By Meenal Pahuja
Changthang is a part of the high altitude Tibetan Plateau in western and northern Tibet, extending into eastern Ladakh.
Despite being a complete barren and cold desert, Changthang Valley is home to some of the rare wildlife species like the blue sheep (Pseudois nayaur), Ladakhi urial (Ovis aries vignei), argali (Ovis ammon), kiang (Equus kiang), Tibetan gazelle (Procapra picticaudata), Lynx (Lynx lynx), Tibetan wolf (Canis lupus filchneri), Snow leopard (Panthera uncia), Black necked crane (Grus nigricollis).
The landscape is dotted by vast highlands and giant lakes, inhabited mostly by nomads who rear livestock as their economic mainstay.
It is in within the expanses of this beautiful landscape that life thrives in difficult conditions, from the elusive snow leopard to the age-old Changpa nomads along with their livestock.
These communities face the wrath of climate change in the form of excessive and erratic snowfall, along with decreased rainfall further degrades pasture quality and paucity of fodder. This leads to livestock competing with wild ungulates for grazing pastures which are also an important prey base for carnivores like snow leopards and tibetan wolves. Often livestock is depredated by these carnivores in the mountains leaving the communities with large losses for nomads that are otherwise eking out a living to sustain themselves in this harsh terrain.
Various manifestations of how the entire life of the Changpas solely depends on the livestock; the availability of grass and water governs their migration pattern and their sustenance is supported by the products of livestock i.e., the hair (pashmina), milk, butter, cheese, and manure.
These highland grazers brave some of the harshest conditions on earth to produce one of the finest things you can touch- pashmina wool, the golden fibre. There also remains the dying vestiges of nomadism, living a precarious future due to rapid rate of urban migration as only the older generation stays on and the youth moves to cities for education and employment.
WWF India is working closely with the nomadic communities in order to understand the dynamics between the rangelands management and pastures of the landscape and building alternative livelihoods for the people to decrease the resource pressure on the pasturelands.
In circumstances such as these, WWF India finds itself engaging with the Changpas by training women in traditional handicrafts.
Over 90 women have been trained in weaving local fabrics and shawls, carpets and crafting felt toys.
-By working closely with and for the Changpas we try to inculcate conservation awareness by building up on their traditional knowledge, culture and governance where species like snow leopards can coexist harmoniously while being an umbrella for the entire ecosystem.
-In the long term, these efforts aim to make the nomadic communities the stewards of these grasslands and wildlife which inhabits it.
In a landscape like Changthang which forms a spatial mosaic for wildlife, livestock and people alike, the conservation of critical wildlife species relies a lot on the local communities sharing space and resources with them.