Why Trek with Us?
My passion for snow leopard conservation began when at the age of 14, I joined the Snow Leopard Conservancy’s (SLC) Junior Ranger Program and later the youth-oriented Eco-club organized by WWF Nepal. I’d grown up in Dolpo in north western Nepal where most people are yak herders and subsistence farmers. I’d seen local herders harming snow leopard cubs because the cats had killed their valuable livestock. It was so sad to see the suffering of both the local people and the snow leopards I was despondent and wanted to make a difference.
In 2016, during my master thesis research on “The Impact of Caterpillar Fungus (Yartsagunbu) Collection on Snow Leopards,” I had the opportunity to join world renowned conservationist Dr. George Schaller, along with Alex Matthiessen (the son of Peter Matthiessen who with Dr. Schaller had written the classic book “The Snow Leopard”), Peter Werth and Beth Wald while they trekked and studied snow leopards in Dolpo. I participated in 33-day expeditions on “George Schaller: Return to Dolpo, Realm of the Snow Leopard” with them, fueling my knowledge and interest in snow leopards.
Over the years, as a snow leopard researcher and conservationist, I had traveled to every remote corner of Dolpo and on every trip I’d felt that community-based ecotourism that featured snow leopards might be a good way to reduce local people-snow leopard conflict. I didn’t know where or how to start, however. With support and encouragement from Dr. George Schaller, Dr.Ghana Shyam Gurung, Dr. Rodney Jackson, Suzanne Hopkins and Wendy Wood (Medway Charitable Trust) and Wendy Lama (CGCT), I’d learned how community-based snow leopard tourism had been successful in Ladakh, northwestern India, by giving more value to a live snow leopard than a dead one. I wanted to go see first-hand how these other mountain people who’d suffered livestock loss similar to the Dolpas (people of Dolpo) were operating ecotourism that rewarded them by conserving the snow leopard for tourists to see. And, I learned how the income earned from snow leopard treks served as an incentive to local people to stop harming snow leopard and to help visitors actually spot them.
When I returned to Dolpo, I began to research the possibility of organizing snow leopard treks in Phoksundo, my hometown and where visitors already come to see the stunning mountain lake, waterfall and scenery. Over a three- month winter season, I captured many pictures and videos of snow leopards using camera traps and I got a feel for where visitors might have a good chance of seeing them. With a license to operate treks in Nepal, I have now initiated a women-led environmentally and socially responsible enterprise to encourage, empower and engage local people by generating local jobs and awareness that incentivize snow leopard conservation. Ten percent of the enterprise income will go for snow leopard conservation and local livelihood improvement projects that also aim to preserve and promote Dolpo culture.
The objectives of Snow Leopard Journeys are:
1) to conserve vulnerable snow leopards;
2) to preserve and promote Dolpo culture;
3) to encourage, empower and engage local people by creating local job opportunities.