic development.

The 10-point declaration includes strategies to raise national awareness on global warming and a government commitment to increase conservation areas in Nepal from 20 percent to 25 percent and consolidating 40 percent of forest area. We’ll watch and see how this progresses over the next year few years.


A journey exploring climate change in Himalayas

December 17, 2009

John Vidal, UK Guardian's Environment Editor

The UK Guardian newspaper’s John Vidal recently did a 1,000-mile journey from the Himalayas to the Bay of Bengal. The environment editor writes that he found “clear evidence of the terrible threat that global warming now poses to the millions who rely on water from the roof of the world.”

“Average temperatures across Nepal have risen 1.6C in 50 years – twice the global average. But here on the roof of the world, in what is called the “third pole”, they are already nearly 4C above normal and on track to rise by as much as 8C by 2050.” As Vidal points out this could mean collapse of glacial dams resulting in massive destruction of villages below. Read this excellent article on the challenges for people and the environment in the home of the snow leopards here.


Climate change in the home of snow leopards

December 7, 2009

With the UN Summit at Copenhagen starting now, there’s been some focus in recent weeks on the impact of climate change on the worlds highest mountain system, the Himalayas. A recent press conference called “Stop Melting Life, Save The Himalayas”in Kathmandu highlighted the threat of climate change on the lives and livelihoods of many people in Nepal. Local researchers have found that rainfall patterns are changing rapidly and that temperatures are on the increase leading to the dramatic retreat of Himalayan glaciers. There are grave concerns for what this will mean for the billions of people living in the basin of the rivers fed by Himalayas glaciers.

Opening of the Copenhagen Climate Change Summit with 192 nations attending. Photo official Summit website.

A few days ago there was a historic Nepal Cabinet meeting high on the Kala Patthar Plateau (near Mount Everest) also focusing on this issue. Today many government ministers along with a group of famous Everest summiteers are organising a march in the streets of Copenhagen for next week. The march will carry the message of  “Save the Himalayas” and coincides with International Mountain Day. It is to be hoped that all this will help focus much needed attention on this fragile part of the world where the potential impact of climate change could affect not only keystone species like  endangered snow leopards but also the lives of billions of people.

Follow all the discussions and decisions of this momentous conference at the official website.


George Schaller working magic for snow leopards again

October 8, 2009
George Schaller with snow leopard cub. Photo by WCS.

George Schaller with snow leopard cub. Photo by WCS.

I’ve mentioned George Schaller many times on this blog – Ok, he’s my hero. He’s probably done more for snow leopard conservation than anyone else on the planet. George won the Indianapolis Prize in 2008 and during 2009 used the money  for snow leopard activities in China. Currently Vice President of Panthera and Senior Conservationist for the Wildlife Conservation Society, George visited China’s Qinghai Province in May 2009 to  help initiate snow leopard programs supported by Panthera, an organization whose mission is to conserve the world’s 36 species of wild cats.

The Indianapolis Prize has just reported on George’s work there. Most of his work was conducted in the Sanjiangyuan Reserve (“Source of Three Rivers Reserve”—Yellow, Yangtze, Mekong ), which covers nearly 58,000 square miles, primarily at elevations above 11,800 feet.  In addition to assessing snow leopard presence and threats, the trip provided Peking University Ph.D. student Li Juan with the training she needs to start a snow leopard study this year. George and Juan traveled more than 2,600 miles to evaluate potential study areas for the student’s research project, and George will continue to mentor Juan as she pursues her Ph.D.

While in Asia, George met with representatives from the Snow Leopard Trust and Shan Shui, one of the leading conservation organizations in China , to create a new collaborative snow leopard research and conservation program. These organizations signed a long-term agreement that will bring much needed expertise and funding to efforts to save snow leopards in China , where as much as 50 percent of the remaining wild population exists.

“George Schaller’s extensive research, fieldwork and training have been essential to saving snow leopards in regions of China ,” said Tom McCarthy , Director of Snow Leopard Programs for Panthera. “I can’t think of a better use of the Indianapolis Prize funds than teaching future generations the urgency and necessity of wildlife conservation.”

“The important aspects of this project for me,” added Michael Crowther, president and CEO of the Indianapolis Zoo, “are its collaborative and long-term nature.  It’s George’s innate ability to bring people together and to forge alliances that overcome the short-term problems of political or geographic conflicts in order to serve the greater good that makes him a hero for me, and for the world.  It seems he has again worked his magic for the snow leopards.”