Household Conflicts with Snow Leopard Conservation
Few studies have empirically assessed conflict between people and snow leopard conservation, despite it being recognised as an information gap for snow leopards (Rosen et al. 2012) and other large carnivores (Linnell et al. 2005; Rastogi et al. 2012). In this study, instances of conflict assessed included a range of local conservation actors and interventions, including: park management; local committees; a ban on the killing of snow leopards; livestock compensation schemes; corral construction; environmental education activities; limits on the collection of Non-Timber Forest Products; limits on the collection of wood; other interventions. Only 7.7% of households surveyed overall recorded conflicts in the previous 12 months. This confirms anecdotal evidence from ACA (Jackson et al. 1996) and SNP (Ale et al. 2007) that conflict with snow leopard conservation is relatively infrequent. Triangulation interviews, however, found considerably higher rates of conflict with 28.6%% of interviewees reporting conflicts with conservation actors and 37.1% with conservation interventions occurring in their locality (N = 70; Table 2). This suggests that actual or perceived cases of conflict may be under-reported by households.
Instances of household conflict with snow leopard conservation can also be compared across study sites. In SNP, 3.8% (N = 260) of households reported conflict with snow leopard conservation in the previous 12 months, while in ACA, 9.9% (N = 445) did so. The mean figure in the latter was significantly higher than in the former (t(643) = −2.44; p = ≤0.05). In part, this is due to the significantly higher rates of livestock losses to snow leopards in ACA (see section 3.3), which itself occurs due to differing socio-economic and ecological conditions in the two PAs (Ale et al. 2007; Bhuju et al. 2007; Ale et al. 2014). However, as conflict with conservation is also a product of conservation governance (Marchini 2014; Redpath et al. 2015), the higher rate in ACA may be due to perceived mismanagement of conservation in the PA’s decentralised co-management model (Teacher, ACA; Youth leader × 2, ACA; Community leader, ACA).
Based on the key informant interviews, household conflicts with snow leopard conservation were also broken down into conflicts with particular snow leopard conservation actors and specific snow leopard conservation interventions (N = 56), including park management (7.1%); local conservation committee (1.8%); a ban on killing snow leopards or their prey (3.6%); the livestock compensation scheme (64.3%); wood and Non-Timber Forest Product collection (7.1%); and more than one conflict (16.1%). With actors, there were more conflicts with PA authorities—the DNPWC in SNP and the NTNC in ACA—than there were with local conservation committees, a trend consistent with the literature on CBC (Bajracharya et al. 2006). However, the most frequent conflict types were related to various interventions, suggesting that household altercations with snow leopard conservation can be complex and multi-faceted, as found with other carnivore species in Namibia (Rust et al. 2016). Of these, the livestock compensation scheme was the most frequently cited element of snow leopard conservation that was cited as problematic.
The reasons for these household conflicts also varied, as additional data from the key informant interviews illustrates. They include (N = 56): a lack of local benefits (14.3%); damage to livelihoods (64.3%); bureaucratic complexity and delay (5.4%); other reasons (1.8%); and more than one reason (14.2%). As with types of conflicts, the relative frequency of >1 reason suggests that negative household interactions with snow leopard conservation can have more than one cause (Rust et al. 2016). However, damage to livelihoods is clearly the most common reason for these altercations, with almost two-thirds of respondents citing this in each PA. Triangulation interviews corroborated these findings (Table 2), with 87.5% of interviewees suggesting ‘livelihood damage’ and ‘bureaucracy and livelihood damage’ as the main reasons for conflicts with actors (N = 20) and 88.4% over interventions (N = 26). These observations are also consistent with the literature, particularly on the potential constraints of PAs on livelihoods (Adams and Hutton 2007; Khan and Bhagwat 2010; Karanth and Nepal 2012).
Household Conflicts Over Livestock Compensation
Compensation for livestock losses to snow leopards was also analysed separately. Of the 111 households eligible for compensation in questionnaire responses, 93% had not, or not yet, received it. This is similar to findings in India (Karanth et al. 2013) and China (Alexander et al. 2015), with payment made in only 31% of cases in the Indian study. There was, however, no significant difference in the mean likelihood of compensation for livestock losses to snow leopards between SNP and ACA (t (117) = −1.09). This is despite the scheme being more comprehensive and better established in ACA, as compensation likelihood in triangulation interviews suggests (Supplementary Information 2). This may explain why ACA has significantly higher levels of household conflict with snow leopard conservation. For example, CBC may have effectively over-promised and under-delivered in ACA, resulting in heightened expectations of effective conservation solutions, such as compensation schemes, and greater disappointment when these fail, are perceived to have failed or suffered from any number of challenges. This may also explain the significantly less positive attitudes toward park management and to local conservation committees in ACA than in SNP (Hanson et al. 2019).
The most common reason for households not receiving compensation that triangulation interviews suggested was ‘bureaucracy’, cited by 41.0% of key informant interviewees (N = 39; Table 2). This has been a frequent critique of compensation schemes (Rosen et al. 2012; Chen et al. 2016). Yet the need for prompt payment has to be balanced with appropriate audits, checks and balances (Hemson et al. 2009; Alexander et al. 2021), a time-consuming process in itself, as several interviewees pointed out (Women’s leader, SNP; Microcredit cooperative officer, SNP; Teacher, ACA). The next most frequent reason was a multiple one, suggesting that the reasons for compensation schemes malfunctioning can be numerous and complex (Dickman et al. 2011).
Explaining Household Conflicts with Snow Leopard Conservation
The social factors that explain human conflicts with snow leopard conservation, or with the conservation of other large carnivores, have received limited quantitative analysis to date. Here, 11 potential explanatory variables were tested for relationships with self-reported household conflicts with snow leopard conservation in a multivariate context (Supplementary Information 1). A linear model was not computed for the SNP sample as the number of households reporting conflicts with snow leopard conservation was too small (n = 10). The order of inclusion in the models was hierarchical and theoretical, and based on similar analyses in other published studies of human-wildlife impacts (Karanth et al. 2013; Suryawanshi et al. 2013), due to the relative absence of empirical analyses of predictors of human-conservation conflicts. Additional and diagnostic information for each model is contained in Supplementary Information 2 and 3.
In both models, total number of livestock lost to all source of mortality, whether snow leopards, other predators, disease, accidents, bad weather and various other causes, was the only explanatory variable that was significant. It explained 4.5% of the variation in ACA (R² = 0.045; b = 0.21 [0.039, 0.37]; p = 0.019) and only 4% overall (R² = 0.040; b = 0.17 [0.028, 0.071]; p = 0.019), meaning caution should be exercised in extrapolating from these models. Nevertheless, the total numbers of livestock lost to all source of mortality was the only significant variable, and using this as a proxy for husbandry standards, this relationship underscores the significance of livestock management approaches for carnivore, and snow leopard, conservation noted elsewhere (Kolowski and Holekamp 2006; Wang and Macdonald 2006; Namgail et al. 2007; Jackson et al. 2010). There is, however, a lack of quantitative empirical studies of human-conservation conflicts with which to compare, though a qualitative analysis of Namibian livestock and game farms did find a link between husbandry standards and human-conservation conflicts at the intra-farm level (Rust et al. 2016).
It also adds to the body of knowledge on the impact of livelihood factors in contributing to human-conservation conflicts (Adams and Hutton 2007; Rust et al. 2016). However, the relative explanatory weakness of these models in explaining household conflicts with snow leopard conservation suggests that environmental factors, such as snow leopard and snow leopard prey densities, rather than social factors may be the main drivers here. Additional research is required.
Household Livestock Losses
Of the studies that have analysed livestock depredation rates by snow leopards, only some have also reported total herd losses per annum. In this study, the total of self-reported losses to all sources of mortality across all livestock classes gave an annual herd loss of 9.3% (Table 3). These levels are similar to the level reported in the literature (Devkota et al. 2013; Li et al. 2013; Alexander et al. 2015), with the exception of Ale et al. (2014).
Mean losses of livestock by households differed significantly between study sites for some livestock categories (Table 3). ACA suffered higher rates of loss of sheep/goats, equines and other livestock species. Meanwhile, rates of loss of cattle and yaks/yak hybrids were similar across the two sites. However, ACA experienced significantly higher levels of mean household livestock losses overall, probably because sheep and goats were phased out from SNP due to meet prevailing conservation policy (Bhuju et al. 2007), and also because snow leopard densities were higher in ACA (Ale et al. 2014; DNPWC 2017).
Only one of the snow leopard predation studies listed above examined the financial impact of livestock losses overall. The economic value of total livestock losses to households in their sample from Central China was US$ 6193 each over the previous 12 months (Li et al. 2013). This is considerably higher than the US$ 492 per herding household noted for SNP and ACA combined in this study (Table 4), with the median value for each livestock class based on quantitative data from triangulation interviews (N = 70). This difference may be due to higher average holdings of livestock in the study by Li et al. (2013), particularly of more valuable large-bodied stock, such as yaks.
Of the most important reasons for household livestock losses (N = 272), snow leopards were cited as the primary cause of livestock mortality in this study (33.1%), followed by disease (22.8%), other predators (17.6%), accidents (12.1%), weather (9.6%) and other (4.8%). While some other studies have confirmed this trend (Devkota et al. 2013), other studies have listed different factors, including predation by other carnivore species, as the main contributor to livestock losses (Li et al. 2013; Ale et al. 2014; Alexander et al. 2015). Of the other predatory species mentioned, common leopards in SNP and jackals in ACA were frequently reported in interviews (Teacher and microcredit cooperative officer, SNP; Conservation leader, SNP; Park officer, ACA; Buddhist lama, ACA).
Household Impacts from Snow Leopards
The overall loss of livestock to snow leopards reported by households was 16.6%, comprising 11.5% in SNP and 18.0% in ACA. The annual overall loss to the species as a percentage of the total herd was 3.4% (Table 3), approximately a third of total losses, which is consistent with the proportion reporting the species as the primary cause of livestock loss. This figure is also the same as the mean of various studies in the literature, which reported annual livestock predation rates by snow leopards of between 0.3% and 12.0% (Mishra 1997; Jackson and Wangchuk 2001; Devkota et al. 2013; Li et al. 2013; Ale et al. 2014; Alexander et al. 2015; Chen et al. 2016). There appear to be no published estimates of livestock losses to snow leopards in SNP, apart from a figure of 1.9% estimated for the Phortse area (Ale et al. 2007).
When mean household livestock losses to snow leopards were compared and contrasted between SNP and ACA, the data showed two significant differences (Table 3): (i) killings of sheep/goats were higher in ACA, where significantly higher numbers occurred, (ii) while killings of cattle were significantly higher in SNP, even though there were significantly lower numbers of cattle in SNP than in ACA. The difference may be due to the absence of sheep/goats from SNP for conservation reasons (Bhuju et al. 2007) and the relatively low densities of Himalayan tahr (Ale et al. 2007), leading to increased snow leopard predation on cattle. Losses of yaks/yak hybrids and equines were not significantly different between the two study sites, even though ACA supports significantly higher numbers of equines.
The value of livestock losses to snow leopards was less evenly spread between the two sites than the value of livestock losses overall (Table 4), with a bias towards ACA. This was probably due to smaller populations of snow leopards and sheep/goats in SNP (Bhuju et al. 2007). The combined figure of US$ 243 worth of livestock losses per herding household in the previous 12 months is within the range of figures reported elsewhere. These included widely varying figures of US$ 33.80 in Upper Mustang, ACA (Aryal et al. 2014), US$ 128 in Ladakh, India (Mishra 1997) and US$ 646 in central China (Li et al. 2013).
Analysis of the spatial dimensions of livestock losses to snow leopards (N = 114) indicated a clear bias towards high pastures (71.1%), followed by low pastures (13.2%), cultivated land/settlements (13.2%), barren land (1.8%) and other (0.9%). The high pasture figure from questionnaires is also corroborated by triangulation interviews, which gave an estimate of 61.4%. The temporal dimensions of livestock losses to snow leopards (N = 110) showed that half of such killings took place during winter (50.0%), followed by Spring (14.5%), Summer (14.5%), Autumn (12.8%) and unsure (8.2%). This clear trend is reported elsewhere in the literature for Nepal (Devkota et al. 2013), including for ACA (Aryal et al. 2014). Triangulation interviews also confirmed winter as the key time for livestock kills by snow leopards in both ACA and SNP, with a reported figure of 50%.
Explaining Household Impacts from Snow Leopards
The social factors which explain impacts on households from snow leopards, i.e. livestock losses, have been less considered than the ecological factors. In this study, 11 independent variables were therefore analysed for their potential role in explaining livestock losses to snow leopards, in a multivariate analyses (Supplementary Information 4). The order of inclusion in the multiple regression models was hierarchical and theoretical, based on similar modelling in other published studies (Hemson et al. 2009; Karanth et al. 2012; Suryawanshi et al. 2013). Additional and diagnostic information for each model is contained in Supplementary Information 5, 6 and 7.
Like with the multivariate analyses of factors best-explaining household conflicts with snow leopard conservation, total household livestock losses were also the only explanatory variable that was significant in each of the three multivariate models explaining livestock losses to snow leopards. It explained 43% of the variation in ACA (R² = 0.431; b = 0.49 [0.39, 0.59]; p = 0.001), 39% in SNP (R² = 0.388; b = 0.38 [0.26, 0.52]; p = 0.001) and 43% overall (R² = 0.430; b = 0.47 [0.37, 0.55]; p = 0.001). As discussed for human-conservation conflicts, this variable is used as a proxy for husbandry standards in this study. Various studies have also identified husbandry practices as a key concern for snow leopard conservation (Jackson et al. 2010; Ale et al. 2014; Chen et al. 2016; Mishra et al. 2016). The importance of this variable was approximately equal in both SNP and ACA, despite significantly lower livestock holdings in the former.
Yet where husbandry has been identified as a problem previously, herders were either unwilling to change their practices (Jackson and Wangchuk 2001) or perceived that predator population increases were to blame (Chen et al. 2016). In addition, the growth of tourism in snow leopard habitat may reduce the availability of labour for livestock guarding in both ACA (Ale et al. 2014) and SNP (Ale et al. 2007), as some interviewees also noted (Hotel owners, SNP; Buddhist monk, SNP; Teacher, SNP; Community leader, ACA).