What is the origin of your innovation? Tell the Changemakers and media communities what prompted you to start this initiative.
The endangered snow leopard has been threatened across its home ranges which spread across the mountains of Central and South Asia. And while it has been hunted for its pelt and body parts, one common and emerging threat seen in the Himalayas has been retaliatory killing by the pastoral communities who would lose their livestock to these despised cats.
A livestock depredation survey conducted during 1999 in Ladakh’s proposed Hemis High Altitude National Park revealed that villagers of the region lost 12.4% of their livestock to predators, resulting in an average annual loss of US$23,250. Retributive killings of snow leopards were largely fuelled by multiple killings of livestock within corrals. Thus, curtailing these multiple killings by snow leopards within enclosures became my main motive and thus together with Dr.Rodney Jackson, I founded the Snow Leopard Conservancy India Trust.
Our Team began by encouraging locals to participate in planning and to find solutions, thus drawing on traditional knowledge regarding livestock movements, depredation hotspots and finding cost effective solutions for predator proofing corrals. In the years that followed, predator proofing measures resulted in reduction of livestock losses within corrals. However, herders continued to suffer losses when livestock were free ranging, and hence snow leopards continued to be seen as a pest. It thus became imperative to find real incentives for conservation that would transform local mindsets towards this elusive and endangered cat. A series of brainstorming sessions with villagers led to tourism as a viable option for alternative livelihoods. Using a highly participatory method of Appreciative Participatory Planning and Action (APPA), that works on appreciative enquiry of building on strengths, villagers decided on Homestays as their venture that would help by “providing a service that would maintain and share a traditional way of life and its values, provide traditional food, be based on eco-friendly concepts and require small amounts of investment for renovation.” Initial technical support was provided by The Mountain Institute (Nandita Jain, Renzino Lepcha) and field support by Rodney Jackson, Jigmet Dadul and Tashi Tundup of Snow Leopard Conservancy. We also benefited through village-to-village exchange tours, enabled under our grants from UNESCO and SLC-USA.
From 17 visitors hosted by four families in Rumbak in the initial year, the figures rose to over 500 bed nights hosted by over 100 families spread across 20 villages by the year 2007. All the villages chosen for the Homestay programme are located in or close to prime snow leopard habitats of the Hemis National Park, Sham, Zanskar and Spiti. With an annual average earning of over $300 per family, it provided incentives for people to create livestock-free grazing reserves for wild prey such as blue sheep and the threatened Tibetan Argali. In a span of six years, Himalayan Homestays have transformed attitudes towards the snow leopard from that of a pest to an invaluable tourism asset worth more alive than dead. The number of snow leopard sightings has increased concurrently, with prey populations remaining stable or increasing.
Please provide a personal bio. Note this may be used in Changemakers' marketing material.
Rinchen Wangchuk is Program Director and Co-Founder of SLC-India Trust. He has conducted trainings on community based tourism for Non Governmental Organisations and Nature Guide trainings for local youth, in order to enhance their income generation skills in activities closely linked with the conservation of snow leopards. Rinchen is responsible for the development of the Ladakh Himalayan Homestay program. A mountaineer turned conservationist, Rinchen has been responsible for the expansion of the programme with a multifaceted approach of livestock management, livelihoods enhancement, and promoting awareness through the environmental education programme in one of worlds most remote and highest ecosystems.
Describe some unique tourist experiences that your approach provides. Be specific; give illustrative examples.
Visitors who come to Himalayan Homestays have the unique lifetime opportunity to experience life in a Ladakhi village. This includes learning about Ladakh’s natural environment and how people have developed ways of thriving in this often harsh high desert environment. For example, visitors experience how agriculture is conducted in Ladakh and have a chance to participate in daily agricultural activities. They also experience firsthand how traditional architecture interacts with local environment, culture, and religion. Cultural exchange and interaction is one of the most important and memorable experiences that visitors in the homestays have, and often these relationships continue long after the homestay visit is over.
The lines below capture some of the feedback picked up randomly from different Homestays sites;
Two rich days full of life itself showing up through the warm welcome by the family. The peace of nature and the beauty of pureness and simplicity is everything here.-Werner Hoelling; Germany
Years after years. This homestay is still very friendly and so amazing experience.-Dominique/France.
Good food and interesting introduction to Ladakhi village life. Thank you Padma and don’t worry about your English. Just keep Practicing.- Marcia & Dave Reck/USA
What types of partnerships or professional development would be most beneficial in spreading your innovation?
The success of Ladakh Homestays has been due to the active involvement of the local communities throughout the life of the project including strong partnerships engaging NGO’s, rural communities and private entrepreneurs. This has built a sense of ownership amongst the key partners and has made the project sustainable. Sharing of Good Practices with tourism development agencies and organizations can be a very effective way of spreading our approach to others who may face similar natural resource conservation and livelihoods challenges, and expand the concept of sustainable tourism to the mainstream