The vast expanse of the Indian Changthang in Ladakh. Photo by Udayan Rao Pawar.

Conservation in action

Over several months, Stanzin le joined Karma le in meeting Changpa herders to vet this thought. Consensus grew in favour of building a stupa. The herders of Chushul, a pastoral community in the heart of Changthang, were the first to act.

“But we must seek counsel of our religious head before taking any such step,” advised Kaga Namgail the President of Chushul Herder’s Association.

A delegation of herders met with the Rimpoche to seek his blessings. His Eminence Bakula Rangdol Nyima Rimpoche consented and agreed to personally consecrate the stupa that would be built.

Over the next few months, herders and the villagers of Chushul came together to help with the construction of a stupa. On 14 June 2018, villagers of Chushul proudly hosted H.E. Bakula Rangdol Nyima Rimpoche at the consecration ceremony for a newly built stupa. The villagers neutralised the existing shangdongs in their pastures—four in all—while retaining the structures.

Word travels fast across Changthang. Soon the herders of Gya-Miru found out about the initiative in Chushul. Similar discussions took place with the herders of this region. Ideas were shared and action proposed.

On 2 November 2019, the herders of Gya valley proudly neutralised two shangdongs, one of them in Tsaba valley.

A stupa next to a neutralised shangdong (traditional wolf trap) in Tsaba valley, Ladakh. Photo by Rigzen Dorjay.
A stupa next to a neutralised shangdong (traditional wolf trap) in Tsaba valley, Ladakh. Photo by Rigzen Dorjay.

The end or a new beginning

Does this count as a conservation success? It probably is a step in the right direction, but is equally a responsibility for the future. Neutralising the wolf trap is an important step, but having in place measures that allow herders to think in favour of conservation is a prerequisite.

As a conservation practioner, I had come seeking the middle ground with herders who I thought opposed the idea. I was wrong. They were in search of the middle ground themselves. In the course of my experiences of engaging with Changpa herders they taught me that conservation happens at the intersection of ecology, culture and the path that the economy takes us on. It allows for a breadth of worldviews to coexist. The challenge lies in our ability to respectfully reconcile our perspectives and work towards that common goal.

Read more: Natural history, religion interweave to help human-leopard coexistence in Siwalik village

Ajay Bijoor works at the Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF) in Mysore as part of the high altitude programme and manages the community conservation programmes in the cold desert landscapes of Ladakh and Spiti.


Banner image: Changpa herders with their livestock enclosed in a corral. Photo by Rigzen Dorjay.

Article published by Aditi Tandon
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