The Predicament of a Herder

Winters in Spiti valley are filled with celebrations of a fruitful year and prayers for a bountiful year ahead. Most of the time is spent within the villages as travel is usually difficult especially when heavy snowfall causes roadblocks. The year 2018 was also not much different. In the month of November, as we were readying ourselves for the coming winter months in Kibber, I received an urgent message from a colleague in Mysore in Karnataka.

“A herder has lost much livestock in Chango, possibly killed by a wild animal” the message said.

 

These were the only details along with a WhatsApp video that was being circulated. Understanding that the matter could be grave and the weather was still permitting travel, I decided to leave immediately for Chango which is in Kinnaur. I requested Tanzin Thuktan, my colleague, to join me. Chango is about 110 km away from Kibber.

We did not have any details about the owner or where exactly the incident had happened. Upon reaching Chango we were clueless, but the good thing about small towns and villages is that everyone knows each other very well. So, when we enquired about the case with local shopkeepers, they were well aware of it and they told us that Thuktan Tender was the owner of the livestock and showed us the way to his house. Thuktanji is an apple farmer in Chango and has a settlement at Liti Dogri. When we arrived at his house, he was confused about why we had traveled from so far to talk about his loss. With a little hesitation, he narrated the whole incidence to us.

On 16th November 2018, Raju, the caretaker of the corral, had returned to the village to gather supplies for the Dogri. He decided to stay back in the village for the night. The next day when he went back and opened the door of the corral, the animals rushed out in panic. Usually, he would have had to take a lot of effort into getting the animals out of the corral. He knew  something was wrong. It was  strange behavior.

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Broken Door; Photo courtesy Mikey Dabro from Pexels

Standing by the door he carefully scanned the inside of the corral and to his surprise, he saw a set of shining eyes staring back at him in the dark. He immediately knew what it was and slammed the door shut. He called Thuktan and narrated the incident. Within a few hours, the news had reached every household in Chango and nearby villages.

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Snow Leopard; Photo courtesy Adriaan Greyling from Pexels

A snow leopard, which had entered the corral in the dark of the night, had somehow got trapped inside. It garnered a lot of attention from local leaders and the forest department to school teachers. Everyone had reached the Dogri to enquire about the incident and see the snow leopard. Upon many assurances of receiving relief for the loss, Thuktan released the snow leopard. He also made a video of the release as a record that the animal had been released unharmed. When they inspected the corral from inside, they saw 19 animals that had been killed and 11 critically injured. Within 2-3 days even they succumbed to their injuries. However, after the release, all the hype around the case vanished. So, when I met with Thuktanji, a few weeks later, he was understandably angry and had lost hope of receiving any financial help. I asked him if I could visit the Dogri, to which he agreed.

Liti Dogri is about 15 km away from Chango. It has three big corrals which houses small-bodied animals like goats and sheep of several livestock owners of the village. Thuktan ji’s corral at any time has 200-250 animals. Upon inspection of the corral, we noticed that the door of the corral was old and did not shut completely. We gathered that the snow leopard must have entered through the door and had gotten trapped inside. To prevent further loss, we decided that we would replace the door with a new sturdy one. The next few days were filled with hurdles. The closest material shop and welder was 130 km away in Reckong Peo. Getting the material on time was crucial to avoid further losses. The three of us drove to Peo in Thuktan ji’s car and bought doors for the corral. The villagers came to help us fix the door. The compensation process as well as the relief amount was also not very clear.

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Repairing broken door of Thuktanji; Photo courtesy Nature Conservation Foundation

We decided to speak to the local Forest Guards and Range Officers. They informed us that the compensation file had been sent to the DFO’s office in Reckong Peo. We then met with the DFO who was very sympathetic and assured us that Thuktanji would receive the claim as per the new notification rates. Within few weeks Thuktanji received the claim from the department. Compared to the actual loss suffered and other collateral costs incurred, the financial relief offered by the Forest Department was often considered too little. Fortunately, the department has revised these rates since August 2018 to ensure that the herders can cope with these situations better than before.

 

As a herder myself, I believe that we must try to ensure that such events are avoided in the first place. Wild animals have always lived around us and will continue to do so. We have always taken precautions to keep our livestock safe from them, and we have to continue doing so. With access to better resources in our remote areas, we may be able to plan this more effectively and upgrade our corrals to make them predator-proof. This way we may be able to prevent any future losses that might occur.

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Herder taking livestock for grazing; Photo courtesy Munib Khanyari

About the Author

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Tanzin Thinley

Tanzin Thinley is a farmer and a herder from Kibber. He developed a keen interest in wildlife as a young boy. For nearly 20 years now he has been actively involved in wildlife conservation in Spiti valley. He has worked with many villages to ensure that their wildlife-related losses can be prevented as well as mitigated.