Communities, conservation and convergence: hope for Pirpanjal Markhor

Conservation is the art of finding common ground in the midst of conflicting interests and priorities. It is about finding effective solutions through integrative negotiations. In order to start or develop a successful conservation program, it is important to make local communities aware of the importance of conserving a species and to involve them in the process.

The Wildlife Trust of India’s Kashmir Markhor Recovery Project aims to improve the population status of the Pirpanjal Markhor (Capra falconeri cashmeriensis) once considered extinct in Jammu and Kashmir. They are found only in the Indian Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and the species is listed as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and Appendix I of the Act of 1972 on the protection of wildlife.

WTI field sociologist sameer khazir enganging with local communities through participatory approach

Sameer Khazir, WTI field sociologist, engages with local communities through a participatory approach; Photo: WTI

The project is a mixture of organic and community approaches. It works with the broader goal of strengthening Markhor conservation in Kazinag NP and Hirpora WLS by establishing a community-based conservation process and reducing dependency on local communities. This particular method of conservation is based on the ideas of equity, deconcentration and local empowerment because, compared to the past, it is now important that conservation programs acquire a higher place in the governmental order.

Facilitating better communication and cooperation between different government departments can help not only better protect conservation interests, but can actually help generate more resources for community conservation. To do this, WTI has strategically partnered with the government to improve the sustainability of community efforts.

The project team conducted the social surveys and assessed the dependence of local communities and migratory herder communities on the natural resources of Kazinag NP and Hirpora WLS, and also catalyzed and channeled the schemes/ existing government programs through schematic convergences.

The main objective of this component of the project is to turn people into collaborators in the preservation of Markhor. By changing people’s attitudes towards markhor and wildlife conservation and reducing their reliance on forest resources, positive changes will be brought about that will certainly improve Markhor’s chances for conservation.

Markhor Watchers: The Green Protectors

Capacity building and training of Markhor watchers. Photo by Udhayan Rai pawar 1

Capacity building and training of Markhor observers; Photo by Udhayan Rai Pawar

Social surveys and participatory planning revealed that cattle grazing, poaching and other anthropogenic pressures were the main threats to the survival and conservation of Markhor. To deal with identified threats and raise awareness of the species and its conservation, the project has operationalized five teams in the protection and monitoring of the species through various approaches of community participation.

Registered as “Markhor Watchers”, their role is to support the WTI and the J&K-UT Wildlife Protection Department in controlling and monitoring poaching activities. Teams were trained on how to collect and share information on the incidences of wildlife poaching and were also introduced to important facets of identifying hoof marks, droppings and pellets. The team was also trained in the use of GPS devices in the field and Markhor observers were also provided with waterproof jackets and high altitude hiking boots to carry out intelligence gathering.

The team is a shining example of how people can change and how local communities could become nature’s best stewards once they understand that their heritage is under threat and the lives of their children would be in jeopardy. poorer if the forests and species that define their cultures were destroyed. .

Pre training assessement of the markhor watcher group being trained. Photo by Sameer Khazir

Pre-training assessment of Markhor observer group being formed; Photo by Samir Khazir

Markhor observer groups also help conduct wildlife surveys in the company of conservation field researchers, who say the individuals among them promise to become excellent communicators of natural history. Observer members, including a total of 20 volunteers, were deployed to five protected areas such as Lachipora Wildlife Sanctuary, Limber Wildlife Sanctuary, Tattakuti Wildlife Sanctuary and Naganari Conservation Reserve. Their patrols help gather information and document the state of flora and fauna and combat illegal activities.

The team is dedicated and determined and one of the main contributions and accomplishments has been to have weapons seized from local hunters with the help of the J&K Wildlife Protection Department (2021-2022) and deposited (in police stations) during the critical mating and birth periods of markhor.

Ecotourism initiative: a sustainable way of life

Conservator of forest circle North taking feedback from markhor watcher group in limber wildlife sanctuary

The Conservator of the Northern Forest Circle receives feedback from the Markhor Observer Group at Limber Wildlife Sanctuary

Ongoing efforts, in addition to linking communities with other existing development programs, WTI and Depart of Wildlife Protection with support from the Astral Foundation, have explored the possibility of linking ecotourism to local livelihoods, as the business potential already exists in Kazinag. National Park. Interestingly, through various rounds of participatory planning and focus group discussions, ecotourism has been the preferred alternative livelihood choice, with local communities showing keen interest in promoting Kazinag as a model destination for ecotourism and are willing to work on it.

Several meetings with the DWP, J&K officials and the tourism department have been held with the aim of promoting and establishing homestays for ecotourism in Kazinag National Park.

Two host families have been identified – one in Babagail village of Limber Wildlife Sanctuary and the other in Lachipora Wildlife Sanctuary of Kazinag National Park. These are identified with participatory planning and joint consensus and agreement with local communities. Host families are in the process of being officially registered and nature guides are being trained. This will be followed by skills development and training of nature guides and the formation of companies to run the ecotourism business. The Department of Wildlife Protection has also recommended hiking routes for visitors to the area.

Trekking routes identified in limber wildlife sanctuary by Forest department . 2

Hiking routes identified in the Soft Wildlife Sanctuary by the Forestry Department; Photo by WTI

Establishing and supporting ecotourism ventures in local habitat-dependent communities in Markhor, the Wildlife Trust of India, Department of Wildlife Protection and Lachipora Battalion Army (BN) conducted a joint two-day expedition to promote eco-tourism and Kazinag in Lachipora Wildlife Sanctuary. The expedition took place in the Shri, Brethpathre and Nagpathre areas of the Lachipora Wildlife Sanctuary. During the trek, the team interacted with local communities and saw many birds and mammals like markhor and black bear.

With meticulous planning and action, conservationists can catalyze collaborative, multisectoral efforts for biodiversity conservation and human well-being. However, such multisectoral cooperation depends on the will and partnership of the government.

Likewise, when the desired results are received, it is surely cause for celebration. The persistent work with these communities through schematic convergences and the establishment of conservation-related livelihoods helped the organization win the commendation award on August 15, 2022 by the government. URI of Jammu and Kashmir (Baramulla) Subdivision Administration for exemplary contribution to community conservation efforts.

Expedition for promoting eco tourism and Markhor in lachipora with WLD officals and Lachipora. Photo by Dar shahid

Expedition for the promotion of ecotourism and Markhor in Lachipora with officials of WLD and Lachipora; Photo by Dar Shahid

This award would not have been possible without the generous support of donors. The socio-ecological systems in which WTI works and the threats to biodiversity are too dynamic to allow any sense of complacency. If the desired results are not achieved, it is not the failure of community conservation, the process must learn from experiences and improve interventions and partnership with local communities to do things differently or do different things.

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