Jackson eyed for Indianapolis Prize


Nov 21, 2011 – 06:57 PM

Dr. Rodney Jackson is hoping third time really is the charm after learning he has been again named as a finalist for the prestigious Indianapolis Prize, awarded for efforts in wildlife conservation.

Jackson is the founder of the Boyes Hot Springs-based Snow Leopard Conservancy, which has been working since 1986 to protect the endangered cats in the 12 countries they inhabit. The Indianapolis Prize is a $100,000 grant awarded every other year to a person who has done extraordinary work to save a particular species. Jackson was named as one of 29 finalists picked from across the globe for the 2012 prize, after being named one of the six finalists in both 2008 and 2010.

“It’s an honor to get it the third time,” Jackson said. “It’s encouraging, that’s for sure.”

Jackson is considered one of the world’s foremost authorities on snow leopards after intensively studying the cats since 1981. Now, he works to protect the cats by reaching out to the residents of the mountainous communities where the endangered species live.

“Where do you go first? You ask the locals, they know what’s going on,” Jackson said.

Jackson explained that local residents can be a snow leopard’s biggest predator or biggest advocate. Many who live side-by-side with the cats find them to be a pest because snow leopards are known to feed on livestock.

“If your livelihood is based on your livestock, this is a major issue … One of the reasons snow leopards are trapped, poisoned and killed is when they get into those livestock pens,” Jackson explained. “The only way to deal with this is to minimize the loss of livestock or to find a way to make their livelihood off of the snow leopards.”

He said the answer is as simple as putting covers on the livestock pens to keep the cats out. If he wins the Indianapolis Prize, he said at least a portion of the money would be spent on predator proofing livestock pens for native populations.

“It’s very easy to predator proof so the snow leopards can’t get in,” Jackson said.

He also teaches local residents how to make money off their endangered neighbors by leading tourists on treks into the mountains to spot the elusive cats.

One of Jackson’s earliest research efforts involves mapping the range and movement of the cats to better focus his conservation efforts. He uses both radio collars to track the cats over long distances, as well as genetically testing fecal matter to understand which cats are living in the area and how far they travel.

“It helps us predict where the cats might occur,” he said. “It also tells us where the most efficient places to do our conservation would be.”

Right now, he said his efforts are specifically focused on Mongolia. Mineral-rich mines line the mountains, and are being heavily tapped to meet the need for natural resources in China, Jackson said. This has led to more highways and rail lines into the mountains, disrupting the snow leopard’s habitat. Working with conservation groups in the area, Jackson said, “We want to see if we can come up with some plans to offset the impact of those mines.”

The Indianapolis Prize is awarded by the Indianapolis Zoo, but the funding is provided by the Eli Lilly and Company Foundation. A nominating committee that selected the 29 nominees will narrow the list down to six finalists, who will be announced in the spring. Following that, a jury of experts in the field of conservation will select a winner, to be announced Sept. 29, during the Indianapolis Prize Gala.

Until then, Jackson said he’s keeping his focus on snow leopards. “It’s not as much the action of individual people, but the actions of groups of people working together,” he said.

In addition to continuing with their conservation work, Jackson and his partner Darla Hillard are finishing up a new e-book to be released in December. The book, “Vanishing Tracks 2,” follows up on Hillard’s 1989 book, “Vanishing Tracks,” which detailed four years of living on the mountainous cliffs in Western Nepal while conducting the world’s seminal research on snow leopards. The new book catches up with what the conservancy has learned since then, with proceeds from the book benefitting the nonprofit organization.

“We’ll have it in every format – for e-readers, for iPads for your computer,” Hillard said.

To find “Vanishing Tracks 2” or learn more about the Snow Leopard Conservancy, visit www.snowleopardconservancy.org.


Snow Leopard Conservancy, founded by Dr. Rodney Jackson

Protecting snow leopards
May 5, 2011 – 02:25 PM

More has been done to protect snow leopards, one of the most elusive creatures on the planet, by a tiny organization in a small house in Boyes Hot Springs than by almost anyone else in the world. The Snow Leopard Conservancy, founded by Sonoma resident Dr. Rodney Jackson, marks its 10th year of defending the endangered species across the 10 countries it inhabits with a fundraising party on Saturday, May 22.

“We’ve been really focused on mobilizing local people as the stewards of their environment,” Jackson said. “It’s really starting to pay off.”

Jackson said during his 10 years of working to protect snow leopards, he has recently seen an increase in the number of cats spotted, a sign that the overall population has increased. But despite specific gains in the number of sightings, particularly in India, Northern Pakistan and Mongolia, Jackson said there is still much work to be done. Numerous camera traps set up across Eastern Russia, where snow leopards are known to roam, failed to capture a single image of any cats.

“We would not expect that to be the case,” Jackson said.

So how does one organization with just three employees protect an endangered species half a world away? Jackson said it all comes down to working with the tiny mountain communities where the leopards live.

“The best guardians are the local people,” Jackson said, explaining the conservancy’s job is to work collaboratively with communities to change residents’ perspective from viewing the leopards as a pest to an asset. “We want to create a direct link between the presence of the cat and the economics of their community. We make sure the community’s ideas, interests and concerns are incorporated.”

Despite being an endangered species protected in all countries, snow leopards are heavily hunted, not just for their exquisite fur but also because many natives see them as a dangerous nuisance that preys on their livestock. Jackson goes into these communities and teaches the residents not only how to protect their livestock from snow leopards, but also how to profit from the leopards by leading tourist treks to try to spot the animals.

“We let them see for themselves what the value of these animals are,” he said.

During his most recent trip, he traveled to the Khumbu area of Nepal surrounding Mount Everest, where snow leopards have only recently reestablished a habitat after decades of poaching that drove them completely out of the region. Jackson worked with a small community there to create an innovative micro-loan program that will help boost the economy of the community while also protecting snow leopards.

Under the newly-established Savings and Credit Act, the Conservancy deposited $1,200 into a savings account. Jackson then got dozens of households in the town to buy a share of the money by committing to continue adding to the account at a rate of 100 rupees ($1.30) a month. In exchange, the families can get loans from the savings account at an interest rate of 18 percent, when the average loan rate in Nepal is 30 percent.

“If the local people want to get money to build a house or fix their roof or buy supplies for their store, they had to go to the village lender … And these guys are notorious,” Jackson said.

Instead, the villagers can now control their own finances as a community. In exchange for the start-up capital, the account sharers agreed to spend a portion of the loan interest earned on snow leopard conservation, including educational activities to spread awareness to children and reimbursing those who lose livestock to the cats.

They also promise to report poachers. Jackson said the community has enthusiastically embraced the program, even throwing a cultural festival where they raised $800 for their account.

“This community has been doing (the program) for 10 months and they have already doubled their account,” Jackson said, adding that he hopes to implement similar programs in other communities and countries.

Working with Texas A&M University, Jackson has also helped develop new technology to help track snow leopards using satellite images that can pinpoint the locations where the cats are most likely to live. Jackson then takes a team into those locations and collects leopard skat, which is analyzed to tell researchers the gender of the animal and how many cats have passed through that area.

“That helps us determine where we’ll target our community efforts,” he said.

For his innovative conservation efforts, Jackson has been nominated for the Indianapolis Prize for the third time in the past five years. The $100,000 grant is considered the most prestigious award for conservation and wildlife protection. He will find out at the end of the year if the third time is the charm for winning the grant.

With an annual budget of just $300,000, Jackson has successfully implemented some degree of snow leopard protection in almost all of the countries the animal inhabits, which often means cutting through difficult political red tape. But Jackson said more funds are needed to continue spreading awareness and protecting the leopards so their numbers can increase to the level once seen across the Himalayas.

“It’s such a huge area we have to cover, how do we scale up? That’s where people in Sonoma can help. Small amounts of dollars can go a long way over there,” he said.

On Saturday, May 22, the conservancy will host the Snow Leopard Gala, a 10-year retrospective, at the Janet Pomeroy Center in San Francisco. The event includes a Himalayan-style bazaar, wildlife encounters with a bactrian camel and a feline ambassador, and a silent auction that includes mini safaris, behind-the-scenes tours of the San Francisco Zoo and a special package from the San Francisco Giants. Jackson will also speak, explaining the extensive work the Snow Leopard Conservancy has done during the past 10 years. Tickets are $75 and can be purchased by calling 935-3851 or info@snowleopardconservancy.org.

To donate to the conservancy or learn more about Jackson’s work, visit www.snowleopardconservancy.org.

National Trust for Nature Conservation (NTNC) and US-based Snow Leopard Conservancy has launched snow leopard conservation project in Nepal

Snow leopard conservation project

Added At: 2011-04-03 11:36 PM
Last Updated At: 2011-04-03 11:36 PM

KATHMANDU: The National Trust for Nature Conservation (NTNC) and US-based Snow leopards Conservancy has launched the snow leopard conservation project.

Altogether there are 4,510 to 7,350 snow leopards across the world. Nepal has around 500 of them.”Special efforts are required to conserve the species,” said Som Ale, an expert.

In Nepal, the snow leopard is found in Mustang, Mugu, Dolpa and Humla. The government has legally protected the snow leopard by including it on the list of protected animals in the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act 1973 and provisioning penalties up to NRs 100,000 or 5 to 15 years imprisonment or both, for poaching snow leopards and buying and selling of its pelt and bones.

“We are now gearing up efforts to conserve a most elusive species in the world,” said Krishna Prasad Acharya, Director General, Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation.

The snow leopard-human conflict is taken as one of the main threats to its survival as it is known to kill sheep, goats, horses, and yak calves.

“The snow leopards are facing the problem of poaching and habitat loss, so there is need for community-based conservation efforts to tackle this problem,” said Juddha Bahadur Gurung, Member Secretary, NTNC.


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.

See and Help Save the Snow Leopard in Ladakh (Snow Leopard Conservancy trip featured in Luxury Travel Magazine)

January 12, 2011

Baobab Expeditions, a tour operator of extraordinary, conservation–based journeys to remote and exotic locales, is offering a 17-night expedition to India to see the crucially-endangered Snow Leopard in support of the Snow Leopard Conservancy Trust.

The expert-guided trips are available leaving March 26 and December 3, 2011, include moderate to strenuous treks, and cost $4,397* per person, sharing. (Guests must be in Delhi, India by Day 1). Every booking results in a monetary donation to the Snow Leopard Conservancy.

The Snow Leopard is one of the most beautiful animals in the world. Secretive and shy, it is poached for its bones, skin and organs, used in traditional Asian medicine. The Snow Leopard Conservancy is dedicated to promoting innovative grassroots measures that lead local people to become better stewards of these rarely-seen creatures, their prey and their habitat. It offers material support and planning assistance in exchange for a community’s agreement to assume the primary responsibility for protecting Snow Leopards and other wildlife.

The exciting journey to discover the Snow Leopard includes visits to Delhi, capital of India, and to Ladakh, a region of Jammu and Kashmir, India’s northernmost state. Ladakh is a high-altitude desert, as the Himalayan Mountains create a rain shadow denying entry to monsoon clouds. Before setting off in search of the Snow Leopard, guests will acclimatize in the capital of Ladakh, Leh, sometimes called Little Tibet, which sits at the base of the 11,500 foot Karakoram Range, once a major commercial hub on the Silk Road. Highlight of the journey will be trekking in the mountains of Ladakh (aka Snow Leopard Country) guided by experts in the field. Adventurers will fly over the Himalayas, “Roof of the World”; experience the local Buddhist culture; visit ancient monasteries and palaces; and trek through Hemis National Park to ferret out the mysterious Snow Leopard. Along the way, trekkers will see many indigenous and endangered animal species including the Himalayan Snowcock, the Himalayan Wolf, the Wild Dog, Pallas’s Cat, the Red Fox, the Tibetan Argali, and the Bharal or blue sheep upon which the Snow Leopard preys. Using spotting scopes, guests will collect information on the Argali for the local Wildlife Department and for the Nature Conservancy Foundation.

Naturalist Peter Matthiessen’s 1978 book The Snow Leopard brought to the public’s attention the elusiveness of the big cat and the myths that have grown up around it. After seeing incredible wildlife but no Snow Leopard, Matthiessen’s companion in the search, zoologist George Schaller, mused, “We’ve seen so much, maybe it’s better if there are some things that we don’t see.” Matthiessen himself felt that the journey into the last enclaves of pure Tibetan culture on earth was also a quest for “being.”

According to Wikipedia, “Snow Leopards show several adaptations for living in a cold mountainous environment. Their bodies are stocky, their fur is thick, and their ears are small and rounded, all of which help to minimize heat loss. Their paws are wide, which distributes their weight better for walking on snow, and they have fur on their undersides to increase their grip on steep and unstable surfaces; it also helps to minimize heat loss. Snow Leopards’ tails are long and flexible, helping them to maintain their balance, important in the rocky terrain they inhabit; the tails are also very thick due to storage of fats, and are very thickly covered with fur which allows them to be used like a blanket to protect their faces when asleep. The Snow Leopard has a short muzzle and domed forehead, containing unusual large nasal cavities that help the animal breathe the thin cold air of their mountainous environment.”

For a detailed itinerary or more information visit


Freeman Award for Snow Leopard Conservation: Rinchen Wangchuk

Freeman Award for Snow Leopard Conservation

The Snow Leopard Trust is happy to announce that Rinchen Wangchuk has been selected as the recipient of the Freeman Award for Snow Leopard Conservation. The award established by the family of Helen Freeman to recognize leaders in snow leopard conservation comes with an honorarium of US$1,000.

Rinchen is currently the Director for the Snow Leopard Conservancy – India, based in Leh, Ladakh. Rinchen and his team work closely with livestock herding communities to predator-proof nighttime corrals, and train local people, especially women and young men, in ways of enhancing their income generation skills in activities closely linked with the conservation of snow leopards. At another level, he assists local non-government organizations build capacity for protecting India’s rich mountain biodiversity.

One of Rinchen’s greatest achievements has been his role in rural tourism initiatives that enabled launching the award-winning Himalayan Homestay program, a highly acclaimed UNESCO-sponsored project. SLC-India and its broadly-based snow leopard conservation program now operate as an independent organization, having started as a project of the Snow Leopard Conservancy – USA.

Rinchen’s commitment to working for the welfare of wildlife and rural people has grown out of his own Ladakhi village upbringing and his experiences as a skilled mountaineer and more recently, a nature tour guide. With fellow Indian climbers, he summited the 24,660-foot Saser Kangri II in Ladakh’s Nubra region. He received special training in community-based tourism from The Mountain Institute (Nepal) and RECROFT (Thailand). Rinchen also assisted researchers to develop the Earth watch 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 congratulating Rinchen on this well deserved recognition for his years of service towards snow leopard conservation.

Protecting Snow Leopard’s Namesake Cats

This article originally appeared in TidBITS on 2009-09-16 at 3:25 p.m.
The permanent URL for this article is: http://db.tidbits.com/article/10570

Protecting Snow Leopard’s Namesake Cats

By now you’ve probably gotten a glimpse at the big cat Apple has been touting as the face of its new operating system, Snow Leopard. But did you know that the real snow leopard [1] is a highly endangered species? With dwindling population numbers in the wild estimated to be between 3,500 to 7,000, this native of Central Asia is facing extinction.

The snow leopard is a beautiful cat with big paws, a thick fur coat, and a long tail used for balance in its mountainous roaming. Bearing the moniker Spirit of the Himalayas, its natural habitat encompasses the mountains of central and south Asia including parts of Mongolia, India, Pakistan, China, and other countries. Solitary animals, snow leopards usually live 15 to 20 years in the wild.

Since 1972, the snow leopard has been identified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature [3] as an endangered species – right up there with the panda, the blue whale, and the albatross. Today, their habitat continues to be encroached upon by agricultural needs; they’re poached for their pelts; and they’re killed by farmers looking to protect their livestock.

Fortunately, other people are looking out for the snow leopard.

Conservation Groups — Two main groups are currently devoted solely to the snow leopard’s plight. Founded in 1981, the Snow Leopard Trust [4] is one of the world’s leading authorities on the study and protection of the snow leopard. With a large staff spread over five snow leopard range countries, the Trust is attempting to affect change at the country level. In 2008, the Trust also began a long-term research project that seeks to gain a stronger grip on the issues facing snow leopards by better understanding their living habits.

The Snow Leopard Trust’s short term conservation goals include expanding the number of Mongolian communities participating in conservation efforts (Mongolia is home to the second-largest snow leopard population) and initiating a pilot program in China, which has the largest snow leopard population. The Trust’s primary long term goal is to help the snow leopard reach healthy and self-sustainable population numbers in the wild.

The Snow Leopard Conservancy [5] is the other main source of snow leopard conservation efforts. The Conservancy focuses on enhancing the stewardship of alpine ecosystems within communities that provide habitat (and easy prey via livestock) for snow leopards. The Conservancy’s stated challenge is to seek “ways of helping local people regain their willingness to co-exist with large predators.”

What Could Apple Do? While it is by no means Apple’s responsibility to take part in the efforts to protect its latest operating system’s namesake, the company has a great opportunity to help a worthy cause. Given Apple’s recent efforts to become a greener enterprise, embracing the snow leopard as its current-day mascot and supporting efforts to save the snow leopard from extinction would help underscore other green efforts like eliminating BFRs, PVC, and mercury from its iPods and computers. The financial planning company Pacific Life provides a good role model of a company giving back to its brand icon [6], which in their case is the humpback whale.

Most simply, Apple could just help raise awareness of the issue with an educational box on its Snow Leopard page [7]. Given that many people don’t even know the snow leopard is endangered, even a simple effort like this would go a long way.

Apple could also make a donation to the Snow Leopard Trust and/or the Snow Leopard Conservancy. Better yet, Apple could involve the Mac community in the effort by offering to match donations made by Mac users. The Snow Leopard Trust already has such a donation matching program in place with another donor. Through 31-Oct-09, if the organization can raise $25,000, any donation you make will be met by the Geyer Trust.

“That means doubling the impact for your gift,” Brad Rutherford, Executive Director of the Snow Leopard Trust, told me via email. “Gifts big and small are important to us. $5 is enough for us to track a snow leopard for one day using GPS technology, and $1,000 is what it takes to protect one snow leopard in Kyrgyzstan for one year.

Some Mac-related organizations have already stepped up to the plate. Apple resellers Tekserve [8] in New York City and Monterey Bay Computer Works [9] in California have already contributed to the Snow Leopard Trust’s fundraising program. Tekserve donated the proceeds from the first 100 copies of Snow Leopard it sold. Select ASMC (Apple Specialist Marketing Co-op [10]) retailers are also helping out by promoting snow leopard “adoptions” in their stores. It would be great to see Apple join these Apple resellers and take an active role in encouraging and promoting the protection of the snow leopard.

What Can You Do? Don’t feel you have to wait for Apple to make a move, because there’s plenty you can do right now to help snow leopards. Aside from making an individual donation to one of the organizations mentioned above, you could “adopt” a snow leopard (via either the Trust or Conservancy), donate your old car [11] to raise funds, or purchase crafts [12] made by people living in the snow leopard habitat to help alleviate the economic pressures that lead herders to forcibly protect their livestock (the craftsmen must abide by jointly negotiated conservation agreements that protect the cats and their key prey).

Additionally, if you really want to get involved, consider volunteering for either the Trust or the Conservancy. The Trust in particular has noted that it needs volunteers to help expand their social network presence, develop presentations, write and distribute press releases, and host fundraising events.

And though it may seem small, simply spreading the word about the snow leopard’s endangered status – whether by conversation, email, or Twitter (I recommend linking to this obscenely cute video [13] of snow leopard kittens at Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo) – can have a real impact. (And if you go to Woodland Park Zoo yourself on the right day, you might even get to see TidBITS Managing Editor Jeff Carlson and his daughter Ellie masquerading as snow leopards.)

Brad Rutherford was up front about the possibilities. “Support from Apple, its retailers, and Mac users has the potential to make a huge, immediate difference in protecting snow leopards,” he said.

So next time you boot up Snow Leopard, take a moment to think about those big cats prowling around the Himalayas, and hopefully, they’ll still be with us long after Apple has moved beyond big cat operating systems.


Aussie faced death filming cats in the clouds

By Marianne Leitch for Foreign Correspondent

Posted Mon May 4, 2009 7:01am AEST
Updated Mon May 4, 2009 10:19am AEST

Snow leopard stands in Himalayan snow

Snow leopard: like many other big cat species, snow leopards are endangered, due to pressures on their habitat and poaching. (Supplied: Snow Leopard Conservancy)

A program to save snow leopards in the Indian Himalaya could be a template for saving big cats around the world.

Australian film-maker Mitchell Kelly can no longer visit his beloved big cats in the wild, but his ground-breaking documentaries are helping to keep them alive. After suffering two life-threatening cerebral oedemas while filming the giant cats in the Indian Himalayas, he can never again risk going to altitude. He does not know whether he will work full-time again. His films continue his conservation work though, being shown regularly in the Himalayan province of Ladakh where he filmed between 1999 and 2003. They are part of a successful conservation program that is convincing local farmers the leopards can be an income provider, rather than a pest that threatens their livestock and their livelihoods. Snow leopards roam the harsh mountain terrain of 12 countries, including China, Afghanistan, the 'stans' of Central Asia, India and Russia. In many places they are hunted for their pelts, and for their body parts, for use in Chinese medicine. But until the last few decades, little was known about how they live due to the remoteness of their territory and their extreme shyness. "If we know something, if we understand it, we're more likely to love it", says Mitchell Kelly, and that is really the basis of the program that was started in Ladkah by the NGO, the Snow Leopard Conservancy. The program works to help local farmers protect their livestock from predators such as wolves and snow leopards, by providing materials such as wire netting and posts for the pens where the animals are kept at night. It may not sound like much, but cash is a rare commodity in rural Ladakh, where it is a daily struggle just to get through the long winters on what can be grown in the warmer months. There is little spare money for luxuries, and the farmers depend absolutely on their crops and their animals. The loss of even one or two animals to a snow leopard represents a disaster to most farmers. Ladakh is in the trans-Himalaya, and is a high altitude desert with less rain than the Sahara. Only the toughest survive here, and that includes the Ladakhi people, who are as smart and hard-working as they come. Whilst they have farmed in traditional ways for generations, they are quick to adapt to new technologies when they become available, and relish any opportunity to improve their situation.

Homestay programs

The Snow Leopard Conservancy trains locals to educate Ladakhi children about biodiversity, and helps families run homestay programs in remote villages. Local women host tourists in their own homes, providing traditional accommodation and food. Not only does this give the women some money of their own, often for the first time, it also means less pressure on camp sites in remote regions. Traditionally, tourists have camped, and that means bringing a lot of pack animals into the fragile mountain environment. The pack animals compete with the domestic animals for the scarce resources. So the homestay program helps in a multi-layered way; providing cash, reducing the ecological impact of campers, and showing the villagers that the snow leopards can be an asset, rather than a dangerous pest that should be eliminated. Mitchell Kelly first became interested in trying to film snow leopards after reading Darla Hillard's book Vanishing Tracks: Four Years Among the Snow Leopards of Nepal, first published in 1989. The book is Hillard's vivid personal account of the first scientific expedition to successfully radio collar and study wild snow leopards. Hillard was a secretary who fell in love with wildlife biologist Rodney Jackson and together they pioneered the study of snow leopards, over four seasons in an extremely isolated region of western Nepal. In that four-and-a-half years they made just 18 snow leopard sightings but with the help of locals they were able to capture and sedate five of them, and attach radio collars. Information from this project is still the main source of data about how snow leopards live. Their work convinced Mitchell Kelly that with a lot of perseverance and luck, it might be possible to capture the animals on film. And after a year trying in Ladakh, he finally succeeded. For his second film Kelly teamed up with Rodney Jackson, Rinchen Wangchuk and other Snow Leopard Conservancy staff and they used remote camera traps positioned on high ridges to track down the leopards. They even managed to film a mating.

Touch and go

But when Kelly went back to Ladakh to make a third documentary - this one about the conservation program - he nearly died from altitude sickness. Filming above 5,000 metres he became disoriented and did not realise he had a high altitude cerebral oedema - a condition where the brain swells from excess fluid and begins pressing on the skull. "I just thought it was an off day," he tells Foreign Correspondent. "And unfortunately when you do start to succumb to altitude one of the first things that goes is your judgement." He got out his first aid book and self-diagnosed hepatitis. He kept on filming, but when he could not even sit up or manage to finish a sentence coherently, his local guide finally managed to convince Kelly he had to descend or he would die on the mountain. They had to go higher to get over a pass before they finally got back to camp four hours later, and it was touch and go. "Another 20 or 30 minutes more and I wouldn't have made it out". Amazingly, Kelly went back to the same region a few months later to try again. Almost immediately he had another attack. He knows he is lucky to be alive, and six years on, he is still recuperating. He spends his days painting and taking photos in the Australian bush on his family property outside Perth, but he never forgets the mountain, the people who helped him, and the cats he filmed. The locals are unlikely to forget him either. Kelly says that when he first went to Ladakh in the late 1990s few locals had ever seen a snow leopard in the wild. They were also convinced he had not really filmed them even after all those months up on the mountain - "and it wasn't until I took the film back and showed them that they finally admitted they had thought I was a bald-faced liar!" Foreign Correspondent's program on the conservation program in Ladakh can be seen on ABC1 at 8:00pm on Tuesday May 5.

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 (www.snowleopard.org/shop).

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 (www.snowleopardconservancy.org) 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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Steve Winter on Being Named Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Hello, I wanted to share this with everyone. I have been voted the Wildlife Photographer of the Year for 2008. This is a great honor for myself, the snow leopard and National Geographic magazine!  The snow leopard story appeared in the June issue of NGM.

I want to thank the Editor in Chief Chris Johns, (for giving me this opportunity and believing in me), my photo Editor Kathy Moran, (my guiding light), Editor at Large Nick Nichols, Emilene Ostlind, Jenna Pirog, and the whole staff at NGM.

I would also like to thank Dr. George Schaller, whose book Stones of Silence showed the snow leopard–and a passionate scientist–for the very first time.

Thank you to the Museum of Natural History in London, the BBC and WildPhotos for holding this important event. The show of all the winners at the Museum of Natural History in London is truly an amazing window on the talent of the winning photographers and our natural world–if any of you are in London please visit. A big thank you to all the judges also!

I had the expert knowledge and unselfish assistance of two friends–Tashi Tundup, from Snow Leopard Conservancy India and Raghu Chundawat from Snow Leopard Trust in Delhi. I cannot thank you both enough.

This was a real collaboration between the snow leopard and myself. Hopefully this award will help further worldwide interest in the beauty and importance of the snow leopard and understanding of our need to protect it. I applaud National Geographic for making this story possible.

Want to help? Please visit these websites of organizations working with the snow leopard:


Here is a link to the BBC news item about the award.

Thank you, and “Save the snow leopard.”

Posted Nov 17, 2008

To view one of Steve Winter’s stunning snow leopard photos, please click on the link below: