Mountains of the mind

It’s not the imposing spires of the Himalayas that are the world’s most challenging peaks; it’s the mountains of the mind. These mental massifs also dictate the success or failure of snow leopard conservation, and of nature conservation in general. Some parting thoughts from the series in Snow Leopard Fieldwork Diaries 19.

Snow Leopard Research Nepal

Two months on from finishing fieldwork, the snow leopard conservation journey continues.

The Himalayas may be thousands of miles from where I sit writing this, but their epic proportions feel much closer to home. That’s because the mountains that I’ve been working amongst over the last two months are not physical entities but mountains of data. With over 700 household questionnaires and 70 interviews collected there’s a lot of information to be sifted through and checked. I’ve just spent three weeks, for example, going through around 15,000 responses to open questions – were the respondent can say whatever they want rather than picking predetermined answers – and putting them in relevant categories. Only now am I ready to start analysing this data with statistics.

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No free lunch

In Snow Leopard Fieldwork Diaries 14, Jonny and Maurice discuss the hidden perils of conservation social science research. Seven years on and they’re still publishing journal articles from this work.

Snow Leopard Research Nepal

A bright idea for surveying tourists turns into a lot of extra work. Maurice and Jonny recount the sad story.

Maurice: ‘Rinzin, can you please check with him if he is happy to sell his last bottle of methylated spirits to us…’

Rinzin: ‘Yes, he is more than happy!’

Maurice: ‘Fantastic! And could you check with him that he really doesn’t need it…’

After much dialogue, headshaking and difficult facial expressions, it became clear there was, in fact, a problem.

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Wild Mustang

From its stunning arid landscapes to its Yakdonalds, the world’s deepest valley is full of surprises. Jonny gives a guided tour in Snow Leopard Fieldwork Diaries 13.

Snow Leopard Research Nepal

A short digest of the team’s work over the last month in the western part of Annapurna Conservation Area.

Before it was a muscle-car or a horse breed from the New World, Mustang was a region of mid-western Nepal. It is the true heir to the title. Long before cars were invented or even before horses were introduced to North America by the Spanish, Mustang was the name given to this arid valley that runs south from the Tibetan border. Situated between the towering 8,000metre-plus peaks of Annapurna I and Dhaulagiri, its Kali Gandakhi gorge is the deepest in the world. The vast mountains to the east block the passage of the annual monsoon into the valley so that little rain waters its barren landscape. In fact, moonscape might be a more appropriate description. But in its starkness it is stunning.

Jeeps crossing ancient river beds of Mustang's Kali Gandahki gorge Jeep crossing ancient river beds of Mustang’s Kali Gandahki…

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Stairway to heaven

3 planes, 2 buses, 3 jeeps + 12 hours of walking on the stairway to heaven just to get to snow leopard country, and my closest encounter so far with the mountain ghost. Snow Leopard Fieldwork Diaries 12 explains.

Snow Leopard Research Nepal

Jonny looks back on his exploratory trip to Nepal in the Autumn of 2013 and sets the scene for his return next week.

In October/November of last year I made my first fieldtrip to Nepal. This one was about setting the scene for the main research trips of 2014, which this blog has been describing. I came to do a practice run with the questionnaire I’d devised, to conduct interviews with locals on a range of background issues relevant to my study, and to check out the areas where the team and I would be collecting data later on: Sagarmatha (Everest) National Park (SNP) and Annapurna Conservation Area (ACA). As my government research permit hadn’t come through by then (or till a lot later – see Hakuna Matata), I wasn’t able to visit SNP. But I had got my research permit from the organisation that operates ACA – the

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Oh deer, what can the matter be?

In Snow Leopard Fieldwork Diaries 8, I look at the snow leopard’s 3 main large prey species in Nepal. Think fast food, very fast food and extremely fast food.

Snow Leopard Research Nepal

Jonny writes about the snow leopard’s preferred prey in Sagarmatha (Everest) National Park.

Snow leopards are big cats. Weighing between 35kg/77lbs and 55kg/121lbs, and with an active lifestyle in a cold environment, they need to eat a lot of food to keep them going and keep them warm. Like all large felines, they tend to catch a big prey animal – like a wild sheep or goat – every couple of days if it’s available, and will often stay near the kill until it’s finished. A snow leopard killing three sheep-sized animals every two weeks could therefore get through around 75 in a year. That’s a lot of lamb chops.

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