The Snow Leopard Conservancy announces a special award for Rinchen Wangchuk

Award for Outstanding Achievements in Community-Based Snow Leopard Conservation

Presented to
Director, Snow Leopard Conservancy-India Trust

In recognition of outstanding achievements in community-based snow leopard conservation


March 2011

Rinchen Wangchuk, Founder-Director of the Snow Leopard Conservancy–India Trust, has received an Award for Outstanding Achievements in Community-Based Snow Leopard Conservation. This award was presented to Rinchen by the Snow Leopard Conservancy U.S., to honor Rinchen’s pioneering role in the development of community-based conservation initiatives that are shifting local herders’ perception of the snow leopard from a predatory pest to be trapped or poisoned for killing their livestock to a valued asset worth more alive than dead.

Mark Coreth, master sculptor of animals in motion, donated this “field study,” which he created in 2005, immediately after seeing the snow leopard in Hemis National Park during a visit with Rinchen and Rodney Jackson. The base for the sculpture was crafted from Indian mahogany by Snow Leopard Conservancy U.S. volunteer Roger Perso. This award also included a grant of $20,000, provided by generous donors.

For more than a decade Rinchen has forged enduring partnerships with local communities in the Ladakh, Zanskar, and Nubra regions of northern India. He has brought these communities to the forefront of efforts to protect snow leopards—which may number less than 5,000 across twelve countries of Central and South Asia—and the blue sheep, argali and ibex on which the cats depend. Rinchen has worked with livestock herders to predator-proof their nighttime corrals, and has trained local men and women in income generation skills that are intrinsically linked with snow leopard conservation. He has spearheaded the creation of a conservation education program, blessed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, for children throughout the region.

Perhaps Rinchen’s greatest achievement has been his role in promoting sustainable rural tourism, including the award-winning Himalayan Homestay program. This highly acclaimed UNESCO-sponsored project was launched in 2003, and has catalyzed similar community-driven initiatives in Tajikistan, Pakistan and Mongolia. The Leh-based SLC-India Trust grew out of a partnership with the Snow Leopard Conservancy U.S., led by Rodney Jackson, and now operates as an independent organization devoted to community-based wildlife conservation.

Rinchen’s commitment to the welfare of wildlife and rural people grew naturally from his own Ladakhi village upbringing, and his experiences as a mountaineer and nature tour guide. His expertise was honed by special training in community-based tourism from The Mountain Institute and Thailand’s Regional Community Forestry Training Center for Asia and the Pacific. Rinchen also assisted researchers in developing the Earthwatch program, “Land of the Snow Leopard.” He has served as a naturalist and assistant on several documentaries filmed in Hemis National Park, including the widely acclaimed “Silent Roar: Searching for the Snow Leopard.”

Please join us in honoring Rinchen for his passion and commitment to snow leopard conservation.

‘Ordinary guy’ Putin meets snow leopard

‘Ordinary guy’ Putin meets snow leopard
(AFP) – 6 hours ago

MOSCOW — Prime Minister Vladimir Putin stood metres away from a snow leopard in his latest stunt involving a threatened animal but insisted Monday he was just an “ordinary guy” in touch with Russia’s problems.

Putin knelt metres away from the snow leopard, kept in a wire-mesh enclosure, as the mythical animal warily eyed the man who has dominated Russia for the last decade in Siberia, state television pictures showed.

The close encounter with the creature — one of the mascots for the 2014 Sochi Olympics championed by Putin — helped further burnish his tough-guy image ahead of 2012 presidential elections.

“What a beautiful little cat,” Putin, dressed in a Russian hat and a quilted jacket marked with the Russian eagle and the initials V.V. Putin, whispered as he stared at the snow leopard.

There had been controversy over the fate of the snow leopard, a 10-year-old named Mongol, which the Russian branch of the World Wildlife Fund said had been languishing in captivity since its capture on March 14 by scientists in a neighbouring area.

The animal was then taken by helicopter to Khakasia in southern Siberia and the WWF on Thursday issued a statement calling for the animal to be urgently returned to the wild.

Mongol was finally released at the weekend just after Putin’s visit but the WWF said it would not be giving further comment on the issue for the moment.

In an interview with Russian state television, Putin said that Russia’s protection of endangered species like the snow leopard was symbolic of how the country had changed over the last years.

“That one of the symbols of the Olympics is a beast that was wiped out by man in the 1950s shows that Russia is different. Russia cares about nature, about its riches and preserves them for future generations.”

Putin has now over the last years met the full range of Russia’s rarest big beasts, ranging from bears and tigers in the Far East and a polar bear in the Far North.

But in the interview, Putin said he had lived simply almost all his life “with the exception of the last 10 years”.

“I lived like a normal ordinary guy and I will keep this link all my life,” he added. “Whenever I take a decision, I think about how this will impact the ordinary citizen,” he added.

Copyright © 2011 AFP.

Army help sought for snow leopard conservation in India

2011-03-14 14:10:00

New Delhi, March 14 (IANS) The environment ministry has called upon the Indian Army and the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) to help in the conservation of the snow leopard, an endangered species whose population is rapidly dwindling.

‘There is need for more structured dialogue with the army and the ITBP to facilitate a deeper involvement of these bodies in conservation issues in the snow leopard landscapes,’ said a statement issued by the ministry Monday.

According to the ministry, it is important to have the defence forces on board as they have a large presence in all those areas where the snow leopards are found.

The ministry March 11 held the second meeting of the national steering committee for Project Snow Leopard (PSL), which was chaired by Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh.

The project was launched in 2009 for strengthening wildlife conservation in the unique high altitudes of India with the support of local communities, civilian organisations and scientists.

India has nearly 750 snow leopards found in five states – Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh.

The committee reviewed the progress made by individual states in identifying snow leopard landscapes on a scientific basis and preparing appropriate management plans.

In addition to the senior officials from the five snow leopard states, the committee includes scientists and experts from the Nature Conservation Foundation, Wildlife Institute of India, World Wildlife Fund and Wildlife Trust of India.

The participants discussed critical issues regarding streamlining of mechanisms for state-wise disbursement of funds. All states suggested the need for greater capacity building, improvement of facilities, and providing ‘difficult-area’ incentives to field staff to improve on-ground monitoring and protection.

The minister underscored the importance of involving international expertise and exchanging know-how on snow leopard conservation, and proposed the idea of India hosting an international conference on conservation of snow leopards and mountain landscapes.

Snow leopard population increasing in Bunji, Pakistan

Snow leopard population increasing in Bunji
Noor Aftab

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Initiatives taken some couple of years back in Bunji, a small town some 50km away from Gilgit, to help increase population of endangered snow leopard have started showing tremendous results as local people claim that population of this fascinating specie has almost doubled in this particular area.

Though no radio collar study has been carried out in this area due to lack of resources but eleven local persons have so far claimed that they have succeeded in looking snow leopards from a close distance in last two months.

The wildlife experts on the basis of statements given by the eyewitnesses were of the view that the population of snow leopards in the area has increased up 50 to 60 as compared to nearly 30 some years back.

In their initial evaluation the experts have said decline in the population of Markhor, national animal of Pakistan, led to decrease in the population of snow leopards that usually depend on hunting of this ‘King of Goat’ specie for their survival. When markhors started facing extinction the snow leopards, which sit at the top of food chain, found it hard to obtain food in snow clad mountains resulting in disappearance of this specie from many areas.

Interaction with some of the local people revealed that they started monitoring the mountainous areas to keep vigil over the illegal hunters who were involved in killing markhors and snow leopards.

“Our Zaitoo, village community watchman, caught two illegal hunters from another village and handed them over to police. This way we tried to minimise the chances of illegal hunting of markhors and snow leopards. If we want to increase population of snow leopard, we must focus on increasing the population of markhors that serve as source of food for these big cats,” said Ashfaqur Rehman, a banker in Bunji area.

He said they would increase the monitoring mechanism more vigorously in the coming months because snow leopards usually breed in winter — January to mid March — and have a gestation period of 90-100 days, so that the cubs are born between April and June.

Najeeb Ahmad Khan, an Islamabad-based tour operator, who used to take wildlife lovers from Islamabad to Gilgit to have a close look at snow leopards in snow-clad mountains, appeared quite optimistic and hoped he would be able again to start his safari journey of tourists that was shelved in the past due to decline in the population of markhors and snow leopards.

“The snow leopard only crosses snow line to hunt markhors and other prey animals and return back immediately to his home range as high as between 3,000 and 5,400 meters above sea level. But tourists were always willing to cover large distances only to have a look on these rare species,” he said.

Najeeb said he is planning to launch 4-day safari service that would start by jeeps to Ramghat via Partabpul and Bunji and the visitors would have bar-b-que dinner and joyous sun set on Nanga Parbat on day first. “Next day would start with hike to Neelidar, going as high as about 600 metres in five hours to discover the big cats, roaming freely in their habitats. Third day’s hiking would lead to Akalotamo and the visitors would be taken to another enchanting destination of Misikhandgah on last day of the journey,” he said.

Snow leopard heads trio of Sochi 2014 mascots

Sat Feb 26, 2011 4:59pm EST

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin got his wish when a snow leopard, polar bear and hare were chosen as the official mascots of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics on Saturday.
Putin, who was largely responsible for Sochi’s successful bid to host the 2014 Games, said earlier in the day that a snow leopard would be his “symbolic choice.”

The snow leopard received 28 percent of the votes during a live broadcast on Russia’s main Channel One, followed by the polar bear in second place with 18 percent and the hare in third (16 percent).

“There are three mascots for the Olympic Winter Games, representing the three places on the Olympic podium,” Sochi 2014 chief Dmitry Chernyshenko said in a statement.

“All top-three characters will become the Olympic Winter Games mascots. The mascots are the choice of our whole country and will remain in the history of the Olympic movement.”

Television viewers voted for the mascots from a pool of 10 candidates including a Russian bear and Grandfather Frost (Russian Santa Claus) by sending text messages or by calling the studio.

The characters were shortlisted by the organizers from more than 24,000 ideas that were submitted during a nationwide contest.

Earlier on Saturday, Putin told students during his visit to Sochi: “(The snow) leopard is a strong, powerful, fast and beautiful animal.

“Leopard species had been destroyed around here but now they are being regenerated. If the Olympic project, at least in some way, should help the local environment, then it (picking a leopard) would be symbolic.”

(Reporting by Gennady Fyodorov; Editing by Stephen Wood)

Collaborative Snow Leopard Conservation Project finally taking off, India

Nod for snow leopard project
Rakesh Lohumi
Tribune News Service

Shimla, February 21
The Snow Leopard Conservation Project will finally take off in the cold desert of Spiti with the Centre releasing the first instalment of Rs 80 lakh for the implementation of Rs 5.5 crore project.

The most remarkable feature of the project is the Snow Leopard Research Centre to be set up at Kibber. It will be the only second such institution in the world to be set up on the pattern of the one existing in Mongolia.

The integrated project formulated by the Mysore-based Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF) is being implemented in five trans-Himalayan states where the prized animal is found. The project was approved in principle in 2007 but for the implementation in the field, a comprehensive management plan was to be formulated after conducting a baseline survey.

The NCF which has been working on the endangered animal in Spiti for the past 20 years has already finalised the plan and now implementation would start.

Principal secretary, Forests, Sudipto Roy, who pursued the matter for release of funds, said it was designed on the pattern of the Project Tiger to be funded by the Centre.

With relatively less biotic interference, the Spiti valley was the stronghold of the endangered cat in India. An important feature was that the project would involve the local communities in monitoring and conservation to help reduce the snow leopard-migratory grazier conflict which had taken a heavy toll of the animal.

It is a unique collaborative project on which snow leopard experts are working closely with the senior wildlife officials to develop a good, participatory management plan for the unusual Spiti landscape on the basis of authentic scientific data.

The painstaking research conducted over 4000 sq km by wildlife experts in upper Spiti has revealed the presence of 4 or 5 snow leopards per 100 square km. The presence of other high altitude species like ibex, snow cock, blue sheep and grey wolf has also been noted during the research study to co-relate it with the snow leopard on through the prey-predator relationship and delineate its domain and movement. It is for the first time that so much research has been carried out in preparing a management plan before starting implementation of the project.

Besides Himachal, the project is being implemented in Jammu and Kashmir, Uttrakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh where the animal is found.

Snow leopard is a globally endangered species, restricted to the high mountains of Central Asia and rough estimates place its global population at around 7,500, which is believed to be fast depleting.

Fast decline in fascinating snow leopards population, Pakistan

Noor Aftab for The International News
Sunday, February 20, 2011

Though extinction of wildlife species in Pakistan is not new as well as ‘astonishing’ phenomenon but for those who care it would be quite disappointing that fast decline in population of fascinating snow leopards in mountain ranges has now clearly indicated their near-disappearance from the wildlife scene.

Only two population studies of snow leopards in Pakistan have ever been attempted — one in 1974 by noted biologist George Schaller and another by Shafqat Hussain of Yale University in 2003. But unofficial reports unanimously portrayed a bleak picture in which it was stated that there were only 300 to 400 snow leopards left in the snow-covered mountain ranges of Pakistan, out of a total estimated world population of 4,000 to 7,000. This region is the main corridor for connecting bigger populations of snow leopards living in Pakistan, Central Asia, China, India and Nepal.

According to International Snow Leopards Trust, the main factors blamed for decline in the population of snow leopards included poaching, retribution killing, prey loss and lack of awareness among the local people.

Though trade in snow leopards is banned by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, their pelts bring high prices on the black market, often equivalent to an entire year’s income for a mountain villager.

The data showed that snow leopards are hunted illegally for their pelts, which are sought after especially in Central Asia, Eastern Europe, and Russia for coats and other garments. Their bones and other body parts are also in demand for use in traditional Asian medicine.

Many of the poachers are local people from snow leopard areas for them poaching may be a lucrative source of extra income to help them feed their families.

Snow leopards sometimes prey on domestic livestock. Herders in snow leopard areas lead precarious economic lives, and their wealth is almost entirely tied up in their herds. The loss of even a single sheep or goat represents a real economic hardship. Herders often retaliate for these losses by trapping, poisoning, or shooting snow leopards.

As humans push ever further into mountainous areas with their livestock, the snow leopard’s habitat is degraded and fragmented. Overgrazing damages the fragile mountain grasslands, leaving less food for the wild sheep and goats that are the snow leopard’s main prey.

Legal and illegal hunting for meat and trophies is also depleting prey populations. This situation also increases conflict with local people, because snow leopards are more likely to kill domestic livestock when their natural prey is scarce.

Sitting at the top of the food chain, snow leopards play a key role in maintaining the mountain ecosystem. Dr Ma Ming, of the Snow Leopard Trust in Xinjiang, China, calls it an ‘umbrella species’: protecting it ensures its habitat and many other local species are also preserved.

While going through the efforts made so far Project Snow Leopard (PSL) initiated by Yale University researcher Shafqat Hussain in 1998 appeared one of the effective steps to ensure survival of this endangered species.

The insurance scheme started by Shafqat Hussain compensates villagers for every goat killed by the predators, which effectively deters the villagers from killing the offending cat or any other suspect.

The annual premium paid is one per cent of the value of one goat, with each herder paying according to the number of goats he owns. This covers about half of all claims.

Director of Deosai National Park Zakir told this correspondent that they have been working on three conservation programmes to ensure increase in the population of snow leopards in mountainous regions.

He said despite the fact that there are only 80 personnel in the wildlife department to curb illegal hunting and implement plans in the area measuring 28,000 sq km they are trying their best to protect and preserve rare animal species.

“We have investigated various incidents in which local people poisoned snow leopards to protect their livestock so various mass awareness campaigns have been initiated especially in those areas where snow leopards enjoy their habitat,” he said.

Zakir said they have also signed MoU with Snow Leopard Foundation Pakistan that would pave the way for improving socio-economic conditions of the local people in return of their cooperation for protection of snow leopards from hunting or killing.

A unique safari through Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan Monday 21st February 2011

ISLAMABAD: Tourists can now see snow leopards in their natural habitat on the sky-high mountainous terrains of Gilgit-Baltistan.

An adventure safari provides an opportunity for tourists to visit the mighty mountains in the country’s extreme north and capture fantastic scenes where these wild animals, also known as “big cats” by the locals, are found playing, hunting and relaxing.

This ambitious plan, carved out by Himalayan Holidays, an Islamabad-based tour operator, will help explore snow leopards, which are found in the dense forests at an altitude of 1,200 to 2,000 metres (3900 to 6600 feet).

“By organising this event we can entertain the visitors with not just wildlife, but also include tours of the serene valleys where tourists can witness diverse cultures, snow-clad mountainous peaks and gushing streams and rivers,” said Najib Ahmed Khan, owner of Himalayan Holidays.

Khan is determined that the spectacular event, besides attracting visitors from around the country, would help enthrall the tourists from across the world, boosting Pakistan’s tourism industry.

“It is a unique move towards tapping into the country’s endangered wildlife species and using our fascinating flora and fauna to promote tourism,” Najib said.

He, however, said focus would be on snow leopards as the wildlife sector had so far not figured in country’s tourism activities.

The tour will take wildlife lovers from Islamabad to Gilgit, where the journey begins by a road trek to Ramghat via Partabpul and Bunji. A bar-b-que dinner at sunset on the Nanga Parbat will conclude day one.

Day two starts with a hike to Neelidar, going as high as about 600 metres in five hours to discover the big cats, roaming freely in their habitats.

Third day’s hiking leads to Akalotamo where the local guides brief the visitors about places for filming of fantastic scenes of big cats. On day four, the group will be taken to the enchanting destination of Misikhandgah.

An individual snow leopard lives within a well-defined home range, but does not defend its territory aggressively when encroached upon by other big cats.

Like other cats, snow leopards use scent marks, scent to indicate their territory and common travel routes. Being most active at dawn and dusk they are known for their extreme secretive and well camouflaged nature.

The diet of the snow leopard also varies across its range and with the time of year, depending on prey availability. In the western Himalayas it preys mostly Himalayan blue sheep, Markhor, ibex and smaller prey consists of marmots, woolly hares and birds such as the snow cock and chukar. However, it is not averse to taking domestic livestock which brings it into direct conflict with humans.

Snow leopards have not been reported to attack humans, and appear to be among the least aggressive of all the big cats.

As a result, they are easily driven away from livestock, they readily abandon their kills when threatened and may not even defend themselves when attacked.

Snow leopards prefer to ambush prey from above, using broken terrain to conceal their approach, and can leap as far as 14 metres. They actively pursue prey down steep mountainsides, using the momentum of their initial leap to chase animals for up to 300 meters.

Estimated population of snow leopards in Pakistan is 420 to 500 with their habitat stretching over 80,000 square miles in Skardu, Astore Bunji (Nanga Parbat region), Khunjran Borogil and Chitral. – APP

Young snow leopard found dead in Darvaz district, Tajikistan 8 February 2011

By SLN member Stefan Michel*

At the 8 February 2011, approximately 2:30 pm a young dead snow leopard was found in Darvaz district of Tajikistan’s GBAO province.

The area south of village Zighar, located immediately at the Pyanj River at the border with Afghanistan is since several years managed as a private conservancy “M-Sayed” and with a population of estimated 250-300 animals has become a stronghold of Tajik markhor Capra falconeri heptneri. The managers of the conservancy during the last weeks complained about increasing losses of markhor which they attributed to snow leopards as well as about depredation on domestic goats. A female markhor, obviously freshly killed and partly eaten by a snow leopard was just found by the author at 23 January 2011 in this area, immediately at the roadside of the Dushanbe-Khorog road. One more markhor, allegedly killed by snow leopard was detected by the managers of the area few days later. They told as well about several observations of snow leopards close to the road. As markhor are seasonally concentrated at the lower belt of the mountains they are not only frequently observed by people passing the road, but they seem to attract as well snow leopards.

The dead snow leopard cub, probably born in spring/summer 2010, was detected by the author after he observed a concentration of Himalayan vultures accompanied by two golden eagles and two lammergeyers. After climbing a talus of about fifty meters height, at the bottom of a several hundred meters high cliff he found the corpse of a snow leopard. The corpse was already opened by the birds but the blood was not yet coagulated. The position was N 38°3’55.2’’ // E 070°23’0.3’’, altitude approx. 1100 a.s.l.

The snow leopard was taken to Khorog and after inspection by the State nature protection authorities carefully investigated and skin and skull saved for the collection of the Institute for Zoology and Parasitology of the Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Tajikistan. The measures of the snow leopard were: total length: 159.5 cm; head and body without tale 74.5 cm, head (with skin). As large parts were already missing the weight was not taken. The necropsy showed a heavy trauma at the skull indicated by large haematomas and completely broken skull. Further haematomas were found at the neck. The musculature was well developed, little fat was found under the skin, particularly at the neck; and teethes were intact. The vultures had caused ruptures of the skin and the inner organs; parts of the bones were already eaten. Despite this shape, the author is sure that there were no indications of poacher’s impacts.

So it seems that just few hours before the cub accidentally had fallen down the cliff and died immediately. Interestingly, around one week before, the managers of the conservancy at this place found the remnants of a 3 years old male markhor, which had fallen down the same cliff and was partly eaten by snow leopard. They as well reported that nearby an adult snow leopard was observed during an unsuccessful hunting attempt on markhor.

The high frequency and numbers of markhor observed immediately from the roadside as well as the abundance of snow leopard can be seen as indicators for the efficiency of the protection measures of the private conservancy, especially if compared to neighbouring areas unprotected or even assigned as protected area by the state. For the future, controlled trophy hunting on markhor is thinkable and would provide strong incentives for private and community based conservation and wildlife management. Requirements are that Tajikistan becomes a party of CITES and appropriate benefit sharing is in place. There is a risk that under profitable markhor management snow leopard could be seen as a pest and become pursued. Talks with the managers of the private conservancy showed that despite some level of annoyance, they are ready to accept the snow leopard as a part of the ecosystem.

*Stefan Michel, Wildlife Management Expert, Nature Protection Team; 77 Lenin Street, Khorog, 736000, GBAO, Tajikistan; email:,