POKHARA, June 28: Mahesh Serchan recently lost his 15 yaks in a single day leopard. The wild beast had hunted his cattle even earlier. But this was the first time he lost so many cattle in a go. It has left the local of Kowang village of Thasang Village Municipality completely devastated. “How would I recover now? They were my most valuable assets,” he lamented. “Snow leopard has victimized us repeatedly,” he added.
Spotting snow leopards is next to impossible sometimes even when you wait to steal their glimpse for weeks. Even if they appear by chance, they pass in seconds, villagers say. However, they are perplexed that these lovely beasts have 'challenged their livelihood'. Stating that the cattle farming is their biggest occupation, locals are now demanding security of their livelihood.
“We have shed for our cattle in the high hills only. It's not possible to bring them down to the base in the evening and again take them to the upper hills for grazing everyday. Our cattle are not safe anymore there. Leopards have been hunting them in the shed itself,” Sherchan said.
Snow leopard has taken serious toll on the population of yaks in the village. If Sherchan is to be believed, leopards have killed 251 yaks in Kowang alone in the last six months. “They basically attack the calves. They do not dare to attack mother or male yak often,” he stated.
He informed to Republica that Yaks are brought to downhill sheds only during heavy snowfall. Or else, the cattle are kept in the high altitude shed also. “They need colder temperature than humans. So they are not brought down until it snows heavily,” he said.
Farmers of Kowang and Lomathong, among other areas of Mustang, have received support from government for yak farming. As part of the support package, government invests 80 percent while the individual bears the rest of the amount to start the business.
The grant has been provided to the farmers since the last two years as part of the High Mountain Agribusiness and Livelihood Improvement Project (HIMALI Project).
The District Animal Service Office claims because of the incentives and support provided by the project, locals have been very much encouraged to do cattle farming.
“We have been farming cattle on our own. In addition, the government has supported. However, everything seems to be going in vain as we are not able to stop the wild leopard's attack,” Sherchan said. He added the loss due to the beast is something the farmers cannot bear.
“If there was no such threat, what the government has done for the farmers like is us invaluable. But what to do when the leopards are pushing our business on the verge of closure? How can you continue with it when dozens of cattle is eaten away by leopard in a single day?” he asserted.
As far as they know, snow leopards used to be peaceful and harmless creatures earlier. They never heard of the animal killing their cattle even though livestock farming is their traditional occupation. They are not clear what exactly has made the snow leopards so aggressive in the recent years.
“When we were small, we used to hear of leopards eating our hens or cattle once a year or once in many years,” reminisced another farmer from Kowang, Gautam Sherchan. “Now the situation is that our yaks are hunted every single day. Sometimes a number of cattle in a day,” he added.
Neel Prasad Gauchan of the same village recently lost 32 yaks. A calf of Yak costs over Rs 15,000. Loss of so many cattle has seriously disturbed him, Gautam stated. “When such a huge loss has to be endured how can a person be normal? He lost so many cattle to snow leopard,” Gautam said. “Something has to be done about it or else we won't be in position to do yak farming,” he added. The cost of a fully grown male or female yak is around Rs 150,000 in the local market.
Though they are not sure, locals feel that the number of snow leopards in the area have grown over the years and because of it their cattle are hunted every single day. They have called on government to step in and take necessary measures to protect the means of their livelihood.
Subal Shah, chief at the Animal Service Office of the district, admits that snow leopard has been a big threat to cattle farming in the Himalayas. “Yaks are more vulnerable when they are left unattended for grazing,” he said. “We have been thinking how to relieve farmers from this problem. We are going to work with the Annapurna Conservation Area Project regarding this,” he said.