The voices of those who matter II

How people in Annapurna Conservation Area think about and feel towards the snow leopard.

In the ‘voices of those who matter‘ we looked at how people in Sagarmatha National Park (SNP) felt about the snow leopard.  In this blog we do the same with the 500-plus people we’ve talked to in our other study site: Annapurna Conservation Area (ACA)  After all, these are the people who live alongside the snow leopard day-in, day-out.  Their views of of the species are often shaped by practical experiences of losing livestock or via their religion, rather than through the comfortable lens of zoological collections or wildlife documentaries.  But like people everywhere, their opinions are diverse, multifaceted and important. Continue reading

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Seven days in Little Tibet

A blow-by-blow account of a week spent in the restricted NarPhu valley searching for snow leopards and their calling cards.

Day 1

Start: Koto 2600m

Finish: Mehta 3560m

Net altitude gain: 960m

Journey time: 8 hours 45 minutes

Armed to the teeth with permits, we were let into the valley by the police without any problems.  Immediately a different world: no tourists, no road, hardly any litter.  The river gorge we followed was incredible – 1,000m/3,300ft rock walls towering over us on both sides, the sky a sliver of light far above.  Sore neck from continually gaping upwards.  Below the narrow path a sharp fall to certain death in the ferocious Naar khola (river).  Exhausting walk.  Out like a light. Continue reading

Fawlty Towers

The worst hotel in town happens to be the only hotel in town. Expect fireworks.

A tired and hungry bunch of snow leopard researchers arrive at their accommodation after seven hours of exhausting hiking in the baking sun. What they don’t realise is that they have arrived at the NarPhu valley’s version of Fawlty Towers, staffed by the venerable manager (let’s call him Basil) and his hapless assistant (let’s call him Manuel). The scene is set for a memorable stay.

Continue reading

Goldrush

The extraordinary tale of the extraordinary fungus found widely in some snow leopard habitat.

At this time of year, high up in the Himalayas, multitudes of people can be seen combing the ground beneath them, as if looking for something lost. They proceed slowly on their hands and knees, painstakingly covering every square inch of hillside. Every so often, one stops, pulls out a trowel and digs carefully in the soil. Then they lift their prize to examine it in the light – a small, wizened, root-like object, its pale yellow colour obscured by a dusting of soil. Welcome to yartsagunbu season in Nepal. Welcome to the goldrush. Continue reading

No free lunch

A bright idea for surveying tourists turns into a lot of extra work. Maurice and Jonny recount the sad story.

Maurice: ‘Rinzin, can you please check with him if he is happy to sell his last bottle of methylated spirits to us…’

Rinzin: ‘Yes, he is more than happy!’

Maurice: ‘Fantastic! And could you check with him that he really doesn’t need it…’

After much dialogue, headshaking and difficult facial expressions, it became clear there was, in fact, a problem. Continue reading

Wild Mustang

A short digest of the team’s work over the last month in the western part of Annapurna Conservation Area.

Before it was a muscle-car or a horse breed from the New World, Mustang was a region of mid-western Nepal. It is the true heir to the title. Long before cars were invented or even before horses were introduced to North America by the Spanish, Mustang was the name given to this arid valley that runs south from the Tibetan border. Situated between the towering 8,000metre-plus peaks of Annapurna I and Dhaulagiri, its Kali Gandakhi gorge is the deepest in the world. The vast mountains to the east block the passage of the annual monsoon into the valley so that little rain waters its barren landscape. In fact, moonscape might be a more appropriate description. But in its starkness it is stunning. Continue reading

Stairway to heaven

Jonny looks back on his exploratory trip to Nepal in the Autumn of 2013 and sets the scene for his return next week.

In October/November of last year I made my first fieldtrip to Nepal. This one was about setting the scene for the main research trips of 2014, which this blog has been describing. I came to do a practice run with the questionnaire I’d devised, to conduct interviews with locals on a range of background issues relevant to my study, and to check out the areas where the team and I would be collecting data later on: Sagarmatha (Everest) National Park (SNP) and Annapurna Conservation Area (ACA). As my government research permit hadn’t come through by then (or till a lot later – see Hakuna Matata), I wasn’t able to visit SNP. But I had got my research permit from the organisation that operates ACA – the National Trust for Nature Conservation. I flew in to Kathmandu, had meetings with a few big conservation cheeses, bagged the permit and headed for the hills. Continue reading

Something old, something new

Doing a PhD is a bit like getting married: it’s a big commitment. Jonny explains, with a little help from an old wedding rhyme.

Something old

A PhD begins with history. There’s no point in reinventing the wheel so the first thing to do is assess what research has already been done, when, where and by whom. It means reading widely and deeply on the immediate subject matter you’re interested in – in my case snow leopards – as well as other related material. For me that includes previous work on other big cats species, carnivores and large animals, as well as research on agriculture, mountains, rural development and conservation governance (the different models for managing natural resources such as wildlife). All of that adds up a lot of documents that need sifting. My PhD proposal, which is a plan of how I’ll do my research, has around 365 references. The final thesis will have many more. Continue reading

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