Protect Corrals, Protect Cats

When snow leopards attack livestock, conflicts with local communities are usually inevitable - and they don’t often end well for the cats! But many of these attacks can be prevented with a simple solution - predator-proof corrals and holding pens for sheep and goats! 

Remote, dream-like Spiti Valley, high up in the Indian Transhimalayas, is among the best snow leopard habitat in India. And thanks to the local community’s conservation actions, the snow leopard’s future in Spiti is looking bright.

A wild snow leopard in Spiti Valley is surveying its domain. Photo: NCF India / HPFD / SLT

For instance, Spitians have agreed to set aside grazing-free reserves across the valley to allow the cat’s wild prey species to recover and thrive. The efforts are paying off: Spiti has one of the highest snow leopard densities anywhere in India and is home to a relatively stable population of at least 25 cats.

A wild snow leopard strikes a pose in front of a camera trap in Spiti, India. Photo by NCF India & HPFD.

While the people of Spiti respect and appreciate the snow leopard, the cat can also cause significant problems. Most families in the valley have about a dozen sheep and goats, a few donkeys and cows, and perhaps a horse or a yak. These animals are often a key part of their livelihood.

Usually, livestock is held on the ground floor of family homes, in unfortified holding pens that are vulnerable to raids from snow leopards and wolves. When such a predator enters a pen, consequences can be devastating: a family’s entire livestock holdings can be killed in a single incident.

When snow leopards enter livestock holding pens, the damage can be enormous. Photo by Karma Sonam, NCF India.

Take the case of Nawang Tashi from the tiny hamlet of Salung. In 2012, Nawang lost 15 of his livestock when a snow leopard entered his corral through an opening in the wall. Such openings are kept to let light and air into the corral. Nawang was able to get new sheep and goats from neighbors, but was understandably concerned about the snow leopard returning. He often told us that he saw snow leopards around his house. Once, he surprised a cat that was staring at the corral opening, and managed to chase it away.

In 2013, our team worked with both residents of Salung to reinforce their corrals. We fabricated a metallic grill and fixed it on the opening. So, while the corral opening still lets light and air in, it makes it impossible for a snow leopard to enter.

Metal grates are a low-cost solution to keep predators out. Photo by NCF India.

Nawang never blamed the snow leopard for his losses. After all we live in the middle of their forest, he would say. It would be nice if they could cause us less harm though. Thanks to the corral reinforcement, his wish has come true. Nawang often tells us how the snow leopard comes by his house, but he’s sure that it can cause his livestock no harm now. Come over, and I’ll show you the snow leopard, he often tells us.

A Simple but Effective Solution

Luckily, as Nawang’s example shows, this is the rare conservation challenge that can be solved with relatively easy means. All it really takes is a couple of metal grates to secure windows, and wooden doors to keep the entrance to the holding pen safely shut at night.

This summer, our local team is planning to help fortify up to 150 of the most vulnerable corrals in two villages in Spiti – Kibber and Chichim. Both are regularly visited by snow leopards, and predation incidents are quite frequent.

There is only one challenge left to overcome. “The villagers are more than ready to provide the labor to install grates and doors to their corrals”, our local coordinator, Kalzang Gurmet, says. “But most of them don’t have the money to purchase the materials.”

That’s where snow leopard supporters from around the world like you come in. On average, it costs around US$50 to purchase the materials needed to predator-proof one family’s corral.

Will you join our ongoing fundraising campaign and help fix a corral for a family in Spiti?

Villagers in Spiti Valley fix a corral window. Photo: NCF India

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