In what is considered the first, yak herders of Soe and Yaksa community of Soe gewog, Thimphu have captured footage of the elusive snow leopard through camera traps they had set up recently.
The cameras have also captured other wild life including a bear with two cubs. This setting of camera traps was done following a training given to the herders of Soe and Yaksa on snow leopard conservation in August this year.
Bhutan Foundation (BF) supported the Soe Park Range officer Dagay, working with the Jigme Dorji National Park (JDNP) to train members of Soe and Yaksa community.
BF, which also has a Jomolhari Snow Leopard project, funded the training and provided the equipment while the Park Range officer trained the community in data collection and camera trapping.
The training was initiated after the formation of a Soe snow leopard conservation group and Yaksa snow leopard conservation group to actively involve those interested in snow leopard and in the long term, to enable a future of communities living in harmony with the snow leopard and other prey species.
After the training, members walked through the valleys, crossing rivers, and climbing mountain, to set up the camera traps at the height of 14,900 feet. They set up 16 cameras in eight different stations a month before the recent Jomolhari Mountain Festival ended.
The images of snow leopards and other species were displayed during the festival.
Park Range officer, Dagay, said about 42 households from both the communities took part in the training and to motivate them, the best and most clear images were awarded prizes during the festival.
“The training was to make them realise the importance and sense of snow leopard conservation,” Dagay said. “We sent them to locate the camera so that they would continue to do such activity in future.”
As per the National Snow Leopard Survey, 2015-2016, there are about 16 snow leopards in Lingzhi and about eight in Soe.
“Although we got the footage, we did not check if it was the same leopard or if it has travelled from Lingzhi to Soe or vice-versa,” he said, adding that this time it was more to encourage herders to come forward in conservation.
Dagay added that with these groups established, if a snow leopard kills a yak, forest officials wouldn’t have to travel to the gewog to verify unlike in the past. Instead, the groups’ tshogpa would verify, share the images and evidence with the forest officials.
“They pay Nu 100 a yak every year for insurance and at the end of the year, we compensate as per the by law.”
One of the yak herders, Sherab Zam, said the training helped her understand snow leopard conservation and setting up of camera traps. “We realised that the snow leopards help control the population of blue sheep so, we get more pasture for our yaks.”
The international Snow Leopard Day is observed today.
Yangchen C Rinzin