Chapter 5 Depredation on Livestock and Retaliatory Killing

5.1. Introduction

Depredation rates due to snow leopards and sympatric predators, especially the wolf, vary widely from under 1% in parts of Mongolia or China (Schaller et al. 1994; Schaller 1998) to over 12% of livestock holdings in hotspots in Nepal (Jackson et al. 1996) or India (Bhatnagar et al. 1999; Mishra 1997), but they typically average 1-3% (Mallon 1991; Oli et al. 1994; Hussain 2003; Namgail et al. 2007; Maheshwari et al. 2010, 2013; Wegge et al. 2012: Li et al. 2013).

Herders are especially angered by events of surplus killing when a snow leopard enters a corral and up to 50 or more of the confined sheep and goats are killed in a single instance (Jackson and Wangchuk 2001); in the Hemis National Park, India, such events (14% of all incidents) accounted for 38% of all livestock lost (Bhatnagar et al. 1999) and probably led to most retributive action against snow leopards.

Annual economic losses associated with depredation events range from about $50 to over $600 per household, or as much as 56% of the local average per capita income (Oli et al. 1994; Jackson et al. 1996; Mishra 1997; Ikeda 2004; Namgail 2007; Li et al. 2013).

Depredation tends to be highly site specific, with losses varying greatly between successive years and even between nearby settlements (Jackson et al. 2010, Suryawanshi et al. 2013). Typically less than 10% of households suffer disproportionate loss, usually from corralled sheep and goat kills, or when unguarded, but high-value yaks and horses are killed on the open range (Jackson et al. 1996; Ikeda 2004; Li et al. 2013). Complacent guarding, poorly constructed night-time pens, favorable stalking cover and insufficient wild prey are cited as the primary factors contributing to livestock depredation.

Large depredation losses may create such levels of anger towards snow leopards, wolves and other large predators that local communities lose any tolerance and view predator extermination as the only solution to the conflict (Oli et al. 1994). Therefore, understanding and managing conflicts over livestock depredation represents an important goal for effective snow leopard conservation action.

Conflicts involve two important dimensions – the reality of damage caused by snow leopards to livestock, and the resulting perceptions and attitudes of humans impacted by such economic loss (Suryawanshi et al. 2013). People’s attitudes and tolerance for snow leopard varies, depending upon their religious beliefs, income status, educational level, perception of threat that snow leopards pose to their livelihood, and the extent of livestock losses they and their community have suffered (Mishra 1997; Jackson and Wangchuk 2004; Suryawanshi et al. 2013, 2014). Li et al. (2013) reported that only 10% of livestock losses in one area of Qinghai, China, were attributed to snow leopards, compared to 45% to wolves and 42% to disease. Livestock losses attributed to snow leopards may be exaggerated, either mistakenly or deliberately. Nonetheless, perceptions can have strong emotional and political consequences, ultimately leading to the persecution of snow leopards or other carnivores. As suggested above, the actual extent of livestock depredation hinges on many interacting factors including wild prey availability, livestock herding and guarding practices, livestock species composition, and habitat characteristics of the rangelands (Suryawanshi et al. 2013).

A review of the literature (including unpublished or gray material) indicates that livestock usually comprises between 20% and 70% of snow leopard scat prey remains, averaging around 30%, while livestock depredation is most severe in winter and early spring (e.g., Mallon 1984; Anwar et al 2011; Devkota et al. 2013) but can be as low as 0% (Tajikistan, Hunting concession “Murghab”, Panthera unpubl. data 2012). Although herders may act to reduce their risk and losses to depredation (Mishra et al. 2003b), these are often insufficient to prevent livestock losses. Besides possessing poorly developed anti-predator abilities, livestock numbers and biomass are often an order of magnitude higher than wild ungulate abundance and/or availability. In Nepal, for example, livestock biomass reaches 1,700 kg per km2 (Jackson et al. 1996) compared to 330 kg per km2 or less for the snow leopard’s main prey, the blue sheep (Pseudois nayaur), in the same season (Oli 1994). Bagchi and Mishra (2006) reported higher livestock (58%) in snow leopard diet in an area with more livestock (29.7 head km-2) and fewer wild ungulates (2.1-3.1 bharal km-2) in comparison to an adjoining area with less livestock (13.9 km-2) but more wild ungulates (4.5-7.8 Siberian ibex Capra sibirica km-2) where livestock formed 40% of its diet. These data highlight the importance of livestock as prey for some snow leopard populations (Anwar et al. 2011), and the potential role that local communities may unintentionally play in sustaining them opens a potential avenue for conservation action (see Chapter 9).

Studies assessing human tolerance of carnivores have shown cultural beliefs and social identity to be important determinants of the way people respond to livestock depredation events (Naughton-Treves et al. 2003; Treves and Morales 2006; Li et al. 2013). The presence of community-based conservation and incentive schemes and a lower role of livestock in the economy tend to positively influence peoples’ tolerance towards snow leopards (Jackson and Wangchuk 2004; Bagchi and Mishra 2006; Suryawanshi et al. 2014). Herders who receive compensation for their “lost” livestock are also likely to have positive attitudes towards snow leopards (Ikeda 2004; Gurung et al 2012), but the proportion of herders receiving compensation is typically very small (e.g. 28 of 131 depredation cases over a period of 18 months; Mishra 1997). For these and other reasons, mitigation measures should combine preventive elements (e.g. improved guarding of livestock; construction of predator-proof night-time pens or corrals) with economic incentives (e.g. income generation from ecotourism or the sale of handicrafts) (Mishra et al. 2003; Jackson and Wangchuk 2004) embedded in target-based contractual agreements that can be monitored for compliance at several levels (see Chapter 14 Estimating Snow Leopard and Prey Populations and Monitoring Trends).

5.2. Mitigation measures

There is an urgent need to reduce the negative economic impacts of livestock predation through (a) livestock management procedures that reduce depredation and (b) to offset losses through insurance, compensation or other incentive schemes. The following paragraphs focus on ways of reducing livestock loss to predators. Table 4.1 summarizes human-wildlife conflicts and mitigation measures currently being applied or proposed across the snow leopard range states (World Bank 2013).

Community-based conservation/incentive schemes have been relatively successful in a few places in establishing a locally managed system for monetary compensation and insurance for those herders losing livestock (Hussain 2000, Mishra et al. 2003, Jackson and Wangchuk 2004; Gurung et al. 2012; Jackson 2012, Rosen et al. 2012). Where carefully designed and implemented, these initiatives were instrumental in also facilitating project ownership by the community, thereby empowering them and leading to largely positive attitudes that better enable long-term co-existence with carnivores. Ultimately, conservation success rests on how tolerant a community is towards predators and to what extent such tolerance can be strengthened through collaboration and educational outreach. A comprehensive understanding of human perceptions, attitudes and tolerance is critical in predicting human response in a conflict situation; however, this is also conditional upon community participation in conservation and conflict management planning process from inception through monitoring and evaluation.

Predator proofing of livestock corrals has been one of the main measures for improving livestock protection (Bhatnagar et al. 1999; Jackson and Wangchuk 2004). Better herding practices and a reward system for effective anti-predatory livestock herding (i.e. fewer kills) have also been encouraged by conservationists, especially where livestock depredation occurs in pastures rather than from corrals (Mishra et al. 2003). Some herders often keep dogs to guard against predators; while presumably relatively effective, however, this can also lead to other conservation problems if the dogs are not properly cared for or should they become feral.

In the Spiti valley in India and parts of Nepal snow leopard predation upon horses is reported to be disproportionately high (Jackson et al. 1996; Mishra 1997). Due to their high economic value, killing of a horse prompts immediate and far greater hostility from the herder community (Oli 1994). Typically, horses and yaks free-range for large parts of the year, and are thus difficult to protect since it is often not economically feasible for livestock owners to guard them constantly (a practice more common for vulnerable small-bodied stock like sheep and goats).

Improving wild-prey availability has been proposed as a solution to reducing livestock damage by the snow leopard (Mishra et al. 2003). While increased prey availability should benefit snow leopard conservation, the effectiveness of this measure in reducing livestock depredation is uncertain (Suryawanshi et al. 2013). There is some evidence that increasing wild ungulate prey availability may lead to increased snow leopard abundance which is likely to increase the extent of livestock depredation, at least initially. Thus, measures to better protect livestock from depredation by snow leopard through effective barriers and deterrents are sorely needed to reduce the extent of livestock damage by this large-felid. Communal guarding is one option, along with the mapping and subsequent avoidance of depredation hotspots (typically more rugged terrain with an abundance of cover and limited human presence).

Lastly, there are important gaps in availability of published information on the scope and extent of livestock depredation by snow leopards and their persecution in snow leopard range countries like Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Afghanistan, Bhutan, parts of western Mongolia and  Russia (Table 5.1). These areas need to be prioritized for exploratory surveys to understand the extent of human-snow leopard conflict.

Table 5.1: Status of livestock depredation and mitigation measures across the 12 snow leopard range countries.

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Table 5_1_ Status_of_Livestock_Depredation

5.3. Recommendations

Research required prior to taking action:

  • Determine the location, patterns, nature and extent of the depredation problem and identify hotspots
  • Determine trends in depredation using historic and current documentation

Table 5.2: Livestock Depredation – Suggested Action Guidelines

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Table 5_2_Livestock_Depredation_Suggested_Action_Guidelines


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