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Insurance scheme.

When Himalayan pastoralist Chungda Sherpa found that three of his yaks had been killed by a group of snow leopards, he did what herders in Nepal have done for centuries--he tracked down the leopards and killed them. He located the remains of his cattle beside three sleeping snow leopard cubs, snatched the cubs and put them in a sack, and threw the sack in a nearby river. Then he was hit with a wave of regret. "From that night onward the mother snow leopard started crying from the mountain for her cubs, and my cattle were crying for the loss of their calves," Sherpa, 48, says of the event that happened four years ago. "I realized how big a sin I had committed and promised myself that I would never do such a thing in the future."

To deter other herders from hunting snow leopards to protect their animals, Sherpa and some of his neighbors launched an insurance program for livestock. Under the scheme, herders in Nepal pay 55 rupees (about $1.50) a year for each of their hairy yaks, a vital pack animal that is also kept for milk and meat. Herders are then paid 2,500 rupees (about $29) for any animal that is killed by a leopard. The leopards have a taste for goats, sheep, and yaks, and are often killed by humans in revenge for preying on herds or as a preventative measure.

Wildlife conservationists say the scheme appears to be working to dissuade herders from hunting the cats, and in the process is giving new hope for the endangered leopard. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature estimates that in the past 16 years snow leopard numbers have decreased by 20 percent. There are between 4,000 and 6,500 snow leopards left in the wild. Experts believe that just 300 to 500 adult snow leopards remain in Nepal, and few people have ever seen the secretive "mountain ghost," which lives at 16,000 to 20,000 feet above sea level.

"The (Himalayan) communities have been able to pay out compensation for more than 200 animals since the scheme started," says Ghana Gurung, Nepal conservation director for the World Wildlife Fund. "The community members are the ones who monitor this, they are the ones who do the patrolling and they are the ones who verify the kills."

The insurance plan was established with a 1.2-million-Nepalese rupee donation from the University of Zurich. Since the insurance program was set up four years ago, no leopard is thought to have been killed in retaliation for livestock predation. A wide-ranging camera-trapping survey is now underway to determine the precise effectiveness of the campaign. Anecdotal evidence suggests the insurance program is working: Locals who watch for snow leopard scat and tracks believe that snow leopard numbers are growing. Now, Sherpa and other neighbors are hoping that protecting the cats will draw more international hikers to their region.

"Now with this insurance policy there will definitely be protection of the snow leopard and its numbers will increase," Sherpa says. "If a tourist sees a snow leopard and takes a picture of it, there will be publicity of our region and more tourists will come."

--AFP, 12/26
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Title Annotation:Asia; insurance program for livestock
Publication:Earth Island Journal
Geographic Code:9NEPA
Date:Mar 12, 2013
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