By Emily Charrier-Botts INDEX-TRIBUNE ENTERTAINMENT EDITOR
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.