Snow leopard researchers and conservations are known to spend a considerable amount of time in the field. This year the realities of COVID-19 have greatly limited many teams’ ability to carry out plans for fieldwork and research undertakings across the range. Recognizing this constraint and responding to requests from practitioners, SLN has sought to turn this period of uncertainty into an opportunity.
Since early summer, SLN has expanded its online platform in an effort to provide a new forum for exchange and learning. Five training modules were hosted, covering a range of key snow leopard conservation themes and drawing on the latest knowledge from the foremost experts and an open dialogue with practitioners. Each module consisted of multiple sessions held over the course of a month, with participants learning about camera trap surveys, community conservation, social research, ungulate surveying, genetics, and population distribution surveying. Special thanks to the partner organizations, many facilitators and SLN members who joined us for over 60 hours of online discussions and learning!
Module 1, in collaboration with GSLEP, kicked off the series with Dr. Koustubh Sharma and Dr. Justine Shanti Alexander sharing their extensive knowledge of snow leopard camera trap surveying. Over the four sessions conservationists learned all the skills necessary to complete a successful survey of their own, from planning the survey to managing camera trap data and rigorously identifying snow leopard individuals. On the course, participant Iftikhar from India said, “My work focuses on reducing human-carnivore conflicts across snow leopard areas of North India. This course provided me with a strong foundation for monitoring snow leopards. It enhanced my knowledge and skills and provided me with practical tools for assessing snow leopard abundance. This is vital for informing our conservation efforts.” This training module played a key role in supporting and underpinning the population assessment of the world’s snow leopard initiative (PAWS).
Following the active participation of members in the first module, Module 2 turned the focus from the snow leopard (Ghost of the Mountain) to mountain ungulates (Monarchs of the Mountain). Further study of snow leopard prey species, specifically the mountain ungulates of Asia, is vital to our understanding of snow leopard themselves. This session was led by a joint team of researchers from India, Pakistan, China, and Mongolia using the Double-observer Method to perform surveys on markhor, argali, blue sheep, asiatic ibex and urial. This module proved very interactive, with a participant commenting, “The course is very well structured, with great lecturers, and will help early-stage conservationists gain the needed knowledge and confidence for applying new approaches in ungulate surveys.”
Module 3 focused on community conservation and was put together by a diverse training team in partnership with the Snow Leopard Trust. The training module was based on the Partners Principles developed through the many years of experience that our teams have accumulated working with local communities across snow leopard ranges. Participants could shape the discussion based on experiences and stories from their own community-based conservation work, bringing a diverse array of ideas to the forum.
The 4th module brought an interdisciplinary angle and focused on social science. It was led by Dr. Saloni Bhatia and Dr. Ranjini Murali who has taken a lead in this critical area for snow leopard research. Dolma Lama from Nepal said of the module, “I am currently working on the conservation of snow leopards through strengthening local institutions. This course really helped me to understand social research at a deeper level and it also explains the complexities of human-nature interactions. The course highlights ways to deal with sensitive human issues while studying and doing research on wildlife and conservation.”
More modules to come!
The most recent 5th module focused on genetics and the final and 6th module in December will focus on snow leopard population distribution surveys. Both of these modules draw on the latest scientific knowledge and best practice shared by leading experts in these fields.
In brief, these modules have supported snow leopard conservation and research to maintain momentum, albeit in a different form, around the globe! The training platform is available online for practitioners to come back to as and when they need. Anyone interested in the modules should visit Snow Leopard Network’s website to learn more. Right now, modules one, two, four and five are already available as online seminars, with the remaining sessions to follow soon.
Rakhee Karumbaya, SLN’s Programme Coordinator, shares “It has been a pleasure being part of this exchange with scientists and conservationists from across the world, snow leopards really do bring us together!”