As an intrinsic part of our field team in Sikkim, PhuchungLachengpa spends more than 20 days of the month in the tough terrain of the Jachu Valley, installing camera traps and monitoring snow leopard acitivty in the region. The journey up till Jachu from Lachen (where Phuchung is from)  is not easy. 

‘’My ten year old son loves to hear about our adventures when I come back home to Lachen – he can’t wait to be old enough to go up himself,’’ he beams. 

‘’Don’t you or your family feel scared of this type of work?,’’ we wonder. ‘’How can I fear my own land?’’, asks Phuchung in return. 

Phuchung Lanchengpa, 34, is WWF-India’s true champion. He is a field coordinator working in Sikkim’s Khangchendzonga landscape and is trained to conduct ecological surveys for developing a better understanding

of the conservation needs of the snow leopard, its prey species and habitat. 

He has worked tirelessly over the past several months, installing and monitoring camera traps, conducting prey species surveys and documenting threats to snow leopards. Hailing from Lachen village, about 100 km away from Gangtok in Sikkim, he was one of the people in the community to be trained by WWF-India to conduct snow leopard surveys.

Phuchung treks through the rugged terrain to set up camera traps

© WWF-India

“It’s been 14 months since I first began working with WWF-India. This job allows me to be in the mountains and I love living outdoors,” says Phuchung. Just about three years ago, he was doing a myriad of  jobs -  working as porter with the army, road construction with the Public Works Department and the occasional livestock herding.  

After a brief stint with WWF-India’s snow leopard conservation program, he developed the ability to use equipment such as camera trap, binoculars and GPS to record wildlife presence and movement.

For Phunchung, this work meant  freedom!  The purposeful treks and monitoring activities had Phuchung hooked in no time! 

He has trekked these mountains numerous times, camped for weeks to monitor and collect camera trap images and braved the harsh weather conditions. His energy is amazing - he unquestioningly conducts his duties in the tough terrain. His love for wildlife is also palpable.

“I have spotted some unique species on these mountains such as the Himalayan monal, Tibetan gazelle, Himalayan blue sheep”, mentions Phuchung. “I feel completely lost when I am in a city or a town even when it is only for a few days, but here in these rolling meadows and rugged mountains, I feel at home. I will not trade this for anything else,” says Phuchung.

As part of the systematic snow leopard research and monitoring program, Phuchung was trained by WWF-India’s snow leopard expert Rishi Kumar Sharma. The camera traps deployed resulted in the first photographic evidence of snow leopards from North Sikkim!

“My community members knew that there are snow leopards in the mountains around our village, yet no one had seen a photograph. Now, when I return from my field surveys, excitement builds up in my village as people want to see what I have got in my camera traps, especially the snow leopard photographs. These images and videos are some of the best evidences of snow leopards.”

Kahangchendzonga (which means the five treasures of the snow) is widely regarded as the guardian deity of the Lepcha community. With Phuchung’s efforts on snow leopard protection in the area, it now seems that the deity is being served in more ways than one. 

“I tell my community members about the importance of snow leopards and the connections between their own life and the natural world. Over the past two years I am helping create awareness by convincing people to cooperate in waste management.I keep collecting trash when I am conducting surveys, and I advise people not to hunt or harass animals,” says Phuchung.

Phuchung was trained by WWF-India to set up camera traps in North Sikkim

© WWF-India

Camera trap image of snow leopard in North Sikkim, India

© WWF-India
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