Jhomolhari Festival: The festival celebrates the culture of the communities living in close proximity to endangered snow leopards. “A community based initiative for the conservation of snow leopards”
The festival celebrates the culture of the communities living together with the natural wonders that surround them: one in particular, the elusive, yet elegant, snow leopard! This endangered cat thrives in the region; several camera trap photos and definite signs have established the region as one of the best snow leopard habitats in Bhutan.
The festival includes snow leopard themed folk songs and dances performed by the local people, JDNP staff and the school children, traditional sports such as Khuru (darts), shot put, horse and yak riding, sampling of local delicacies and boutique handicrafts, and various picturesque guided hikes in and around Jomolhari. It also showcases various stalls set up by both local and international agencies to educate and promote conservation among those participating at the festival.
The festival was initiated in 2013 and endorsed by the government as an annual event.
BACKGROUND: Jomolhari Snow Leopard conservation program
The Jomolhari trek is one of the most popular trekking routes in Bhutan and passes through prime snow leopard and blue sheep habitat. Numerous camera trap photos, signs, and DNA sampling from the region has established the region as one of the best snow leopard habitats in Bhutan. The two communities of Soe Yutoed and Soe Yaksa lie along the Jomolhari trek. Yutoed has 28 households and Yaksa 18. The residents are primarily yak herders as the area is mostly above tree line. While yak predation is prevalent in the area, herders have generally been tolerant of some level of predation all along. However, public attitudes and perception towards snow leopards are fast changing.
When community members begin to see real, tangible benefits from snow leopard conservation, they are more likely to support it. If a conservation program has buy-in and ownership of the local residents, it is more likely to be sustainable in the long run. These are the foundations on which the Jomolhari Snow Leopard Conservation Program is built.
The Jomolhari Snow Leopard Conservation Program is a community initiative supported by the Jigme Dorji National Park, the Nature Recreation and Ecotourism Division, the Snow Leopard Conservancy and the Bhutan Foundation. It aims to guide tangible benefits of snow leopard conservation to the local residents so that the snow leopard is seen as an asset rather than a liability, and hence something to be treasured. It seeks to use the snow leopard as the focus for holistic development of the communities through the following:
- Reduction of GID disease in yak (one of the highest causes of yak mortality)
- Offsetting livestock predation through livestock insurance
- Income generation through home stays
- Income generation through boutique handicraft sales
- Snow leopard and prey monitoring by community members and park
- Instituting snow leopard festival as an annual tourism event
- Using Soe Yutoed School for increasing awareness on snow leopard conservation