WWF in Action: Nepal

Tracking the Ghost of the Mountains

Himali Chungda Sherpa became a champion for the snow leopard. But long before he was chairman of the local Snow Leopard Conservation Committee, Himali sought his own revenge against these mountain cats. 

When Himali was a young boy, he discovered one morning that three of his family’s yak calves were missing. After hours of looking for his calves, he found only scraps of them remained, eaten by three snow leopard cubs.

“At that moment, I was so angry that all I could think of was revenge,” Himali recalled. In a fit of anger he scooped the cubs into a sack and threw them in the river.

That night, he heard the mother snow leopard crying for her children from up in the high mountains.

“It was then that I realized what a sin I had committed. I promised never to harm a snow leopard again,” Himali said. “Today, my passion is to save them.”

Himali and others are now at the forefront of community-led efforts to save snow leopards. WWF supports their work by training them to survey and monitor snow leopards. WWF also helps the community find solutions that benefit both people and snow leopards.

One of these innovative solutions is a community-managed livestock insurance plan that compensates villagers for livestock losses from snow leopards. WWF and Zurich University set up an initial seed fund for the insurance plan at a local bank. Community members who join the insurance plan receive the prevalent market price if their livestock is killed by a snow leopard. A common verification mechanism was agreed upon to increase community ownership and decrease fraudulent claims.

As these conservation measures take root, snow leopard numbers are on the rise. In the past four years, not a single snow leopard has been killed in retaliation by anyone in Himali’s village. This community-led insurance plan is an effective and economically viable model for similar projects around Nepal.

Photo © Bruce W. Bunting/WWF-US