Mountains of the mind

Two months on from finishing fieldwork, the snow leopard conservation journey continues.

The Himalayas may be thousands of miles from where I sit writing this, but their epic proportions feel much closer to home. That’s because the mountains that I’ve been working amongst over the last two months are not physical entities but mountains of data. With over 700 household questionnaires and 70 interviews collected there’s a lot of information to be sifted through and checked. I’ve just spent three weeks, for example, going through around 15,000 responses to open questions – were the respondent can say whatever they want rather than picking predetermined answers – and putting them in relevant categories. Only now am I ready to start analysing this data with statistics.

The analysis phase of a research project is like mountaineering in another way too: there are ups and there are downs. When it’s going well, it’s like standing atop a lofty peak, master of all you survey. When it’s not going so well, it’s like sitting at the bottom of a deep valley, in the rain, with blisters, cursing the idiot who got you into this mess in the first place (myself in this case). The mountains of the mind can be just as hard to conquer as the mountains beneath our feet.

Thankfully, the views are looking good for a key part of the project’s research. The data on tourists’ knowledge of snow leopards and their willingness to pay for snow leopard conservation and snow leopard-friendly certified products has already been analysed by Dr Nabin Baral of the University of Washington. It shows a clear link between the level of the proposed snow leopard conservation surcharge and the proportion of visitors to Annapurna Conservation Area willing to pay it (see graph below). Given that the park has upwards of 50,000 tourist visits per year, and whatever figure it is set at, this fee has the potential to generate significant funds for snow leopard conservation and associated development projects (e.g. compensation for livestock losses). Maurice is currently co-ordinating the writing of two articles on this topic, which will be published in academic journals in due course.

Tourists' willingness to pay for snow leopard conservation (Schutgens, Hanson, Baral and Ale, in prep)

Tourists’ willingness to pay for snow leopard conservation (Schutgens, Hanson, Baral and Ale)

Elsewhere, the plans to use data from this study to inform the design of an effective snow leopard conservation incentive scheme in the Annapurna region – linked more explicitly to tourism – are gathering pace. Several stakeholder groups are in active discussions about taking this forward. Knowledge is indeed power (as Bacon said) and power is knowledge (as Foucault said), so it will satisfying to see local communities and tourists empowered to conserve snow leopards in this part of the Himalayas through knowledge generated by this project. This blog will publish occasional pieces as important findings and developments crop up. Otherwise, snow leopards and the memories of time spent in Nepal researching their interactions with people, live on in the mountains of our minds.


One response to “Mountains of the mind

  1. Reblogged this on Dr Jonny Hanson and commented:

    It’s not the imposing spires of the Himalayas that are the world’s most challenging peaks,; it’s the mountains of the mind. These mental massifs also dictate the success or failure of snow leopard conservation, and nature conservation in general. Some parting thoughts in Snow Leopard Fieldwork Diaries 19.

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