People, livestock and snow leopards

Unique livestock insurance schemes betters prospects for herders and carnivores

Conserving large-bodied species such as large carnivores alongside human habitation often involves monetary and human costs to resident people. In order to further co-existence in wildlife habitats where local people live and use natural resources, there is a need to estimate and offset economic costs.

Livestock predation by snow leopards

Conserving large-bodied species such as large carnivores alongside human habitation often involves monetary and human costs to resident people. In order to further co-existence in wildlife habitats where local people live and use natural resources, there is a need to estimate and offset economic costs, and also to make wildlife conservation beneficial to them. This understanding has come alongside the realization that centrally-administered preservationist programs relying entirely on the use of force to attain conservation goals have limited applicability in wildlife habitats owned or traditionally used by local communities. 

In the Spiti Trans-Himalaya, our ecological research had established that intensive livestock grazing had out-competed wild herbivores from the rangelands, and this in turn had presumably intensified the levels of livestock predation by the snow leopard Panthera uncia and the wolf Canis lupus. We studied this human-wildlife conflict in detail, and found that the consequent economic losses suffered by people were considerable, and their resentment occasionally led to persecution of these endangered carnivores. 

In 2002, as part of our larger conservation programme, we set up a livestock insurance program in Kibber Village that was designed to share and offset the economic losses that local people were facing due to livestock predation by wild carnivores. 

Livestock insurance from wild carnivores

Our locally managed (at the village level) insurance programme was designed not only to offset economic losses due to livestock depredation, but to also reduce the extent of depredation by providing financial rewards to herders for better anti-predatory herding. 

The insurance programme was received with great enthusiasm, though in the first year, some families were understandably skeptical. In the third year, three adjoining villages of Gete, Tashigang, and Kee also joined the Kibber livestock insurance programme. For the larger village of Chichim, we started an altogether new insurance programme. More than 100 herding families are benefiting from this programme in Spiti. As of 2015, we have similar community based insurance program running in four villages in Spiti and four villages in the Gya-Miru region of Ladakh

Conservation Output

As a result of the insurance programme and our other efforts, the attitude of people towards wildlife conservation has also undergone a radical change. This is evidenced by a complete cessation of large carnivore persecution. In the past, the villagers occasionally assisted army personnel passing through the area in hunting wild herbivores. Since we started our programme, the villagers have already twice turned away army personnel intending to hunt, warning them that such activities will not be tolerated. 

Over 100 families in five villages of Spiti are participating and benefiting from the insurance programme, which has entered its fourth year 

A similar sized programme covering four villages has been started in the Gya-Miru region of Ladakh 

Better anti-predatory livestock herding is reducing the extent of livestock losses to wild carnivores 

The programme has helped alleviate peoples' tolerance towards snow leopard and wolves. Villagers have stopped persecuting carnivores, or driving them away from kills.



  • Book Chapter
    Living with Snow Leopards: a pluralistic approach to conservation
    In Conservation from the Margins. (Eds) Umesh Srinivasan & Nandini Velho. Orient Blackswan

    PDF, 1.68 MB

  • Journal Article
    Impact of wild prey availability on livestock predation by snow leopards. 
    Royal Society Open Science, 4(6), 170026.

    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.

  • Book Chapter
    Livestock Predation by Snow Leopards: Conflicts and the Search for Solutions
    In Snow leopards: Biodiversity of the World eds (McCarthy T, Mallon D.) Academic press pp 59- 66.

    PDF, 3.23 MB

  • Journal Article
    Multi-scale factors influencing human attitudes towards snow leopards and wolves.
    Conservation Biology DOI: 10.1111/cobi.12320

    PDF, 565 KB

  • Dataset
    Multiscale factors affecting human attitudes toward snow leopards and wolves. Dryad Digital Repository.
  • Thesis
    Human-Carnivore Conflicts: understanding predation ecology and livestock damage by snow leopards
    PhD thesis Submitted to Manipal University

    PDF, 5.42 MB

  • Journal Article
    People, predators and perceptions: patterns of livestock depredation by snow leopards and wolves.
    Journal of Applied Ecology 50 (3), 550-560

    PDF, 5.66 MB

  • Journal Article
    Living with large carnivores: predation on livestock by the snow leopard (Uncia uncia). 
    Journal of Zoology (London), 268, 217-224.
  • Journal Article
    The role of incentive programs in conserving the snow leopard Uncia uncia
    Charudutt Mishra, Priscilla Allen, Thomas McCarthy, M D Madhusudan, A Bayarjargal, H H T Prins
    Conservation Biology 17:1512-1520

    PDF, 249 KB

    Pastoralists and their livestock share much of the habitat of the snow leopard (Uncia uncia) across south and central Asia. The levels of livestock predation by the snow leopard and other carnivores are high, and retaliatory killing by the herders is a direct threat to carnivore populations. Depletion of wild prey by poaching and competition from livestock also poses an indirect threat to the region's carnivores. Conservationists working in these underdeveloped areas that face serious economic damage from livestock losses have turned to incentive programs to motivate local communities to protect carnivores. We describe a pilot incentive program in India that aims to offset losses due to livestock predation and to enhance wild prey density by creating livestock-free areas on common land. We also describe how income generation from handicrafts in Mongolia is helping curtail poaching and retaliatory killing of snow leopards. However, initiatives to offset the costs of living with carnivores and to make conservation beneficial to affected people have thus far been small, isolated, and heavily subsidized. Making these initiatives more comprehensive, expanding their coverage, and internalizing their costs are future challenges for the conservation of large carnivores such as the snow leopard.

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