Whilst my stay in the Ladakh region of India was mainly focused on photographing snow leopards and other wildlife, there was also the opportunity to interact with the local people who were welcoming towards us. Whilst eco-tourism is a relatively recent development, the raising of Pashmina Goats for their prized fine wool has been a feature of village life for generations.
Traditionally a family's wealth would be defined by how many goats they owned and consequently the goats are well cared for. Stone corrals or pens are built to shelter the animals overnight and hopefully protect them from the areas snow leopards.
In past years, villagers had mixed feelings about the leopards, regarding them with reverence on one hand and despising them for preying on their livestock at the same time. Snow leopards have never been recorded as attacking humans and so traditionally having a shepherd on guard next to the stock was a deterrent. None the less, there were instances of a predator getting into a pen or corral and running amok killing goats. These attacks prompted revenge killings of the leopards and so the uneasy relationship between people and wildlife continued.
Conservationists have carried out programs to try and accommodate the needs of the villagers and the endangered wildlife. In the event that livestock is killed by a snow leopard, there is now a system whereby the owner is financially compensated for his/her loss. Also simple low tech solutions have been found, such as placing wire mesh over the top of livestock pens making it almost impossible for a leopard to access the goats even if so tempted. These initiatives have resulted in an estimated 94 per cent reduction in revenge killings of leopards in the areas where implemented.
Ulley Village, Ladakh.
Pashmina goats in pen. Notice the wire roof.
This young boy was on school holidays and sent home to his village to spend some time with his grandmother.
The freezing temperatures mean that the goats have developed a thick coat which is combed out to gather the valuable cashmere fibre.
Rugged up against the cold, the district was covered in snow at this time of year (February)