Co-designing conservation interventions through participatory action research in the Indian trans-Himalaya.
Community-based conservation, despite being more inclusive than fortress conservation, has been criticized for being a top-down implementation of external ideas brought to local communities for conservation's benefit. This is particularly true for Changpas, the pastoral people of Changthang in trans-Himalayan India who live alongside unique wildlife. Our main aim was to co-design conservation interventions through participatory action research. We worked with two Changpa communities, to understand the issues faced by them. Subsequently, we co-designed context-sensitive interventions to facilitate positive human-nature interactions. We did so by integrating the PARTNERS (Presence, Aptness, Respect, Transparency, Empathy, Responsiveness, Strategic Support) principles with the Trinity of Voice (Access, Standing and Influence). In Rupsho, we facilitated focus group discussions (FGDs) led by the community. We found livestock depredation by wildlife was primarily facilitated by the weather. This led to co-designing of a new corral design, which was piloted with seven households, safeguarding 2385 pashmina goats and sheep. Approximating the value of each sheep/goat to be USD125, this intervention amounts to a significant economic protection of USD c. 42,500 for each household. This is along with intangible gains of trust, ownership and improved self-esteem. In Tegazong, a restricted area adjoining the Indo-China border with no previous research records, we worked with 43 Changpa people to co-create research questions of mutual interest. Wildlife presence and reasons for livestock loss were identified as areas of mutual interest. The herders suggested they would record data in a form of their choice, for 6 months, while they live in their winter pastures. This participatory community monitoring revealed nutrition and hypothermia to be a key cause of livestock death. Subsequently, we delimited two previously untested interventions: lamb cribs and provisioning of locally sourced barley as a feed supplement. The wildlife monitoring recorded the first record of Tibetan Gazelle Procapra picticuadata, outside of their known distribution, in Tegazong. We aim to highlight the benefits of co-designing projects with local communities that link research and conservation, while also discussing the challenges faced. Ultimately, such projects are needed to ensure ethical knowledge generation and conservation, which aims to be decolonial and inclusive.