NEPAL

Safeguarding Snow Leopard Lakes of the Himalayas

Project Cost: $956,922

Funding Raised: $633,656

$11.14 per acre (1 acre = 43,560 sq ft)
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Nepal’s Tamur Valley and Watershed Key Biodiversity Area is a critical habitat for the Snow Leopard and their prey, the Blue Sheep, as well as Red Pandas. The area is also a connecting landscape between the Papung Village Development Council, Makalu-Barun National Park, Kanchenjunga Conservation Area and the Lumbasumba Conservation Area (slated for declaration in 2019 with Rainforest Trust support). Twelve large, high altitude lakes and over 200 smaller wetlands in Papung makes this location an indispensable stopping ground for Snow Leopard traversing the corridor. But Papung is unprotected as it is not part of the National Parks network or the buffer zone area.

Rainforest Trust and local partner KTK-BELT seek $956,922 to purchase 917 acres of private land above the village of Simbuk. These parcels would come along with traditional usage rights acres, increasing the project’s total acreage to 1,496.5. This project will block any potential road construction into the lake region and the larger Red Panda habitat below Topkegol, a yak outpost. Without protecting these properties, a road could infiltrate 84,430 acres of prime Red Panda habitat, wetlands and lakes to the north. Blocking road construction also prevents mining and hydropower movement into this region. This purchase opens the door to declaring the entire 85,927 acres as a protected area, the ultimate outcome of this project.

Photo: A high altitude lake in the Papung region. Photo by Rajeev Goyal.

Fast Facts

Location:
Tamur Valley and Watershed, Nepal

Size/Acres:
85,927 acres

Key Species:
Spikenard (CR), Alpine Musk Deer (EN), Black Musk Deer (EN), Himalayan Muskdeer (EN), Red Panda (EN), Dhole (EN), Saker Falcon (EN), Steppe Eagle (EN), Atis (EN), East Himalayan Yew (EN), Snow Leopard (VU)

Habitat:
Mountainous wetland, shrubland, and woodland with high altitude lakes

Threats:
Road building, mining and hydropower interests, overgrazing, poaching

Action:
Land purchase and designation

Local Partner:
Koshi Tappu Kanchenjunga Biodiversity Education Livelihood Terra-Studio (KTK-BELT)

Financial Need:
$956,922

Price per Acre:
$11.14

Biodiversity

Besides the Vulnerable Snow Leopard, this region is home to many endangered mammal species of global concern.

These include Red Panda, Himalayan Muskdeer, Wild Yak, Himalayan Black Bear and Clouded Leopard. The area is also a hotspot of endangered and endemic medicinal plant species nearing local extinction due to over-harvesting for trade with China. These include Atis Root, Spikenard and East Himalayan Yew. The main Snow Leopard prey is the Blue Sheep, a caprid found in the high Himalayan region. Their populations, much like the Snow Leopard, are also declining from habitat loss. As an important prey species, keeping a healthy Blue Sheep population is vital to the Snow Leopard.  

Photo: The Vulnerable Snow Leopard. Photo by Tambako.
 

Challenges

As the only habitat along this Snow Leopard passage without protected status, it remains vulnerable to roads, mining interests, land grabbing, hydropower and other disruptive development activities.

Papung is unprotected and undesignated, and therefore not part of the National Parks system. As the only habitat along this Snow Leopard passage without protected status, it remains vulnerable to roads, mining interests, land grabbing, hydropower and other disruptive development activities. In addition, overgrazing by yak herders has resulted in the decline of the Blue Sheep population. This land purchase would block these threats and establish an 85,927 acre road-less protected area in the high altitude lake region. The project will also provide alternative livelihoods through ecotourism to the 216 local households surrounding the area. In exchange, the communities would redirect grazing and reduce harvesting endangered medicinal plants.  

Photo: A yak herder. Photo by Rajeev Goyal.
 

Communities

Papung has one of the richest and most intact Buddhist cultures in Nepal.

Local people, who belong to the Dhokpya clan, have built monasteries in Simbuk and preserved their rich cultural practices through sacred song, prayer, cuisine and dress. Papung’s lack of roads and remoteness are two of the main reasons much of their culture remains intact. Traditional architecture is preserved in Topkegola, a yak outpost, where the local homes are built with ancient techniques. The ritual practice of worshiping the local lakes and wetlands is also intact, illustrating how seamlessly culture and nature interweave in Papung. Local leaders are committed to preventing roads into the project site, assuming they can establish nature-based tourism and the land purchase can block road access.  

Photo: Farmer in Dhungen, Papung. Photo by: Rajeev Goyal.
 

Solutions

Rainforest Trust and local partner KTK-BELT seek $877,180 to purchase three parcels of private, titled land. These purchases will physically block any possibility of roads, mining interests, hydropower or other disruptive development from entering the high altitude landscape.

This landscape, including this project’s three parcels, is viable for designation as a protected area. The wealth of water and mineral resources in Papung make it vulnerable to intrusion and paper commitments from local leaders can change. Hence, no conservation alternative to the physical road blocking via land purchases exists. Under Nepal’s new political structure, local ward governments have more decision-making authority than the national government. This leaves the ward chairman in charge of deciding whether to bring roads into this vital habitat. The KTK-BELT team has already laid the groundwork by visiting Papung and engaging local leadership in extensive dialogue. KTK-BELT has committed to creating ecotourism opportunities to fill the economic gap as long as the ward government makes a formal commitment to declare 85,927 acres as a conservation zone. (photo: The Endangered Red Panda. Photo by Mathias Appel. )