Herders care about red pandas and want livelihood change

A household survey was conducted in October 2016 with 75 Merak herding families who use the winter grazing areas of Cheabuling, Sheytemi and Drana in the buffer zone of Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary. The project is focusing on this area for land rehabilitation, revegetation, pasture improvement, biogas trials and red panda conservation.

Six local parks and livestock staff were trained by Dr Joanne Millar in how to conduct the interviews and modifications made to the questionnaire from their suggestions.  Herders interviewed included 60 from Chebuling, 14 from Sheytemi and 6 from Drana  (54% women/46% men, and 66% of total households). Some herders had already left for winter pastures so we were unable to interview them. Data will be analysed over the next two months by Dr Karma Tenzing, however some preliminary findings are highlighted here.

A small proportion of herders had seen individual red pandas in the wild usually whilst herding their yaks and dzo/dzom. Some people said they saw red pandas sleeping in the tree canopy, others reported seeing red pandas crossing the path and disappearing into the forest. No-0ne had seen red panda cubs. Most herders knew that red pandas eat bamboo leaves, tree leaves and wild fruits and some thought they ate grass.

However no-one knew how red pandas raised their young, where they moved to/from or if there numbers had changed in the last 20 years. All herders were keen to protect red pandas as they hold social and religious values.

In terms of their livelihoods, there was significant variation in herd sizes, tsadrog area  and livestock numbers.  Some individuals had sheep only or no animals, whilst others had large herds of  yaks. However, the majority of people thought the rangeland was in poor condition. Those with large livestock numbers resorted to lopping trees for fodder in winter. A few herders had trialed pasture improvement and were keen to try again once pasture leasing was finalised. Livelihood activities centred around butter and cheese production mainly but some people also had income from weaving, working for others or running a farmstay. The majority of herders were interested in joining a savings group, trialing biogas units and developing alternative income sources to raising livestock.

A full report will be available in April 2017.

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