‘Yak insurance’ plan saves Nepal’s snow leopard

Updated 30 December 2012
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‘Yak insurance’ plan saves Nepal’s snow leopard

The remorse felt by Himali Chungda Sherpa after he killed three snow leopard cubs in retaliation for his lost cattle inspired him to set up a scheme to prevent other herders from doing the same.
Sherpa lost his cattle near Ghunsa village at the base of Mount Kangchenjunga on the Nepal-India border, later finding their remains in a cave beside three sleeping snow leopard cubs.
The Nepalese herder put the cubs in a sack and threw them into the river, finding their bodies the next day.
“From that night onwards the mother snow leopard started crying from the mountain for her cubs, and my cattle were crying for the loss of their calves.
“I realized how big a sin I had committed and promised myself that I would never do such a thing in the future.”
Four years ago Sherpa, 48, founded with other locals an insurance plan for livestock that conservationists say is deterring herders from killing snow leopards that attack their animals.
In doing so the scheme has given hope for the endangered cat, whose numbers across the mountains of 12 countries in south and central Asia are thought to have declined by 20 percent over the past 16 years.
Under the scheme, herders pay in 55 rupees ($ 1.50) a year for each of their hairy yaks, the vital pack animal that is also kept for milk and meat, and are paid 2,500 rupees for any animal killed by the endangered cat. “The (Himalayan) communities have been able to pay out compensation for more than 200 animals since the scheme started,” WWF Nepal conservation director Ghana Gurung told reporters at a presentation in the capital Katmandu.
“The community members are the ones that monitor this, they are the ones who do the patrolling and they are the ones who verify the kills.”
The global snow leopard population is estimated at just 4,080-6,590 adults according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which lists the animal as “endangered” on its red list of threatened species.
Experts believe just 300 to 500 adults survive in Nepal, and few can claim ever to have seen the secretive, solitary “mountain ghost,” which lives 5,000 to 6,000 meters above sea level.
Despite its name, it is not a close relative of the leopard and has much more in common genetically with the tiger, though it is thought to have a placid temperament.
“There has never been a case of a snow leopard attacking a human,” Gurung said of the animal, revered for its thick grey patterned pelt.
It does, however, have a taste for sheep, goats and other livestock essential for the livelihoods of farmers and is often killed by humans either as a preventative measure or in revenge for the deaths of their animals.
WWF Nepal revealed details of its insurance scheme in filmed interviews shown at the recent Katmandu International Mountain Film Festival.





Sherpa now campaigns to convince Himalayan farmers that killing snow leopards is wrong, but has been frequently told they need to kill the animal to protect their livelihoods.
“I swear if I can catch a snow leopard. They rob our animals and our source of livelihood,” herder Chokyab Bhuttia told the WWF.
The insurance plan, which also covers sheep and goats, was set up with 1.2 million rupees donated by the University of Zurich.
Since the Kangchenjunga Conservation Area Snow Leopard Insurance plan was launched four years ago no snow leopard is thought to have been killed in retaliation for preying on livestock since.
Locals, who count the number of cattle attacked as well as tracks, fecal pellets and scratches in the ground, believe snow leopard numbers have significantly increased.
“There is now an awareness among people that the snow leopard is an endangered animal and we have to protect it. The insurance policy has made people more tolerant to the loss of their livestock,” Sherpa said.
He believes protecting the snow leopard is vital to boosting the economy in an area which gets just a few hundred trekkers a year, compared with 74,000 in Annapurna.
“If a tourist sees a snow leopard and takes a picture of it there will be publicity of our region and more tourists will come,” Sherpa said.
Evidence of the scheme’s benefits will remain anecdotal until the publication next year of the results of a wide-ranging camera trapping survey.
But locals are optimistic about the animal’s future, according to Tsheten Dandu Sherpa, chairman of the Kangchenjunga Conservation Area Management Council.
“In this area there was never any poaching of snow leopards for trade. They were killed only as a retaliatory act by livestock owners,” he said.
“Now with this insurance policy there will definitely be protection of the snow leopard and its numbers will increase.”


San Francisco restaurants open kitchens to refugee chefs

Updated 17 min 44 sec ago
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San Francisco restaurants open kitchens to refugee chefs

  • The Refugee Food Festival started in Paris in 2016 and came to the US for the first time this year
  • The program lets refugees aspiring to be chefs work in professional kitchens

SAN FRANCISCO: At San Francisco’s Tawla restaurant, Muna Anaee powdered her hands with flour and gently broke off a piece of golden dough to prepare bread eaten in Iraq, the country she fled with her family.
Anaee was preparing more than 100 loaves for diners Wednesday night as part of a program that lets refugees aspiring to be chefs work in professional kitchens.
The Refugee Food Festival — a joint initiative of the United Nations Refugee Agency and a French nonprofit, Food Sweet Food — started in Paris in 2016 and came to the US for the first time this year, with restaurants in New York participating as well. The establishments’ owners turn over their kitchens to refugee chefs for an evening, allowing them to prepare sampling platters of their country’s cuisine and share a taste of their home.
Restaurants in 12 cities outside the US are taking part in the program this month.
“It’s been a big dream to open a restaurant,” said Anaee, 45, who now has a green card.
Anaee was among five refugees chosen to showcase their food in San Francisco — each at a different restaurant and on a different night, from Tuesday through Saturday. Organizers say the goal is to help the refugees succeed as chefs and raise awareness about the plight of refugees worldwide.
It’s important to “really get to know these refugees and their personal stories,” said Sara Shah, who brought the event to California after seeing it in Belgium.
Anaee and her husband and two children left Baghdad in 2013 over concerns about terrorism and violence. She worked as a kindergarten teacher in Iraq, not a chef, but was urged to pursue cooking as a career by peers in an English class she took in California after they tasted some of her food.
Azhar Hashem, Tawla’s owner, said hosting Anaee was part of the restaurant’s mission to broaden diners’ understanding of the Middle East — a region that inspires some of its dishes.
“Food is the best — and most humanizing — catalyst for having harder conservations,” she said.
The four other aspiring chefs serving food in San Francisco are from Myanmar, Bhutan, Syria and Senegal.
Karen Ferguson, executive director of the Northern California offices of the International Rescue Committee, said San Francisco was a good city for the food festival.
“We have so much diversity, and we see the evidence of that in the culinary expertise in the area,” she said.
The Bay Area has a high concentration of refugees from Afghanistan, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Eritrea and Burma, though exact numbers are unclear, according to the rescue committee. Its Oakland office settled more than 400 refugees in the Bay Area last year, but the number of refugees settling in the region has fallen dramatically since the Trump administration this year placed a cap on arrivals, Ferguson said.
Pa Wah, a 41-year-old refugee from Myanmar, presented dishes at San Francisco’s Hog Island Oyster Co. on Tuesday. She said she didn’t consider a career in cooking until she moved to California in 2011 and got her green card.
Cooking was a means of survival at the Thailand refugee camp where she lived after escaping civil conflict in Myanmar as a child. Participating in the food festival showed her the challenges of running a restaurant, but also helped her realize she was capable of opening her own, she said.