The state of Arunachal Pradesh, popularly known as the land of the rising sun is unparalleled in its natural beauty and is home to an array of species, some of which are unique to the region. Large parts of the forested area in this state are under traditional ownership of indigenous communities. And in some districts such as East Kameng, West Kameng and Tawang districts, more than 80 per cent of theforests are managed by the local communities under customary laws.

The Monpa Bapu vowing to protect their tribe and their forests at one of the few rituals that takes place once in 7 years

Communities in these districts are stewards of conservation.  Under the Community Conserved Areas (CCAs), a concept introduced by WWF-India in the year 2004, local communities in some of these villages become active decision makers to implement conservation initiatives that benefits both wildlife and humans. Local communities in these CCAs have formed committees to undertake wildlife monitoring, patrolling, and community based tourism activities. I was here to document the ecological and social aspects of this unique conservation model in Thembangin West Kameng district, home to the  Monpa community.

The Thembang village guarded by the ancient walls

To develop a better understanding of the ecological aspects, I began my study of large mammals found in the region using camera traps. The youth from the local community were my active partners, guides and friends, as we set upon the ambitious task of deploying camera traps at varying altitudinal zones to maximize the coverage of various types of forests that adorn the Thembang Bapu Community Conserved Area (TBCCA).

One of the locals learning to set up the camera trap

While entering through the high stone wall that guarded the Thembang village, I was convinced that I had entered a timeless zone. A village with bamboo houses high off the ground and stones nestled inside a verdant forest was a stunning sight to behold. I knew then my journey had just begun and there was more in store for me.

My team setting camera traps near Lagam , a nomadic village

The camera trap work began in March and in the next two months, my team comprising of WWF-India staff and group of local youths had successfully laid camera traps at various locations around the CCA.I had an ordeal task ahead as the high-altitude area of the CCA called Brok was yet to be covered.From what I heard from the locals, reaching Brok (referred to as high altitude pasture lands) was almost an accomplishment. As a person who lived by the coast all my life, I realized that reaching it would be more than just an accomplishment for me.

The view of the vastand magnanimous mountains from one of the the temporary camping sites

We would trek all day and camp where the yak herders had established their temporary camp sites. The days were cold and long and the nights were colder. We would lay camera traps as we trekked and often stop and admire the beauty that surrounded us. Upon reaching Brok,  herds of blue sheep were luxuriously grazing along the slopes of the mighty mountains. A Red fox watched us quietly and as we crossed paths, it would run further away and peek at us through the mossy rocks.

The red fox peeking at us, hoping for us to leave

Having finally set up all the camera traps in the CCA, we were set to leave for Thembang village. As we were trekking down,I pondered that the past 4 months in field had been the most exciting part of my student life. I also thought about the magnificent and elusive snow leopard, which only a few lucky ones have had a chance to see it despite spending a lifetime in the mountains. Little did I know then, that one of the camera traps that we had just installed, would photograph a snow leopard, which perhapsis the first photographic evidence of the snow leopard in Arunachal Pradesh. I was sifting through the camera trap images and encountered the stunning snow leopard right on my computer screen, I knew that this was an experience I will cherish forever.

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