High Altitude Conservation Success

This is a story about women leading snow leopard conservation shared by Deepshikha Sharma from the Snow Leopard Trust’s India Program based at the Nature Conservation Foundation. Shen, an initiative of Snow Leopard Enterprises in Spiti Valley, is transforming conservation.

‘Shen’ means snow leopard in the Spitian dialect of Tibetan. The Shen initiative is a women-led, conservation-focused enterprise that promotes the production and sale of handmade products that support women and conservation. Participating women are directly involved in conservation action in their communities. They value the opportunities to learn new skills, build social networks, travel across the country for sales or training and contribute to collective actions for their environment.

The program was piloted in Kibber village in 2013 and has since been adopted in over five more villages in the valley. Today 105 women are connected with conservation through Shen, with over 20% of all adult women in the targeted villages opting to participate. This is especially impressive given that women in these communities have significant responsibilities related to the household, their livestock and their cropping lands.

Women participants produce handicrafts – primarily during the winter offseason – which are then sold in local and domestic markets with our assistance. Their commitment to conservation does not end with the changing season, though. Throughout the year, they pledge to prevent any hunting or poaching attempts, ensure the integrity of grazing-free pastures maintained for wildlife, create awareness among tourists about snow leopard conservation and prevent illegal environmental activities. They record all incidents and their conservation actions in a well-documented register they maintain jointly. Fulfilling these annual objectives is linked to a conservation bonus over and above the sales price.

Last winter, we conducted a workshop with eight women participants on the basics of photography and storytelling skills. As part of the workshop, the women were encouraged to document their life during winter, showcasing their handicraft production process and village festivals.

Their story and photographs will be published in our local newsletter – Himkatha, which showcases the stories of the agro-pastoral communities that reside in the mountains of Himachal Pradesh. You can view a collection of their photographs from the workshop in the gallery below. Photography by: Chhering Zangmo, Dolma Zangmo, Kunzam and Tanzin Ankit 

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Our team recently published a paper* in the international scientific journal Environmental Conservation that provides an assessment of Shen over its first seven years of implementation (2013-2019). This is in line with our commitment to monitoring and assessing the impact of our conservation efforts. Significant findings of this research include:

  • The Shen programme in Spiti Valley encouraged the entry of women into the conservation dialogue and enhanced their agency in conservation and environmental action. 
  • The programme generated high levels of interest and involved over 20% of all adult women in target communities. This is striking in a context where women have multiple responsibilities related to the household, livestock husbandry and the land.
  • Agriculture represents the predominant source of livelihood in Spiti Valley. It provides an average family income that is 16 times greater than the average income each participant made from Shen. While the programme did not lead to a substantial increase in household income, the participants valued non-financial benefits, including the opportunity to learn new skills, build social networks, travel to other parts of the country and undertake collective action for the environment. 
  • Shen’s objective of promoting the participation of women in conservation efforts was largely achieved. The programme helped build supportive structures for cooperation, provided incentives and catalysed self-directed conservation action at the local level. 
  • Importantly, the participant women played a role in monitoring and evaluating key aspects of Shen. They were responsible for documenting their conservation actions in the conservation diaries, which also helped enhance their ownership over the programs. 

Shen is proving to be a valuable tool in our efforts to promote coexistence between people and snow leopards. 

Read more about how the SHEN program began here.

Read the full published article here.

We acknowledge the team members who helped in this programme since its inception: Rajini Murali, Saloni Bhatia, Radhika Timbadia, Akshatha Venkatasha and Preety Sharma. We thank Juliette Young and Steve M Redpath for their technical input and guidance regarding the social surveys conducted for our earlier Darwin Initiative project.

*Alexander, J., Bijoor, A., Gurmet, K., Murali, R., Mishra, C., & Suryawanshi, K. (2022). Engaging women brings conservation benefits to snow leopard landscapes. Environmental Conservation, 1-7. doi:10.1017/S0376892922000236

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