Module 8: Environmentally and Socially responsible Tourism in Snow Leopard Landscapes

Photo by Behzad Larry

About the module 

Tourism across the snow leopard range is growing rapidly. It is taking different forms in different settings and if managed effectively could be an opportunity to support or strengthen conservation efforts. However, tourism also may represent a threat to these fragile landscapes. 

The aim of this module is to create a platform to discuss principles that could be used to inform and facilitate environmentally and socially responsible tourism in snow leopard habitats. This includes how we define ‘conservation centered tourism’; considering social and environmental impacts; and how tourism can under certain circumstances be an effective conservation tool. The module brings together expertise from past, ongoing and planned tourism models from across the snow leopard range. This will allow us to showcase and discuss different facets of tourism and ways to maximize conservation potential. We recognise the experience of many SLN members in this area and encourage them to join us in this effort by contributing their own experiences and ideas.   

During the module participants will work with the facilitators to discuss and develop principles and a working framework that could guide responsible tourism in different settings. By the end of the course it is hoped that participants will be exposed to a broad set of perspectives and have had the opportunity to contribute to ideas and tools directed towards such goals. 

This module is being organised thanks to the support of the GSLEP Program  , Snow Leopard Foundation-Pakistan and PSLEP. Range country governments have highlighted how tourism is increasing across the snow leopard range and there is a need to identify ways to assess trade-offs and find ways to leverage conservation goals (GSLEP doc). We hope that these discussions will contribute toward these goals.

Dates of sessions

    • February 2nd, 9th, 16th, 23rd 2021
    • Tuesdays 14:00- 16:00 Bishkek time.  

Draft Outline Schedule

    • Session 1: Tourism as a conservation tool?
    • Session 2: Community conservation & tourism
    • Session 3: Risks and opportunities
    • Session 4: Shaping relevant framework(s)
Photo by Behzad Larry
Photo by ShanShui Conservation Center

Meet the Resource Team 

Ajay Bijoor supports conservation efforts in the regions of Ladakh and Spiti valley in India. Over the last eight years, he has worked on setting up, running and monitoring community-conservation efforts in these regions. This effort aims at trying to create conditions conducive for conservation. More recently he has also been facilitating the process of building capacity for community-based conservation in snow leopard range countries. 

Behzad Larry is the CEO of Voygr Expeditions and a founding member of the High Asia Habitat Fund. An avid explorer, Behzad specializes in documenting the remote reaches of the world. He is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers) and a Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society. Voygr (pronounced voyager) operates guided tours along the ancient Silk Route in Central Asia, the Russian Far-East, the towering Himalayas, and North India. Voygr’s journeys combine the best of ancient cultures and living history, with phenomenal wildlife and awe-inspiring landscapes. Voygr specialises in conservation based tourism (cultural and environmental) and is the world’s leading ethical snow leopard tour operator. 

Ismail is an internationally featured nature and wildlife photographer and fine art printmaker who comes from from Hyderabad, India. His background was originally in Project Management and Entrepreneurship. “I aspire to make uncommon images with common subjects and my creative and emotional affinity towards nature is what drives me to capture wildlife images in an artistic manner. While the photographer community calls me the “Snow Leopard Man” for my good fortune of pursuing and documenting the rarest and most challenging of wild cats of India, at heart, I identify as a conservationist photographer. I believe in learning about the ground realities of the ecosystem first hand. My way of contributing to the cause of conservation is primarily through exhibiting and fundraising to support organisations like the Snow Leopard Network, Snow Leopard Trust and Fishing Cat Conservancy.”

Joanna Van Gruisen has lived in the subcontinent since the late 1970s. A wildlife documentary filmmaker and early pioneer of wildlife photography in India, she spent many years in J&K and Ladakh as photographer and as assistant organiser of Earthwatch volunteer tourism groups. As a wildlife photographer and writer on environment issues she has been at the heart of conservation in India for several decades. She now co-owns and runs a small eco lodge in central India and is a founder member of a trust, Baavan – bagh aap aur van, that is developing a conservation tourism project with the community in a remote area beyond the boundary of the Panna Tiger Reserve.

Dr. Raghu Chundawat started his career as a conservation biologist more than thirty years ago with research on snow leopard in Ladakh. Later, he worked as Regional Science and Conservation Director for the International Snow Leopard Trust. He was a member of the teaching faculty of the Wildlife Institute of India. He is very closely involved with tiger conservation and research in a dry tropical forest of central India and recently published a book based on his ten-year study there “The Rise and Fall of The Emerald Tigers”. For the last eight years, he has been active in wildlife tourism research. He is the recipient of several conservation awards. In 2003 BBC/Animal Planet produced an award-winning wildlife documentary film on his work with the Tigers in Panna − “Tigers of the Emerald Forest”.

Terry Townshend is a Beijing-based conservation and climate change expert with specific expertise on legislation and wildlife conservation in China. In 2018 he became a Fellow of the Paulson Institute, advising their conservation programme, and in 2019 I was invited by the Beijing Municipal government to be a consultant on a project to “rewild” Beijing. In 2017, in partnership with Chinese NGO ShanShui Conservation Center, he devised and helped to set up a community-based wildlife watching tourism project with yak herders on the Tibetan Plateau, focusing on snow leopards. The herders were awarded the first community-based tourism concession for a National Park in China, informing policy development for China’s national park system, and in 2020, were awarded second prize in the Nature Stewardship category of the coveted Paulson Prize.

Yuhan Li is a conservationist from China. She is a Rhodes Scholar and a MPhil candidate at the University of Oxford. Her current research involves analysing public perceptions around the illegal trade of jaguar in Latin America, and wild meat consumption in China and central Africa. Before going to Oxford, she was a trainee of Shanshui Conservation Centre and managed the field station in the Sanjiangyuan National Park. She coordinated several community-based snow leopard conservation projects, such as human-wildlife conflict solution and snow leopard eco-tourism. 

Dr. Ali Nawaz has 20 years of field research experience, spanning over diverse geographical regions in Pakistan, and has 35 scientific articles and over 30 management reports to his credit. His primary focus is on understanding ecology, co-existence, and conservation issues of the carnivore community in northern Pakistan. Dr Nawaz has worked intensively with the mountainous communities in alleviating human-carnivore conflicts and promoting acceptance of large carnivores. In recognition of Dr. Nawaz’s efforts to protect the endangered snow leopard in the mountains of northern Pakistan, HRH The Princess Royal presented him the 2016 Whitley Award, a prestigious international nature conservation prize. Dr. Nawaz holds a PhD in ecology and natural resource management from University of Life Sciences Norway, and has rich exposure to various wildlife field techniques, and is trained in animal capturing, marking and telemetry, and GIS and remote sensing.

The module will also be supported by GSLEP and SLN’s Koustubh Sharma, Justine Shanti Alexander, Ranjini Murali and Rakhee Karumbaya .

Criteria for participation

    • Snow Leopard Network Member
    • Confirmed availability to attend all the four online seminars of a given module
    • Experience of working on snow leopard conservation or Tourism or concrete plans to be involved in such efforts is welcome and we encourage participants to contribute ideas and experiences. 
    • Number of participants is limited to 20-30

Planned Schedule

    • 2 hour online Zoom Seminars take place every Tuesday of the month, February 2021 (4 Seminars; Feb 2nd, 9th, 16th, 23rd) at 14:00- 16:00 Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan time
    • Please note we encourage participants to attend the complete set of Seminars as they are interconnected and build on each other


    • Applications close Thursday, January 28th, 2021. 
    • Please note places are limited so please do not delay in applying.
    • Application link here
Photo by Behzad Larry

Publication Alert – New Article to the Bibliography

Please see details below, of a new article added to our Bibliography.

Title: Patterns of Livestock Depredation and Large Carnivore
Conservation Implications in the Indian Trans-Himalaya

Authors: Maheshwari, A., Sathyakumar, S.

Abstract:  Livestock is one of the major sources of livelihood for the
agro-pastoral communities in central and south Asia. Livestock
depredation by large carnivores is a wide-ranging issue that leads to
economic losses and a deviance from co-existence. We investigated the
grass root factors causing livestock depredation in Kargil, Ladakh and
tested the findings of diet analysis in validating reported livestock
depredation. Globally vulnerable snow leopard (Panthera uncia) and more
common wolf (Canis lupus) were the two main wild predators. A total of
1113 heads of livestock were reportedly killed by wolf (43.6%) followed
by unknown predators (31.4%) and snow leopard (21.5%) in the study site
from 2009 to 2012, which comes to 2.8% annual livestock losses. Scat
analysis also revealed a significant amount of livestock in the diet of
snow leopard (47%) and wolf (51%). Poor livestock husbandry practices
and traditional livestock corrals were found to be the major drivers
contributing in the livestock depredation. Based on the research
findings, we worked with the local communities to sensitize them about
wildlife conservation and extended limited support for predator proof
livestock corrals at a small scale. Eventually it helped in reducing
conflict level and conserving the globally threatened carnivores. We
conclude that a participatory approach has been successful to generate
an example in reducing large carnivore-human conflict in the west


SLN Training Initiative – Ungulate Surveys – Module 2

The Snow Leopard Network is launching its first on line research and conservation training course. These consist of a series of modules, each over a one month period, in which participants build their skills and knowledge on a range of critical snow leopard related conservation tools. Do join us!

Our first set of topics centers on the idea of a holistic approach for snow leopard practitioners- from survey methods to community conservation approaches. The idea is for these to be as practical as possible, explicitly designed, for teams on the ground. The first set of Modules will cover topics that include: Camera Trapping surveys (Module 1); Prey Surveys (Module 2); Community Conservation approaches (Module 3); and Socio-economic Assessments (Module 4). See more details here.

Each Module will be delivered over a one month period and members can apply to specific Modules depending on your interest. Teaching methods will be a mix of online and distance learning; all will be open access. Our trainers are drawn from the Snow Leopard Network, drawing on their extensive knowledge and experience. We are very appreciative of their finding time to join us in this effort and we look forward to members taking advantage of this exceptional opportunity.  

Today we are pleased to invite SLN members to apply and take part in Module 2 of this training initiative- which will take place in August. Module 2 will focus on surveys for assessing ungulate populations (snow
leopard prey). The application will be open for future Modules one month prior to their start, so please stay tuned.

Module 2: Studying the Mountain Monarchs of High Asia.

Course Content

Asia’s mountain ungulates- also known as the Mountain Monarchs of high Asia- play an important role in maintaining ecosystems by influencing vegetation structure and nutrient cycling. These include Argali (Ovis ammon), Blue Sheep (Pseudois nayaur), Asiatic Ibex (Capra sibirica), Urial (Ovis orientalis) and Markhor (Capra falconeri). However, owing to their remote mountainous habitats and associated challenges in sampling, there is a lack of information regarding their abundance, population trends and ecology. There is a need for more information about the population status of these ungulates, which carries special significance in the protection of the snow leopard across its range. Our Module 2 aims to equip participants with the knowledge and tools to plan and carry out robust mountain ungulate surveys using the Double-observer Method. We will also dive into understanding the fascinating ecology of these species based on the latest research. The module will be divided into 4 parts and cover key concepts from planning surveys, conducting them, analysing data, and using outcomes for conservation action, publication and/or policy. Alongside we will have fascinating talks by subject experts, sharing their experiences and outputs. This is critical as conservation status assessment of any species requires rigorous monitoring of their abundances, which done over time, can provide knowledge of population trends.

Participants will be expected to have the Software R
( and RStudio downloaded and setup on
computer. Additionally we recommend the installation of Google Earth Pro and/or other GIS software such as QGIS (

Meet the Trainers

This module has been co-created by a team of researchers and practitioners from across the snow leopard range, including India, Pakistan, Mongolia and China. The live training sessions will be led by a subset of this team. Additional special guests may also be invited to share their expertise.

Munib Khanyari is currently a PhD Candidate at the University of Bristol and Oxford University in the UK. He works on understanding factors that affect mountain ungulate populations in Central and South Asia. 

Hussain Ali, is the Regional Project Manager for the Pakistan Snow Leopard & Ecosystem Protection Program (PSLEP) and a Manager with Snow Leopard Foundation- Pakistan.

Purevjav (Puji) Lkhagvajav is a Research and Monitoring Managers for the Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation, Mongolia. She has over 15 years of working in snow leopard conservation and research in Mongolia.

Chagsadulam (Chagsaa) Odonjavkhlan is a PhD Candidate with Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation, Mongolia and has been studying Argali and Ibex in the Tost mountains of Mongolia.

Lingyun Xiao is currently a Postdoc research fellow at the Peking University and scientific consultant of the ShanShui Conservation Center, China. She completed her PhD on understanding grassland, ungulate and snow leopard dependence in 2017.

Together the module co-creators have worked to protect and studied mountain ungulates including Argali, Asiatic Ibex, Blue Sheep, Markhor and Urial across India, Pakistan, Mongolia, China and Kyrgyzstan.

Criteria for participation
•      Snow Leopard Network Member
•      Experience or willingness to work on mountain ungulate and snow leopard conservation
•      Confirmed availability to attend all the four online seminars of a given module
•      Number of participants is limited to 40
•      Priority will be given to participants from snow leopard range

Planned Schedule
•       2 hour online Zoom Seminars take place every Wednesday of the month, August
2020 (4 Seminars; Aug 5th, 12th, 19th, 26th) at 14:00 Bishkek,
Kyrgyzstan time
•       Additional group work, assignments or readings are likely to be
organized by the trainers
•       Please note we expect all participants to attend the complete set of
Wednesday Seminars as they are interconnected and build on each other
•       Details of each specific Seminar topic will be shared approximately 5 days beforehand; including any expected preparations by participants.

Deadline for Applications
•      Friday, July 15th, 2020. Please note places are limited so please do
not delay in applying.
•     We are now closed for Application. Please apply for Module 3 which will be open on August 1st. 


Publication Alert – Two Books added to the Bibliography

We have added two books to our bibliography.

1. Karnaukhov А. S., Korablev М. P., Kuksin А. N., Malykh S. V., Poyarkov А. D., Spitsyn S. V., Chistopolova М. D., Hernandez-Blanco J. A. Snow Leopard Population Monitoring Guidebook. – WWF. Krasnoyarsk. 2020 – 164 pp. (you can download it by the link: – English version


2. Карнаухов А. С. Материалы к руководству по мониторингу состояния популяции снежного барса / А. С. Карнаухов, М. П. Кораблев, А. Н. Куксин, С. В. Малых, А. Д. Поярков, С. В. Спицын, М. Д. Чистополова, Х. А. Эрнандес-Бланко. – Красноярск: Все мирный фонд дикой природы (WWF), 2020. – 168 с. (you can dowlload it by the link: – Russian version


Snow Leopard Conversations – Paper Discussion with Dr. Ranjini Murali

Ecosystem service dependence in livestock and crop-based production systems in Asia’s high mountains.

Our first ever paper discussion was held on 22 June, 2020 with Dr. Ranjini Murali. Ranjini discussed how local communities are integral partners in snow leopard conservation. This research points to ways that ecosystem service based approaches can be applied for snow leopard conservation. For example, we can work with local communities, identify and strengthen management practices that prevent overharvest of provisioning services. Or, we could develop market-based mechanisms that ensure investments back into snow leopard landscapes, since ecosystem services heavily subside the outputs like cashmere, from these landscapes.

We wish to thank Ranjini for taking the time to do this and also wish to thank our participants for joining this discussion.  We hope to have more such interactive sessions in the future.

Publication Alert – New Article to the Bibliography

Title: Ecosystem service dependence in livestock and crop-based production systems in Asia’s high mountains.

Authors: Murali,R., Ikhagvajav, P., Amankul, V., Jumabay, K., Sharma, K., Bhatnagar, Y. V., Suryawanshi, K., Mishra, C

Abstract:  Globally, in semi-arid and arid landscapes, there is an ongoing transition from livestock-production systems to crop-production systems, and in many parts of Asia’s arid mountains, mining for minerals is also increasing. These changes are accompanied by a change in the generation and quality of ecosystem services (ES), which can impact human well-being. In this study, to better understand the impacts of such transitions, we quantified ES in two crop-based and three livestock-based production systems in the arid and semi-arid landscapes of the High Himalaya and Central Asia, specifically in the Indian Himalaya, Kyrgyz Tien Shan, and Mongolian Altai. Our results showed 1) high economic dependence (3.6–38 times the respective annual household income) of local farmers on provisioning ES, with the economic value of ES being greater in livestock-production systems (7.4–38 times the annual household income) compared to crop-production systems (3.6–3.7 times the annual household income); 2) ES input into cashmere production, the main commodity from the livestock-production systems, was 13–18 times greater than the price of cashmere received by the farmer; and 3) in the livestock production systems affected by mining, impacts on ES and quality of life were reported to be negative by majority of the respondents. We conclude that livestock-based systems may be relatively more vulnerable to degrading impacts of mining and other ongoing developments due to their dependence on larger ES resource catchments that tend to have weaker land tenure and are prone to fragmentation. In contrast to the general assumption of low value of ES in arid and semi-arid landscapes due to relatively low primary productivity, our study underscores the remarkably high importance of ES in supporting local livelihoods.


SLN is inviting you to meet authors of new publications uploaded to the Snow Leopard Bibliography. These sessions are intended to allow members to discuss the subject matter of the paper with the author and other SLN members. Please join us for the first “Snow Leopard Conversation” Session with Dr. Ranjini Murali

Snow Leopard Conversations – Paper Discussion with Ranjini Murali on 22 June, 2020 at 12:30 pm IST

Please click on the link below to register: REGISTER 


SLN Training Initiative: Snow Leopard Camera Trapping


Module 1

Course Content

Reliable assessments of snow leopard populations are key for their conservation. Camera trapping is state-of-the-art approach to monitor rare and elusive species, such as snow leopards. Our Module 1 aims to equip participants with the knowledge and tools to plan and carry out a rigorous camera trap survey for assessing snow leopard population abundance/density. We will be sharing the latest recommended methods adopted by the PAWS GSLEP Programme. The module will cover key concepts underlying spatial capture recapture methods.

Participants will be expected to have the Software R ( and RStudio downloaded and setup on computer, Digital maps of your study area to plan your hypothetical survey (Elevation Raster layer).

Meet the Trainers

Dr. Koustubh Sharma: Koustubh is the International Coordinator of the Global Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Protection Program and a Senior Regional Ecologist with the Snow Leopard Trust. He, along with Justine help coordinate Population Assessment of the World’s Snow Leopards (PAWS) as a GSLEP initiative. He holds a PhD in Wildlife Zoology from Mumbai University, and a Masters degree in Physics. He has undergone training on spatial capture recapture methods at the Centre for Research in Ecological and Environmental Research (CREEM), University of St. Andrews, and on advanced applications of ArcGIS by ESRI. He has been involved with colleagues and partners in developing training tool-kits and delivering training workshops for a suite of ecological methods relevant for snow leopard research and conservation.

Dr. Justine Shanti Alexander: Justine is the Executive Director of the Snow Leopard Network. She provides technical support to the world population assessment of snow leopards (PAWS) and other efforts related to camera trapping. Justine also acts as the Regional Ecologist for the Snow Leopard Trust and supports research and conservation work across the snow leopard range. She holds a PhD in snow leopard population assessments from Beijing Forestry University and a MSc in Conservation Science from Imperial College London. 

Criteria for participation

  • Snow Leopard Network Member
  • Experience of working on snow leopard conservation or concrete plans to be involved in such efforts
  • Confirmed availability to attend all the four online seminars of a given module
  • Number of participants is limited to 20-30
  • Priority will be given to participants from snow leopard range countries

Planned Schedule

  • 2 hour online Zoom Seminars take place every Monday of the month, July 2020 (4 Seminars; July 6th, 13th, 20th, 27th) at 14:00 Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan time
  • Additional group work, assignments or readings are likely to be organized by the trainers
  • Please note we expect all participants to attend the complete set of Monday Seminars as they are interconnected and build on each other
  • Details of each specific Seminar topic will be shared approximately 5 days beforehand; including any expected preparations by participants.

Deadline for Applications

  • Friday, June 24th, 2020. Please note places are limited so please do not delay in applying.
  • To apply please check the Criteria for participation and complete the following application;

Kindly note these trainings are free to participants. Also that the trainers are sharing their time and knowledge with us as a gesture to the Network and to snow leopards!

SLN Webinar; special guest Dr. Gantulga Bayandonoi

We invite you to our second SLN webinar of this series. We are pleased to welcome our guest Dr. Gantulga Bayandonoi who will share with us recent updates on a country level distribution survey of snow leopards in Mongolia.

Please register through the link below and help us spread the word and share the news with your colleagues and those who would be interested in attending.


Snow Leopard Webinar

An online webinar series from snow leopard experts across the world. Our guest snow leopard experts will share with you the latest developments in both science and conservation policy and practice across the snow leopard range. A brief, inspiring talk will be followed by a discussion period where we can explore ideas in further depth drawing on our experts experience and knowledge.

Date/Time: 30 June 2020 Tuesday (Please log into the meeting 5 min early to set up) 18:00 Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia time

Structure: 60 min webinar- 30 min Guest speaker presentation/30 min discussion. During the talk feel free to write questions in the chat section that we can take forward during the discussion section.

Guest Speaker: Dr. Gantulga Bayandonoi, WWF Mongolia; Guest Discussant: Purejav Lkhagvajav, Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation Mongolia

Title: A joint effort to map the snow leopard across Mongolia

Webinar talk: The Snow Leopard Network is inviting guests from across the snow leopard range as part of a webinar series to offer insights and share the latest developments in snow leopard conservation and science. We are excited to introduce our second guest, Dr. Gantulga Bayandonoi, who will focus his talk on a collaborative effort to map the snow leopard’s distribution across Mongolia. Mongolia is believed to be home to the second largest population of snow leopards in the world.  WWF-Mongolia and SLCF-Mongolia, along with partner organizations, came together to take forward the first national assessment of snow leopard distribution that accounts for imperfect detection. The results will be used to guide conservation activities across the country.

More about our guest: Dr. Gantulga Bayandonoi is a biologist working on safeguarding Mongolia’s threatened species and has worked with WWF Mongolia since 2017. He is WWF Mongolia’s coordinator for the nationwide snow leopard population assessment. Together with his team and partners, this effort has led to surveying over 19,000 kms in transects across snow leopard habitat; a distance that is equivalent to almost half the earth’s circumference!

Location: ZOOM, to join this talk, REGISTER HERE

Please note:

    • If you have never used Zoom before, we recommend that you try the link 10 minutes before the start of the lecture.
    • Also note that as of May 30, 2020, all Zoom clients on older versions will receive a forced upgrade when trying to join meetings and this may take time to download.
    • During the talk, please keep your microphone muted.
    • Please feel free to write questions in the comment area and there will be time for questions/discussion at the end of the talk.
    • The Zoom event is limited to 100 participants. Please register for the event and also sign in early to ensure your place.

Ismail Shariff – My Obsession with Snow Leopards

Snow Leopard, Shann, Shen, Irbis,… Whatever you may want to call them, as soon as I hear the name, the first thing that comes to mind is that long fluffy tail. It was the first time I ever saw a ghost, the ghost of the mountains, and I fell in love with it; that splendid tail, blue eyes, thick fur and a true blue cat attitude.

The fact that it is very difficult to photograph, was not the only thing to have drawn me towards the Snow Leopards. It was while researching about them, after seeing a picture by Dhritiman Mukherjee in July 2012, that I found it had this aura of mysticism and secrecy around it. Snow Leopard was a being of legendary stories and sightings; to be blessed by God to be able to see it in a speck, leave alone photograph it. It had this magic around it about how it disappears from right in front of you, perhaps never to be found again. The saintly strength with which it can glide over the snow and climb mountains in a jiffy; and also the fact that not much was known and/or documented about it.


All of the above piqued my interest and the mountaineer, photographer and swashbuckler in me gave in to test not just my luck, but both my mental and physical limits as well.

For those of you who don’t know me yet, I am Ismail Shariff, a Computer Science engineer with a Master’s in IT Project Management and Entrepreneurship from Central European University, Budapest, Hungary. After pursuing my studies in Budapest, I moved to Paris to work there for 2.5 years before wildlife photography took over me and I am currently;

    • An internationally published and exhibited Wildlife and Nature Photographer
    • Featured photographer on the Snow Leopard Network’s website
    • Being a conservation photographer, I partnered with the Snow Leopard Trust on a number of projects including SLT’s annual Snow Leopard calendar
    • A certified Fine Art Printmaker
    • And a bespoke photography expedition leader, concentrating mainly on Snow Leopards and other wild cats of the world.

And what I intend to achieve with all of this, is to show the world the amazing nature and its beings created by God, and to help in the conservation of the habitats of threatened species. Coming back to my obsession for Snow Leopards, my first and still the most memorable and favourite sighting, was in Hemis National Park, Ladakh, India. It was a male walking on the top edge of the mountain opposite to ours. It was so far that even after zooming in 100%, it was still a speck in my picture.

In hindsight, I feel all our experiences in life are but lessons, preparing us for what is to come. And on this first expedition I learnt about determination and never giving up, however tough it might be. I met a British gentleman of 84 years, who taught me this by example. He was supposedly coming to see the Snow Leopard for over a decade and this was his maiden sighting along with mine. And believe you me, he just looked into the spotting scope for a whole minute, moved back and said “Now I can stop coming”. That just blew my mind and for reasons still unexplainable, after that day it kind of became my goal to know more about it; for I saw the power it holds to make people dedicate over a decade only to have a glimpse of them. I had been photographing the big cats of India for over 5 years then, but felt, this trekking in the snowy mountains, in freezing temperatures, sleeping under the stars in a tent with just a hot water bottle for warmth; somehow gave me more satisfaction.

Since then, I have been obsessed with Snow Leopards and have seen, photographed, filmed and lead photography expeditions for Indian and European companies in Hemis National Park in Ladakh, Ulley in Ladakh, Kibber in Himachal Pradesh, and Altai Mountains in Mongo- lia. The more I see them, that much more I want to see them, and that much more I fall in love with them, and hence, that much more I want to help in protecting and conserving their habitat and prey-base for their survival.

Photography and Tourism ethics:

As a dear friend of mine put it – “Ethics means moral principles, or moral code or behaviour. Especially when it comes to wildlife, shouldn’t that be common sense – “to keep distance, to not instigate, to not be in private space of any animal or bird, to keep calm and not make noise, so as to not to disturb them”

I couldn’t agree more, but alas, so is not the case with quite some wildlife photographers. And it’s not the case of country, but I have seen it in India, Malaysia, USA, Mongolia and Europe. Let me also come clean here and be upfront on this, for when I started photographing wildlife in 2007, even I went on elephant safaris and paid a little extra to mahouts to get a closer picture of a Tiger in Kanha National Park, Madhya Pradesh, but thankfully and gratefully, its just been about that much, since, and the credit for that goes to my friends whom I would accompany for these wildlife safaris, for they never encouraged any such behaviour.

But what you see increasingly within snow leopard habitats is bewildering.

If we want to summarise the do’s and dont’s, then this is what I feel could make a good difference. It would be great to hear from others on anything more/else that we can do to make a difference for both photographers/tourists and the locals.

Maintain distance! Always!

Every being, including us, has our own personal space, intruding upon which, gets us agitated and even angry, and we all have dif- ferent ways of handling it. For most animals, the typical response if you get too close, is to either run away or literally ‘take matters in their hands (or claws and teeth)’. And what’s the fun in disturbing them so that they run away.

If you maintain the distance, not only will they hang around for a bit longer, giving you the opportunity to observe them and their behaviour, but if they get comfortable with your presence, they might just go about doing their usual thing, which gives you more to learn about them from.

Do not disturb the animals or birds!

Be it talking loudly, or trying to get attention of the being by mocking sounds and/or throwing things at them; its a strict NO! Be patient and wait, and you might get a much better moment than you have anticipated.

Try to stay away from baiting.

I do understand that some uber rare species like the Siberian Tiger or Amur Leopard cannot be observed/photographed without it, but baiting makes the mammals get used to it if done frequently, which alters their natural behaviour of predation. Failing to find these baits at a later point in time might even provoke them to attack the cattle, and in cases of big cats, like the Tigers and Leopards, they might even attack humans in desperation.

Also, when you book your expeditions or tour, do inquire about the credibility of the home stay owner, your tour leader, and the lo- cal support there. Just because they have been going there or leading expeditions or have a home stay there for a long time, doesn’t mean that all their practices are ethical. If you know people who have gone with them, talk to them and ask more details.

No drones in national parks!

Its strictly not allowed by the forest department in just about all the national parks and wildlife regions/reserves in India. If you DO want to fly them, make sure you have written permissions and approvals from the relevant forest offices.

Considering that most of us travel far and wide to reach such beautiful places, why make it a hassle and waste precious time in dealing with why, where, how and landing up in the station for a few hours; and also paying hefty fines and getting the drones con- fiscated.

No Camera traps!

No rocket science here too. No camera traps without prior written permission from the relevant forest offices.

When the animal/bird comes close.

There have been many instances where the animal or bird you are observing/photographing gets interested in you and comes closer to take a look-see. When that happens, please stay calm and restrict your movements to bare minimum and as gentle as you can. Getting excited to see them come close to you, might just startle them, and they might end up running/flying away or take you as a threat and attack you in defence.

Lastly, speak up!

Speak up wherever you see something wrong or not-right happening. Oppose it at the least, even if you have to submit and succumb to it. If we don’t stand up for what is right even vocally, then it becomes a norm, and at times even the guides and naturalists think it to be THE way of going about it.

Hopefully this forced reset that we are in, gives us all a positive perspective on how to take on life henceforth, and bring most positivity on field and conservation results. With all the new ‘necessary developments’ for which we are stripping out our natural resources, its still just a positive dream!

Ismail Shariff


Webinar by Dr Lu Zhi – Progress in Snow Leopard Conservation May 12, 2020

The Snow Leopard Network hosted our first ever Webinar on 12 May, 2020 and we were thrilled to have 162 people register for the event and 83 live participants on the day. Dr. LuZhi was our guest speaker and she was joined by Dr. Sandro Lovari as discussant.

Dr. LuZhi, Professor of Conservation Science at Peking University and the Executive Director of the Peking University Center for Nature and Society, has over 20 years of experience actively working in conservation issues in China; with a strong focus on community conservation in China’s mountainous areas. LuZhi founded the Shanshui Conservation Center, in 2007, which is a leading civil society organization promoting conservation in China. LuZhi is also the Snow Leopard Network’s Committee Chair and has been a pioneer in snow leopard conservation for over a decade.

We also had the pleasure of hosting Dr. Sandro Lovari as our discussant. Sandro brought knowledge and ideas from other areas of the snow leopard range, and is a distinguished scientist from University of Siena.  He is also member of our Snow Leopard Network committee.

LuZhi shared a vivid update on Snow Leopard conservation, seen from the perspective of China’s wider effort on conservation. China is protecting huge areas, (approximately 18% of the countries total land area), as part of reaching its national and international conservation targets.

LuZhi also underlined the vast scale of conservation efforts needed in China for the protection of the snow leopard. For example, similar to other areas of the snow leopard range only 1.7% of the snow leopard range has been monitored through systematic camera trapping. Teams are however coming together, through partnerships such as the Snow Leopard Network-China, in order to cover larger areas and share good practices. Partnerships with governments and the private sector are also helping develop strategies for promoting the co-existence of people and wildlife across high mountain areas. 

Ongoing threats to snow leopards that were discussed included, unmanaged feral dog populations, fencing that limit animal movement and lack of conservation capacity across sectors.

Looking ahead LuZhi described her vision for the future, including the arrival of a new generation of young conservationist to meet the challenge of scale.

We thank LuZhi and Sandro for the fascinating discussions. A big thank you to all our members for coming out in such large numbers to attend this first-ever event of the Snow Leopard Network.