Thursday, 16 July 2015

The Truth

So apart from the fact that I am a sucker for Mountains and Motorcycles, the real reason behind my visit to Spiti in March was to get to Kibber, A quaint village high up in the mountains. The plan was to carry adequate equipment for scanning the descends from the high peaks & ridges into the valleys to hunt for Blue Sheep and Ibex which in-turn are hunted by the elusive snow leopard. 

Bariushaa Munkhtsog or Dr. Bariushaa Munkhtsog or simply known as the snow leopard man, has been working with snow leopards since 1993 and was active in the reintroduction of "Przewalski's horse" at Hustain Nuruu National Park, Mongolia. Mongolia has the 2nd largest snow leopard population in the globe. He currently serves as senior wildlife biologist at Institute of Biology, Mongolian Academy of Sciences, Board director of Irbis (snow leopard in Mongolian) Mongolian Center, Board director of Gobi bear conservation NGO, and is co-founder of the Pallas' Cat Conservation Project in Mongolia. Dr. Munkhtsog also teaches biology and ecology at colleges and has supervised Bachelor's, Master's and PhD’s students on snow leopard, Pallas' cat, wild cat, and wild camel ecology and is a member of IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group and Snow Leopard Network.

You can read more about the Bariushaa's work here

This is a digital painting
So, simply based on some of the credentials listed, and after much time reading about conservation efforts and the community, I was quickly mislead to believe many things. Firstly, Someone told me about this group called “Spiti United” (more about them here) who are associated with “Red Fox Homestay”. These folks provide accommodation in kibber. which was great. However they are anything but great, and it lead to a disappointing conclusion after having series of conversations.

Dont be fooled by visiting the website which claims to be a lot. After much research I figured that who they mention as “TEAM” and have photos of local people with designations like “Expedition Warrior” really mean NOTHING. 

This is a Digital Painting too !

More disappointments - Continued:

Me:  Hi, I am a sealander (from the east coast of southern tip in the indian peninsula, chennai) and will be visiting Spiti and Sangla starting 18th March on motorcycles with fraternity (4 people). I hope to reach Kaza and would love to meet you folks and stay with you (the red fox? in kibber ?) How do I touchhbase with you ppl ? 

NO REPLY - I was thinking, they are probably stuck in desolate mountains with no internet connection etc & after all, it was peak winter in the beginning of Febuary. So, I wrote to them again, just in case I didn’t get their attention the first time.

Me: Hello there, I am visiting Kaza and Kibber in the third week of march and would like to stay with the red fox in kibber. Is there a number to call ?”

This time I got a reply,

SU: Please provide details of your plan and dates. We shall then work on a budget for you, also please mention about the purpose of your visit
thanks you,
spiti united”

Me: Thanks for the prompt reply. Iam visting Kaza with my partner, and we are travelling to Spiti from Delhi by motorcycle. I am an avid climber and ride motorcycles for fun and have visited the valley in summer. I always wanted to visit the valley in winter. We leave delhi on 19th march and intend to reach Kaza by 22/23rd latest. We will want to spend 3-4 days in kibber and go on some simple expeditions to bet on our luck to spot some wild life. No return tickets booked at the moment and everything is a little flexible. Keep me posted on the proceedings and the availability of lodging in kibber. cheers


Me: Hello there ! Hope you guys are doing well. Any update for me ? 

SU: Hey!!
Are you interested in snow leopards or only Want to use the hotel services?! There is no module for simple tracking.Your expedition module will cost you 1.5 Lakh for two people - 5 nights!!
Cheers! Chinmay

Me: Just curious to know what you charge at the red fox for accommodation. I will certainly pay you guys a visit and say a big Hi nevertheless , See you soon in kibber.

SU: We don't use our base for walk in customers in winter! We organise expeditions with months of preparations!! I am not sure if the team wi be together but you could ask around! Cheers!! SU

This was a shock to me. Damn. 150000/- was way out of my budget. The truth is, people like me stay broke most of the time, and not to mention that I quit my high paying "pie in the sky job" last year. I still had regards for Spiti United till I figured that these people were nothing more than masquerading travel agents claiming to be conservationists. This was my biggest disappointment. Later, after more research, I understood that the real face of Spiti United was actually a company called "Foliage Outdoors", which was a glorified travel agent company who organised “adventures” for the rich braggers. Not only do they have the audacity to charge you irrationally, their facebook posts (at least, this particular one) was disturbing & disgusting at the same time. 

This was from the actual post:

"SNOW LEOPARDs this name has been relevant for the aam admi (referred to “common man” in Hindi) only since last few years. Ladakh had a few amazing years of consistent sightings for not only the authorities and researchers but also for wildlife enthusiast and photographers. Many people are actually thinking of going on snow leopard expeditions, which are planned in advance with all security measures and catered with high standards of logistical support. For example a wildlife documentary shoot or heavily funded wildlife research expedition. Spiti united has just a year ago designed a unique product based on community tourism, in Spiti valley, Himalachal Pradesh. Nature lovers have started coming in good numbers to kibber village... Everything that we are capturing now is first of its kind footage in the world. Snow leopards are almost impossible to photograph unless and until you have a dedicated tracking team which is constantly monitoring their movements and behaviour. I don’t think that any snow leopard researcher or biologist should call themselves that unless and until they actually witness what they have seen on camera traps. Most of the research done in India has been about getting the cats on video/still camera traps. They only estimate the numbers to monitor the growth in numbers. It has never been about behavioral studies. Now the funny scientist have started putting big ass collar on cats to monitor them. We are extremely concerned about it. We can't comprehend this concept as being “for the greater good”, when we are risking so much for the snowy cats . The rise of wildlife photography since the last decade has helped in bringing revenue to the communities blessed with wonderful wildlife, It’s a circle you see – Tanzin Dorje till last year didn't have any stable income other than the daily wages he earned as a laborer. Spiti Youth is already flocking to grab this opportunity. We only hope that she decides to stay as real in the future as she has been till now and we keep getting some super cool behavioral data on snow leopards for the entire world to see”

Not only did they mispronounce "behavioural".. They were backed by a much larger corporate called "Infinite journeys". This was something bigger than I thought. You can read more about these scamsters here and here.

Here’s a tip, when you hear people yell stuff like "We organise expeditions with months of preparations and we are the ONLY ones who do it” or when they use a non collective term such as “I” am narcissist , for e.g "They only estimate the numbers to monitor the growth in numbers. It has never been about behavioral studies. Now the funny scientist have started putting big ass collar on cats to monitor them. We are extremely concerned about it. We can't comprehend this concept as being “for the greater good” .. 

Most likely ITS A SCAM !

To me, these people are like Harley Davidson’s of the motorcycle world. Targeting the ignorant and Rich. I did not see a single usage of the word “Endangered” or “Conservation” .. And ultimately, this is just another bunch of people who have their heads deeply up their asses with No Humility, or Respect to whatever they claim to be conserving.. 

In Mongolia, Its quite the opposite .. “Everybody in Mongolia knows that snow leopard is endangered. I know almost everybody who lives in snow leopard habitat, seems they know me, so it is quite easy to work together on conservation of beautiful, quiet, kind animal like snow leopard” - Bariushaa Munkhtsog ... See the difference ?

Ill let you judge, & Please help ! Save the snow leopards ! Because for every One million One hundred eighty-seven thousand five hundred of us, there is only 1 snow leopard. 

And they have a very unique tail in mouth disease.. 



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