NCF and the Snow Leopard Trust work together in India’s high altitudes, striving to help conserve the snow leopard – as well as the diversity of life & landscapes that this beautiful cat symbolizes – in a scientifically robust and socially responsible manner. We combine research, community involvement, conservation education, and policy-level dimensions.
Studies on the ecology of animals and their ecosystems for effective conservation
- Journal ArticleIn pressIrrigation demands aggravate fishing threats to river dolphins in NepalBiological Conservation, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2016.10.026Download
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Riverine species are adapted to natural habitat changes caused by seasonal flood-pulses. However, abrupt river channel changes following flooding events intersect with social systems of land and water management (e.g. agriculture, fisheries) and in turn generate significant consequences for conservation of endangered aquatic species. We investigated tradeoffs between changing river habitat availability and exposure to fishing intensity for a small population of Ganges River dolphins Platanista gangetica gangeticain the Karnali basin of Nepal. A major natural flooding event in the Karnali basin in 2010 caused the river channel to shift from the Geruwa (flows through a protected area where fishing is restricted) to the Karnali channel (high fishing activity, agriculture-dominated), where dolphins moved in response. Based on our survey data (2009–2015) and long-term hydrological trends in the basin, we found that irrigation diversions since 2012 had aggravated fishing impacts on dolphins, suggesting that their new habitat had become an ‘ecological trap’. Regression models showed that at low river depths, fishing intensity negatively affected dolphin abundance, but at higher depths no effect of fishing was observed. Two records of dolphin bycatch in gillnets confirmed this, as both events corresponded with periods of sudden increase in water abstraction for irrigation. Overall, dolphin distribution shifted downstream and the population declined from 11 in 2012 to 6 in 2015. Effective protection of this river dolphin population from extinction will require the Government of Nepal to prioritize ecologically adequate river flow regimes for implementing efficient irrigation schemes and adaptive fisheries regulations in the Karnali basin.
- Journal Article2017Commensal in conflict: Livestock depredation patterns by free-ranging domestic dogs in the Upper Spiti Landscape, Himachal Pradesh, IndiaAmbio: doi:10.1007/s13280-016-0858-6Download
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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.
- Journal Article2016Response of the red fox to expansion of human habitation in the Trans-Himalayan mountainsEuropean Journal of Wildlife Research, 62: 131-136, DOI 10.1007/s10344-015-0967-8Download
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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.
- Dataset2016Data from: Response of the red fox to expansion of human habitation in the Trans-Himalayan mountainshttp://dx.doi.org/10.5061/dryad.5hs50
- Book Chapter2016Richness and size distribution of large herbivores in the HimalayaIn: Asian large herbivore ecology, Ahrestani, F., Sankaran, M. (eds.), Springer.Download
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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.
- Popular Article2016The silence of the lambsCaravan, AprilDownload
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A migratory herder in Pin Valley, Himachal Pradesh, goes into a new area with his flock of sheep-goat in search of pasture. Everything was going fine, but then, suddenly, he lost 10-15 of his sheep. How did he and other fellow herders solve the weird challenge of mysterious death of sheep?
- Popular Article2016A four-horned flash of goldThe Hindu in School, 6 January
- Book Chapter2016Livestock Predation by Snow Leopards: Conflicts and the Search for SolutionsIn Snow leopards: Biodiversity of the World eds (McCarthy T, Mallon D.) Academic press pp 59- 66.
- Book Chapter2016South 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.Elsevier - Academic Press, Pages 457-469, ISBN: 978-0-12-802213-9Download
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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 Article2016The Relationship Between Religion and Attitudes Toward Large Carnivores in Northern India?Human Dimension of Wildlife, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10871209.2016.1220034Download
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Evidence suggests that religion is an important driver of peoples’ attitudes toward nature, but the link between religion and carnivore conservation is poorly understood. We examined peoples’ attitudes in Buddhist (n = 83) and Muslim communities (n = 111) toward snow leopards (Panthera uncia) and wolves (Canis lupus) in Ladakh, India. We found that the effect of religion on attitudes was statistically nonsignificant, and was tempered by gender, education, and aware- ness of wildlife laws. Even though religion by itself was not an indication of an individual’s attitude toward large carnivores, the extent to which he/she practiced it (i.e., religiosity) had a positive correlation with pro-carnivore attitudes in the case of Buddhist but not Muslim communities. Our findings indicate that it may be useful to integrate locally relevant religious philosophies into conservation practice. However, the emphasis of conservation messaging should vary, stressing environmental stewardship in the case of Islam, and human–wildlife interdependence in the case of Buddhism.