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.


“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.


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.


GPS to stalk snow leopard prey in high mountains of Nepal

November 18, 2009
GPS stalking of blue sheep - snow leopard prey.

GPS stalking of blue sheep - snow leopard prey. Photo Massey university, New Zealand.

Researchers at New Zealand’s Massey University Institute of Natural Sciences will be placing global positioning satellite (GPS) collars on Bharal, the blue sheep of the Himalayas in the Annapurna region of Nepal. They are called blue sheep as their fur is brown to blue. They are also very distinctive with tightly curled horns.

The Bharal is one of the major prey species for snow leopards and the region is remote and at very high altitudes so in the past its been almost impossible to study these sheep. Questions the researchers will want to answer include are there enough of these sheep to support the snow leopard populations?

Project Leader Achyut Aryal from Nepal says “this region is one of the last refuges for species such as snow leopards, brown bear, wolf, lynx and, importantly, their keystone prey species, the blue sheep.”

The researchers will track 10 sheep for two years across the high mountains to learn their grazing habits, movements and population numbers.  Another innovation of the project is to involve New Zealand school children who’ll be able to track the movements of the sheep on computers in their classrooms.

More on this story here.

More facts on blue sheep here.


Are snow leopards in decline in Nepal?

July 28, 2009
Snow leopard numbers decline in mountains of Nepal. Photo by Sibylle.

Snow leopard numbers decline in mountains of Nepal. Photo by Sibylle.

The news about snow leopards in Nepal seems to be mixed.  The Myrepublica website, a news website from Nepal has reported that the number of snow leopards there has been estimated to have declined – now believed to be between 300 and 400, while previously their number was estimated to be between 400 and 500. Counting of snow leopards was done in the mountainous region from Ganesh Himal to Rolwaling, Sagarmatha, Makalu Varun and Kanchanjungha with the financial help from WWF America, England and Finland. The same report says that the tiger population has also declined. Hopefully these number can be improved in the next years by more conservation efforts. See Report here.

However snow leopard researchers say that the evidence isn’t clear to suggest that number are down, just that the data is being interpreted differently. Let’s hope they’re right. See Snow Leopard Network for more on this discussion.


Hunting for snow leopard lunch

March 11, 2009

Himalayan tahr. Photo by Som Ale.

Himalayan tahr. Photo by Som Ale.

Som Ale, from Nepal, sent me this spectacular photo of a tahr, one of the main animals that snow leopards hunt. Som had to be sure footed to get this shot, he nearly fell off the mountain taking it.

We can see the beautiful Ama Dablam mountain (quite close to Everest) in the background. Som’s been studying snow leopards and their prey species, the Himalayan tahr for some years now, concentrating on the Sagarmatha (Everest) national park region.

He says, “my ecological quest is to use the prey behavior (tahr’s behavior in this case) to get clues about their predators (here the snow leopard).  So to observe prey behavior one needs to go closer to animals.  In this case I went too close (hopping downhill), on steep terrain full of gravels and rocks, but luckily this animal was not scared of my presence – it was on the cliff, the favourite escape cover, majestically standing above me. I was caught in surprise by other tahrs in the group coming from nowhere below where I was balancing myself with scope in one hand and camera in the other.”