New Snow Leopard Sculpture At Woodland Park Zoo Honors Helen Freeman

By Gigi Allianic

Seattle, WA – The champion of snow leopards, Helen Freeman, was remembered over the weekend at a private ceremony at Woodland Park Zoo that paid tribute to her tireless efforts toward protecting snow leopards and establishing the Snow Leopard Trust. Family, friends, the Snow Leopard Trust, and the zoo unveiled an ensemble of bronze sculptures that illustrates the lifetime passion of Freeman who passed away in 2007.

The commemoration to Freeman is located near the zoo’s snow leopard exhibit. Members of the Snow Leopard Trust (SLT), Freeman’s family, and local artist Gretchen Daiber collaborated with the zoo to create the sculptural vignette: a clipboard detailing Freeman’s observations of snow leopards, a leaping snow leopard and a small plaque.

“The commemorative sculptures aptly capture the passion, spirit and life’s work of Helen,” noted Executive Director of the Snow Leopard Trust, Brad Rutherford. “The Snow Leopard Trust is keeping Helen’s dream alive to save the cats she loved so much. We hope this new tribute will inspire zoo visitors to reflect on the legacy of snow leopard conservation she left behind and on her vision that will continue into the future.”

Freeman’s interest in snow leopards began in the early 1970s as a volunteer docent at Woodland Park Zoo where she began studying the zoo’s pair of snow leopards from Russia. She discovered a new passion for the endangered cats, which led her back to school for a second degree in animal behavior at University of Washington. The countless hours she spent studying the elusive cats grew into a multinational research effort. In the early 1980s, she became the zoo’s Curator of Education and, in 1981, she founded the Snow Leopard Trust.

Under Freeman’s guidance the Trust pioneered new approaches to snow leopard conservation and its habitat in Asia, placing local peoples at the center of the movement. Freeman ultimately became one of the world’s foremost experts on the behavior of snow leopards in captivity and a key figure in international snow leopard conservation. In 2008, the SLT continued Freeman’s legacy by launching the first ever long-term study of wild snow leopards, greatly advancing knowledge of and conservation efforts for the beautiful felines.

“Helen made a special connection with the snow leopards at the zoo and came to understand how these animals are conservation ambassadors for their cousins in the wild. Her drive to protect the species led her to build an organization that works with real communities to save these animals in their natural habitat. We miss Helen, but are proud to be part of helping her work and dream continue to succeed,” said Woodland Park Zoo President and CEO Dr. Deborah Jensen.

Woodland Park Zoo currently has a 14-year-old female snow leopard, which was joined this year by new arrivals, a 2-year-old male and a 3-year-old female, named Helen in honor of Helen Freeman.

The Snow Leopard Trust is now the oldest and largest organization whose sole purpose is to protect endangered snow leopards in their native Central Asian habitat, with programs and staff in key range countries, a global network of researchers and partnerships with local communities in the cats’ habitat. “The strength and independence of the Trust today is part of Helen’s legacy and stands as her greatest achievement in the snow leopard sphere of her life,” added Rutherford.

The Snow Leopard Trust is one of Woodland Park Zoo’s Partners for Wildlife conservation initiatives, an expansion of the zoo’s efforts and resources in proven field conservation projects. The zoo currently partners with 38 field conservation projects in 50 countries around the world. For more information about Woodland Park Zoo’s conservation efforts, visit

Artist Gretchen Daiber of Leavenworth, Wash. grew up in the Northwest. A long-time friend of Freeman’s, Daiber works in all mediums while concentrating on stone and bronze sculpture. She has numerous pieces in the growing outdoor collection of Sleeping Lady Mountain Retreat in Leavenworth as well as works which are part of the permanent collections of the cities of Puyallup, Wash., Wenatchee, Wash. and Seattle.

Accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA), award-winning Woodland Park Zoo is famed for pioneering naturalistic exhibits and setting international standards for zoos all over the world. The 21st century zoo is helping to save animals and their habitats in Washington state and around the world. By inspiring people to care and act, Woodland Park Zoo is making a difference in our planet’s future.

To view a photo of the sculpture, please click on the link below:

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