Yash Veer Bhatnagar

Scientist, High Altitudes

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Ph.D.

My primary interests lie in the cold-arid landscapes of the Trans-Himalaya. My present research and conservation interests are in studying ungulate-habitat relationships, interactions with livestock, models for coexistence of herders and wildlife, people-wildlife conflict resolution, alternative models for conservation (especially outside wildlife PAs), participatory planning and action.

I had a liking for the Himalaya right from childhood. During my graduate days at the G.B. Pant University of Agriculture & Technology in Pantnagar at the foothills of the Kumaon Himalaya, a definitive interest in wildlife emerged. I went on to complete a Masters degree in Agricultural Entomology in 1989, but then took up another Masters in Wildlife Science at the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Dehradun. I worked on ranging and habitat use by Himalayan ibex under the guidance of Drs. G.S. Rawat, Michael Stüwe and A.J.T. Johnsingh for my PhD and was awarded the degree in 1997. In between, I conducted a brief study on enumerating penguins and seals in a part of Antarctica as part of the 15th Indian Antarctic Expedition in 1995-96—a very welcome interlude! After my PhD I worked for a year with the International Snow Leopard Trust as their country representative, before joining the WII as a faculty, where I served between 1999 and 2003.

I joined NCF in July 2003, I have been co-directing the High Altitude Program through research, conservation and training activities.

Projects

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Cashmere and Kiang

Conflict between the kiang and pastoralists in Ladakh

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From science to policy

Project Snow Leopard: towards a national conservation policy

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Gazelles on the brink

Local extinction looms large for the Tibetan gazelle

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Goats and Wild Goats

Forage tussles between Himalayan ibex and livestock

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People, livestock and snow leopards

Unique livestock insurance schemes betters prospects for herders and carnivores

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Completed

Response of red fox to village expansion

How does red fox respond to increasing village size in the Trans-Himalaya?

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Shared pastures

How mountain ungulates of the trans-Himalaya live together

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Snow leopard and prey distribution

Factors affecting snow leopard & wild-prey at multiple scales 

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Completed

Status of the Tibetan Argali

Aiding the survival of an endangered sheep

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Completed

War and wild goats

Conservation of the Pir Panjal markhor in Kashmir

Publications

  • Dataset
    2017
    Data from: Impact of wild prey availability on livestock predation by snow leopards
    Kulbhushansingh Suryawanshi, Steve Redpath, Yash Veer Bhatnagar, Uma Ramakrishnan, Vaibhav Chaturvedi, Sophie Smout, Charudutt Mishra
    Data Dryad: doi:10.5061/dryad.8p689
  • Journal Article
    2017
    Suryawanshi, K. R., Redpath, S. M., Bhatnagar, Y. V., Ramakrishnan, U., Chaturvedi, V., Smout, S. C., & Mishra, C. (2017). Impact of wild prey availability on livestock predation by snow leopards. 
    Royal Society Open Science, 4(6), 170026.
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    PDF, 566 KB

    An increasing proportion of the world's poor is rearing livestock today, and the global livestock population is growing. Livestock predation by large carnivores and their retaliatory killing is becoming an economic and conservation concern. A common recommendation for carnivore conservation and for reducing predation on livestock is to increase wild prey populations based on the assumption that the carnivores will consume this alternative food. Livestock predation, however, could either reduce or intensify with increases in wild prey depending on prey choice and trends in carnivore abundance. We show that the extent of livestock predation by the endangered snow leopard Panthera uncia intensifies with increases in the density of wild ungulate prey, and subsequently stabilizes. We found that snow leopard density, estimated at seven sites, was a positive linear function of the density of wild ungulates—the preferred prey—and showed no discernible relationship with livestock density. We also found that modelled livestock predation increased with livestock density. Our results suggest that snow leopard conservation would benefit from an increase in wild ungulates, but that would intensify the problem of livestock predation for pastoralists. The potential benefits of increased wild prey abundance in reducing livestock predation can be overwhelmed by a resultant increase in snow leopard populations. Snow leopard conservation efforts aimed at facilitating increases in wild prey must be accompanied by greater assistance for better livestock protection and offsetting the economic damage caused by carnivores.

  • Journal Article
    2017
    Commensal in conflict: Livestock depredation patterns by free-ranging domestic dogs in the Upper Spiti Landscape, Himachal Pradesh, India
    Chandrima Home, Ranjana Pal, Rishi Kumar Sharma, Kulbhushansingh Suryawanshi, Yash Veer Bhatnagar, Abi Tamim Vanak
    Ambio: doi:10.1007/s13280-016-0858-6
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    PDF, 1.89 MB

    In human-populated landscapes worldwide, domestic dogs (Canis lupus familiaris) are the most abundant terrestrial carnivore. Although dogs have been used for the protection of livestock from wild carnivores, they have also been implicated as predators of livestock. We used a combination of methods (field surveys, interview surveys, and data from secondary sources) to examine the patterns and factors driving livestock depredation by free-ranging dogs, as well as economic losses to local communities in a Trans-Himalayan agro-pastoralist landscape in India. Our results show that livestock abundance was a better predictor of depredation in the villages than local dog abundance. Dogs mainly killed small-bodied livestock and sheep were the most selected prey. Dogs were responsible for the majority of livestock losses, with losses being comparable to that by snow leopards. This high level of conflict may disrupt community benefits from conservation programs and potentially undermine the conservation efforts in the region through a range of cascading effects.

  • Book Chapter
    2016
    South Asia: India. In Snow leopards. Biodiversity of the world: conservation from genes to landscapes. Series editor: Philip J. Nyhus, Volume editors: Thomas McCarthy, David Mallon. 
    Yash Veer Bhatnagar, Vinod Bihari Mathur, Sambandam Sathyakumar, Abhishek Ghoshal, Rishi Kumar Sharma, Ajay Bijoor, R Raghunath, Radhika Timbadia, Panna Lal
    Elsevier - Academic Press, Pages 457-469, ISBN: 978-0-12-802213-9
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    PDF, 4.31 MB

    India has a rich natural history record from the Himalaya spanning over a century. In this paper we provide an overview of existing knowledge on snow leopard, especially from the more recent studies. A knowledge gap analysis revealed barely 3% of its range is relatively well studied, although snow leopards occur pervasively across ca. 100,000 km2 in the Indian Himalaya. Only 37% of its range appears to be ‘good’ habitat. Based on recent density estimates and their extrapolation over the range, India is likely to support about 500 snow leopards. Threats vary regionally, but livestock grazing by migratory herders and recent developmental pressures appear to be the most serious conservation issues threatening snow leopard and other wildlife in the snow leopard range. Given the pervasive snow leopard occurrence and human pressures, the general consensus and national strategy is to formulate and implement knowledge based, participatory programmes over large landscapes.

  • Journal Article
    2016
    Response of the red fox to expansion of human habitation in the Trans-Himalayan mountains
    European Journal of Wildlife Research, 62: 131-136, DOI 10.1007/s10344-015-0967-8
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    PDF, 4.05 MB

    Habitat modification through rural and urban expansions negatively impacts most wildlife species. However, anthropogenic food sources in habitations can benefit certain species. The red fox Vulpes vulpes can exploit anthropogenic food, but human subsidies sometimes also sustain populations of its potential competitor, the free-ranging dog Canis familiaris. As human habitations expand, populations of free-ranging dog are increasing in many areas, with unknown effects on wild commensal species such as the red fox. We examined occurrence and diet of red fox along a gradient of village size in a rural mountainous landscape of the Indian Trans-Himalaya. Diet analyses suggest substantial use of anthropogenic food (livestock and garbage) by red fox. Contribution of livestock and garbage to diet of red fox declined and increased, respectively, with increasing village size. Red fox occurrence did not show a clear relationship with village size. Red fox occurrence showed weak positive relationships with density of free-ranging dog and garbage availability, respectively, while density of free-ranging dog showed strong positive relationships with village size and garbage availability, respectively. We highlight the potential conservation concern arising from the strong positive association between density of free-ranging dog and village size.

  • Dataset
    2016
    Data from: Response of the red fox to expansion of human habitation in the Trans-Himalayan mountains
    http://dx.doi.org/10.5061/dryad.5hs50
  • Book Chapter
    2016
    Richness and size distribution of large herbivores in the Himalaya
    In: Asian large herbivore ecology, Ahrestani, F., Sankaran, M. (eds.), Springer.
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    PDF, 276 KB

    Species diversity across several taxa ranging from plants to vertebrates is reported to decrease with altitude, or to show a mid-elevation peak in mountain systems. Plant biomass availability for herbivores is similarly expected to decline with altitude as temperature becomes limiting. However, the relationship between herbivore species richness and altitude has not been examined in detail. We show that while the overall regional pattern (gamma-richness) for 25 large-herbivore species (56 % grazers, 44 % browsers/mixed feeders) in the Western Himalayas shows a mid-elevation peak, the species richness of grazers increases nearly monotonically with altitude peaking at 4000–5000 m. Median body mass of herbivores decreased with altitude, suggesting greater suitability of higher elevations for smaller bodied herbivores. We propose that seasonal altitudinal migration patterns, biogeographic influences, increases in the abundance of graminoids, and an increase in plant nutrients with altitude might explain the unusual high grazer species richness at higher altitudes in the Himalayan Mountains.

  • Conference Proceedings
    2016
    Impact of migratory livestock grazing on rangeland vegetation and wild-ungulate in the Indian Trans-Himalaya
    6th World Congress on Mountain Ungulates & 5th International Symposium on Mouflon
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    PDF, 254 KB

  • Journal Article
    2016
    Forage and security trade-offs by markhor Capra falconeri mothers. 
    110 (8): 1559-1563.
  • Journal Article
    2015
    Does livestock benefit or harm snow leopards?
    Biological Conservation, 190: 8-13

    Large carnivores commonly prey on livestock when their ranges overlap. Pastoralism is the dominant land use type across the distributional range of the endangered snow leopard Panthera uncia. Snow leopards are often killed in retaliation against livestock depredation. Whether livestock, by forming an alternative prey, could potentially benefit snow leopards, or, whether livestock use of an area is detrimental to snow leopards is poorly understood. We examined snow leopard habitat use in a multiple use landscape that was comprised of sites varying in livestock abundance, wild prey abundance and human population size. We photographically sampled ten sites (average size 70 sq. km) using ten camera traps in each site, deployed for a period of 60 days. Snow leopard habitat use was computed as a Relative Use Index based on the total independent photographic captures and the number of snow leopard individuals captured at each site. We quantified livestock abundance, wild prey abundance, human population size and terrain ruggedness in each of the sites. Key variables influencing snow leopard habitat use were identified using Information Theory based model selection approach. Snow leopard habitat use was best explained by wild prey density, and showed a positive linear relationship with the abundance of wild ungulates. We found a hump-shaped relationship between snow leopard habitat use and livestock stocking density, with an initial increase in habitat use followed by a decline beyond a threshold of livestock density. Our results suggest that in the absence of direct persecution of snow leopards, livestock grazing and snow leopard habitat use are potentially compatible up to a certain threshold of livestock density, beyond which habitat use declines, presumably due to depressed wild ungulate abundance and associated anthropogenic disturbance.

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