From 1 to 19 October last an expedition took place to Naar Valley, located in the Annapurna Conservation Area close to the Northen border of Nepal. This valley runs almost East-West from Phu (4.080 m) via the Sartek Thrangu Choepel Ling Gompa (monastry, 3.500 m) to the Kang La pass (5.400 m).
Team Wageningen University
The expedition comprised of Prof. Dr. Herbert Prins, promotor of PhD student Ashok Subedi, Yorick Liefting (all Wageningen University), Um Guring, snow leopard specialist of the National Trust for Nature Conservation (NTNC) and Egbert van der Pol (Himalayan Tiger Foundation).
The objective of the expedition was twofold: to download data from the weather stations that Wageningen University installed in the valley during the last year and to install two artificial snow leopards. See also our News of January 15, 2019.
A first pair of weather stations was placed end of last year. Last spring Ashok Subedi, Yorick Liefting and Anouschka Hof (all from Wageningen University) assisted by the Um Gurung, installed an additional three pair of weather stations, each pair on a 30o slope respectively focusing on North and on South. We have a pair of weather stations standing at 3.500 m next to the monastery, a pair at 4.200 m adjacent to the village of Naar, a pair at 4.600 m at Khangla Phedi, the base camp of the pass, and a pair of stations at 5.300 m at the pass. Each weather station is designed for Antarctica conditions by LogicEnergy from Scotland and can withstand temperatures of -40o C. It has its own solar panel, special battery, wind speed meter, three different radiation meters, temperature sensor and GPS for a precise time measurement.
We would like to know the harsh conditions snow leopards and blue sheep (bharal) are exposed to at high altitude during the winter and also in the summer. We also want to know to what extent the wild ungulates and their predators are driven down by the fierce cold and storms in winter.
In the high mountains of the Himalayas there is a so-called “mid-altitude effect” which means that there is (of course) little surface available above 5.000 m, even less above 6.000 m and almost nothing above 8.000 m. There is, however, also little area available at lower altitudes between 3.500 m and 4.500 m, and virtually nothing below 3.500 m. At these lower altitudes are the narrow gorges and straigtened river valleys. If snow leopards and bharals are driven down in winter by the fierce cold, they will increasingly end up in clumps and the bleu sheep will become easier prey for snow leopards and common leopards. It might be possible that both snow leopard and blue sheep can counteract this by making smart use of the bright sunlight at a higher altitude, so that they can heat up sufficiently even at very low temperatures. But this assumption has to be tested.
Artificial snow leopard
For the installation of two artificial snow leopards heavy batteries, large sonar panels and other lumping components such as glycol, empty barrels and many meters insulation had to be carried into the mountains. So many porters and mules were needed to get all materials in Naar village.
We have transformed two empty barrels (approx. 56 l) into “snow leopards”. The fur is simulated by a specific material with the same insulation value. The “heart” consists of an electric pump, and the “body temperature” is kept constant at 37o C by a combined titanium heating element and thermostat. The 400 Watt solar panels load heavy frost-resistant batteries that provide the installation with power. The “body liquid” is made of glycol mixed with water that results in an environmentally friendly mixture (just like wiper fluid) that only freezes at -40o C. This is needed if the heating fails because the solar panels would be covered with snow for a longer period of time.
Artificial snow leopard
We will measure very precisely how much power is needed to keep our “snow leopards” at exactly 37o C (the deep body temperature of both snow leopard and blue sheep). By linking these data to the data from the weather stations, we will be able to trace very precisely what the energy needs of snow leopard are. Staying warm is in the high mountains for animals living there one of the largest “cost items”.
This research project on snow leopard and blue sheep would not have been possible without the support of the community leaders and the monks of the monastery. We have to protect our weather stations and artificial snow leopards against curious yaks by fencing the sites. Although Naar village lies far above the tree line and wood is difficult to obtain, the local community was willing to provide us with the necessary wooden posts.
The research valley is so far away from the outside world that it is not possible to download the data remotely. A teacher from Naar village is willing to periodically check the test sites, download the data and send them to the researchers.
Crucial is the financial support the Himalayan Tiger Foundation received from the Chaudhary Foundation (www.chaudaryfoundation.org), the INNO-Fund of WWF (www.innofunding.nl) and from Snow Leopard Adventures (www.snowleopard.nl) that organised and sponsored this expedition to Naar Valley.