High up in the colder regions of Sikkim resides the snow leopard.
This ecosystem is shared amongst some of the rarest species of its flora and fauna. One of these species co-inhabiting with snow leopards are cordyceps (cordycep sinsensis). The local communities of Lachen (located in the western part of North Sikkim district) have been dependent on the surrounding mountains for sustenance in the form of livestock rearing, collection of firewood and medicinal plants.
The Lachenpas venture into the high mountains in search of the caterpillar fungus locally known as ‘Yarshagomba’. The caterpillar fungus is believed to have medicinal properties and its collection is the source of livelihood for the local communities.
The local communities who collect cordyceps during the harvesting season, set up camps in these areas to gather the little caterpillar fungus, in turn throwing their garbage out in the nature. This garbage mostly consists of single-use plastic waste such as tarpaulin sheets, chips’ wrappers etc. This leaves the environment and the snow leopards’ home polluted.
WWF India is working with Lachenpas to design better, sustainable practices during the season of Cordyceps collection. Recently, the team travelled to these locations to assess the plastic pollution in the area. Consequently, a cleanup exercise was conducted in these areas. The cleanup segregation showed that the major share of waste included plastic soft drink bottles, packets of wafers, instant-noodle boxes and liquor bottles. Alongside, a survey was also held at two crucial collection sites to understand the conditions of the landscape.
We are working with the Lachen Dzuma, the traditional administrative institution. Strict measures to deter the locals from bringing plastics to their camps and collection sites is being discussed. We are also working with the Lachen Dzuma to urge the cordycep collectors to bring back the trash that is generated while on their camp. To further this initiative, tents and portable gas cylinders will be provided to the collectors. This will prevent them from cutting down trees and shrubs for firewood.
With the help of local communities, we aim to design better and sustainable practices during Cordyceps collection.