Saving the Snow Leopard

Saving the Snow Leopard
By Sharon Marshall

With only an estimated 3,500 to 7,000 snow leopards left in the wild, conservation programs are necessarily enlisting the help of local communities to increase the species’ chances of survival.

Founded in 1981, the International Snow Leopard Trust, which monitors the movements of the solitary cat in China, India, the Kyrgyz Republic, Mongolia, and Pakistan, also gives poverty-stricken local women training and equipment to produce camel-wool and related products which are sold internationally and via the Snow Leopard Trust online store (

In this way, the women are able to afford food, medicine, and school bills, and the herding males no longer have to poach endangered snow leopards to survive. All profits are invested back into community conservation projects.

In Mongolia, the Trust, which is funded mainly by individual donors, members, and business partnerships, is also trying to ensure locals get the high price of the wool they deserve. By providing families with a regular buyer, rather than traveling traders, participants often increase their income from 25 to 40 percent.

Though snow leopards are sometimes poached for their pelts and bones, they are mostly killed in retaliation for preying on domestic livestock. Participants, of whom there are over 400, are learning to develop sustainable herding practices such as smaller herd sizes, so that there is more natural prey for the snow leopards. In addition, participants sign a pledge to stop the poaching of all snow leopards and their prey, and a cash bonus is given once a year to each compliant participant. If one person violates the contract, the entire community loses the bonus. Ecological workshops, eco-camps, newsletters, posters and other resources help raise awareness in villages.

Things are also looking up in the Himalayan provinces of India, the third most populous snow leopard region after China and Mongolia. Launched in March, Project Snow Leopard will include the promotion of alternative livelihoods for local people and public awareness activities.

In Ladakh (Jammu and Kashmir) and Nepal, where Peter Matthiessen wrote his epic book while researching the snow leopard with George Schaller in the 1970s, the Snow Leopard Conservancy ( has launched a successful incentive program, whereby locals set up bed and breakfast accommodation for visitors in a spare room at a cost of about $13 a night. The organization also organizes snow leopard treks.

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