NEWS

Snow Leopards Feature in Jackson Hole Conservation Summit

Sep 23, 2017 9:18 pm

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The 2017 Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival and Conservation Summit opens this weekend, and our Founder-Director, Rodney Jackson, will be there to represent the snow leopard.

An annual 5-day event taking place in the Grand Teton National Park, this Festival provides a platform for a gathering of broadcast and media stakeholders, writers, leading scientists, and conservationists, to celebrate excellence and exchange ideas on aspects of wildlife conservation.

This year’s Conservation Summit, which opens the Festival on September 24, is devoted to the wild cats of the world, giving advocates, researchers, and media industry representatives an opportunity to focus on the issues and challenges facing these beautiful creatures and their habitats; both of which are under threat.

On Sunday, September 24, Rodney will deliver a presentation entitled Landscapes and Corridors. “Roaming vast areas in one of Earth’s least populated places,” he says, “the iconic snow leopard is perhaps the prime example of a Big Cat of remote and rugged mountain landscapes that makes its presence felt, if unseen.”

On the theme of “What would success look like,” Rodney will provide a brief background to the regions which are home to the snow leopard, the threats to its existence and that of its habitat, and outline the efforts being made to counter these challenges.  These efforts revolve mainly around the reduction of human-wildlife conflict and the importance of educating the indigenous communities on the value of conserving both the snow leopard and its natural terrain.

The Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival and Conservation Summit will be held at Jackson Lake Lodge, Grand Teton National Park from September 24 to 29.  To find out more about this Festival, visit the Jackson Hole Festival website.

 

Photos courtesy of Peter Bolliger

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Snow Leopards No Longer Considered “Endangered,” But Scientists Urge Extreme Caution

Sep 14, 2017 8:00 am

Photo Courtesy of Steve Tracy

Photo Courtesy of Steve Tracy

New IUCN Red List Assessment Classifies Snow Leopards as “Vulnerable” to Extinction, One Step Up From “Endangered”

(New York, NY – September 14) The mysterious snow leopard has been delivered a piece of good news. The Red List classification from the International Union for Conservation of Nature – IUCN – improves the conservation status of the big cat from “Endangered” to “Vulnerable.” Yet these iconic symbols of Asia’s great mountain wilderness still face numerous threats, many rapidly growing, in their high mountain home. The snow leopard was listed as Endangered by the IUCN Red List –the globally accepted, international standard for assessing extinction risk—for each 5‐10 year assessment since its initial listing in 1972. The change in status came after a three‐year assessment process by five international experts including scientists from academia and from Panthera, Snow Leopard Conservancy, and Wildlife Conservation Society, organizations active in snow leopard conservation. The assessment was then reviewed and approved by eight international felid and Red List assessments experts, the IUCN Global Mammal Assessment team, and the central Red List Unit.

Dr. Tom McCarthy, Executive Director of Panthera’s Snow Leopard Program and a member of the assessment team, said, “To be considered ‘Endangered,’ there must be less than 2,500 mature snow leopards and they must be experiencing a high rate of decline. Both are now considered extremely unlikely, which is the good news, but it does not mean that snow leopards are ‘safe’ or that now is a time to celebrate. The species still faces ‘a high risk of extinction in the wild’ and is likely still declining – just not at the rate previously thought.”

 The assessment cites a number of recent studies that used more scientifically robust methods than in the past and which suggest snow leopard numbers are likely higher than previously thought. Dr. Rodney Jackson, Founder and Director of the Snow Leopard Conservancy (SLC) and another member of the assessment team, said, “Even with such positive supportive information, the assessment team took a conservative approach, including using the lowest estimated global population size of 4,000 when determining if the Endangered threshold could be met.”

One of the reasons that snow leopard status has improved is greatly increased conservation efforts. Dr. David Mallon, snow leopard expert and member of the assessment team, points out that in the last few decades there has been a significant increase in the number of protected areas within the snow leopard range. The species range is extensive, and covers more than 1.8 million square kilometers of mountain habitat in 12 range countries across Asia. Dr. Jackson stressed that local initiatives such as community ranger monitoring efforts and the building of predator-proof corrals to control conflict over livestock losses are helping to protect the cats from retaliatory killing in many locations.

The snow leopard is the top predator of the world’s greatest mountain chains – the Himalaya, Karakoram, Hindu Kush, Tien Shan, Altai, and other mountain regions of Asia. Unfortunately, even in these near-inaccessible mountains, the snow leopard faces numerous threats.

“Continuing threats include poaching for its thick fur and overhunting of its wild prey,” said Peter Zahler, Coordinator of the WCS Snow Leopard Program and also on the assessment team. “There is also an increasing number of domestic livestock raised by local people in these high mountains that degrades the delicate grasslands, disturbs wild sheep and goats and drives them into less productive habitats.” Zahler pointed out that this can also lead to disease outbreaks in wild sheep and goats due to transmission of novel pathogens from their domestic counterparts. “The loss of wild prey can lead to attacks on domestic stock, which itself can lead to retaliatory killing of snow leopards by local shepherds,” Zahler said.

Zahler added, “It is important that a change in status is not misinterpreted – this change does not mean that the snow leopard has been ‘saved’ and efforts on its behalf can stop. The IUCN’s Vulnerable status means a species is still vulnerable to extinction, and the snow leopard population is still believed to be in decline and facing a high risk of extinction. Threats – poaching, habitat destruction, loss of prey species – still exist and new threats such as roads, border fences, and climate change, are increasing.  So conservation actions must continue and be increased to conserve the species.”

About Panthera – Panthera, founded in 2006, is devoted exclusively to preserving wild cats and their critical role in the world’s ecosystems. Panthera’s team of leading biologists, law enforcement experts and wild cat advocates develop innovative strategies based on the best available science to protect cheetahs, jaguars, leopards, lions, pumas, snow leopards and tigers and their vast landscapes. In 36 countries around the world, Panthera works with a wide variety of stakeholders to reduce or eliminate the most pressing threats to wild cats—securing their future, and ours. Visit panthera.org.

About Snow Leopard Conservancy – SLC, founded in 2000 by Dr. Rodney Jackson and Ms. Darla Hillard, aims to secure the survival of the snow leopard, by conserving its mountain habitat, enhancing local livelihoods and alleviating the human-wildlife conflict which threatens its existence. By blending traditional knowledge with modern science, SLC works in partnership with local people, to increase environmental awareness, advance grassroots conservation initiatives and involve them in non-invasive monitoring of snow leopards. By developing an appreciation for this wild cat, the ultimate goal of the Conservancy is to turn conflict into coexistence.  Visit snowleopardconservancy.org.

About Wildlife Conservation Society – WCS saves wildlife and wild places worldwide through science, conservation action, education, and inspiring people to value nature. To achieve our mission, WCS, based at the Bronx Zoo, harnesses the power of its Global Conservation Program in nearly 60 nations and in all the world’s oceans and its five wildlife parks in New York City, visited by 4 million people annually. WCS combines its expertise in the field, zoos, and aquarium to achieve its conservation mission. WCS has been a global leader on snow leopard conservation since the 1970s, with current programs in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and China. Visit wcs.newsroom.org. For more information: 347‐840‐1242.

 

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International Snow Leopard & Ecosystem Forum

Aug 27, 2017 7:57 pm

Creating Space for the Sacred Snow Leopard – Continued

Blog Article Written by Darla Hillard

Rodney is just back from Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, where he attended the second International Forum (and mid-term meeting) of the Global Snow Leopard & Ecosystem Protection Program (GSLEP).  

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Almagul Osmanova, Kyrgyzstan Country Coordinator for the LOSL Network and Dr. Rodney Jackson at the GSLEP Forum

For the Conservancy-facilitated Land of the Snow Leopard (LOSL) Network, this meeting was the first opportunity to demonstrate to both the western scientific community and the general public that indigenous communities are materially participating in the protection of snow leopards. Across Central Asia, snow leopards are seen by indigenous cultures as totem animals – community protectors and unifiers of humanity. This simple but powerful fact was the catalyst for creation of our LOSL Network.

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As part of the forum activities, a Science Exposition & Symposium took place each day, funded by USAID. Participating NGOs had booths highlighting the latest research, conservation, and development activities being undertaken across the snow leopard range.

Altantsetseg Tsedendamba, Assistant to Mongol Shaman Buyanbadrakh; Mongol Shaman Buyanbadrakh; Almagul Osmanova, Director, Taalim Forum NGO

Altantsetseg Tsedendamba, Assistant to Mongol Shaman Buyanbadrakh; Mongol Shaman Buyanbadrakh; Almagul Osmanova, Director, Taalim Forum NGO

Our LOSL Network demonstrated that we are monitoring wildlife and collecting data in a way that supports the needs of local communities and the GSLEP’s goals. Please see our July blog to learn more about our special LOSL App.

App poster

Symposium speakers explored such themes as climate change, new technologies, field studies, sustainable financing, and community-based conservation. Norbu Ayusheev, Soyot Khambo Lama, traveled from Buryiata, Russia, to represent the LOSL Network in his talk on the role of ICPs in snow leopard conservation.   

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The Exposition concluded with public activities in a local park. LOSL Network member Kuluipa Akmatova, program director for the NGO Rural Development Fund, brought a group of young people from Talas (where we held our workshop earlier this year) to perform a play. Traditional stories and legends are vital to the survival of indigenous cultures. As our Network members have pointed out, data is not necessarily numbers; a story handed down through the generations can be equally powerful data. The young performers’ story features a poacher who kills a snow leopard. Afterwards, his family suffers a huge tragedy – the death of a loved one or the loss of an investment that plunges the family into poverty.  

SLPlay
Stories such as this become data when we discover that they are common to communities in Tajikistan, Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan, and Russia. As the play illustrates, stories can be utilized in many ways to strengthen cultural awareness and improve cultural components of environmental education curricula. 

Thus the LOSL also demonstrated practical applications of one of the GSLEP Declaration’s principles:

“We, the Representatives of the Governments of the range countries recognize the uniqueness and the special value of this alliance and partnership by endorsing the Bishkek Declaration 2017 that demonstrates our determination to conserve the snow leopard populations in the wild and ensure the cultural, social, and economic well-being of the mountain communities.”

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Land of the Snow Leopard Network – Kyrgyzstan Workshop

Jul 3, 2017 4:03 am

Workshop Panorama adjCreating Space for the Sacred Snow Leopard

Blog Article Written by Darla Hillard

The Conservancy extends grateful thanks to Almagul Osmanova and Kuluipa Akmatota for their excellent logistics planning for our recent Land of the Snow Leopard Network gathering in the spectacular Tien Shan Mountains of Kyrgyzstan. Thirty participants convened, from the Altai and Buryat Republics of Russia, from Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Tajikistan, and the US.

While we hope our Network will grow to include the Himalayan regions, for now the focus is Central Asia, where snow leopard habitat includes the Pamir, Tien Shan, Altai, and Sayan Mountains.  Many Indigenous communities who share these highlands uniquely honor Snow Leopard as a spiritual protector, and as a unifier of humanity.

Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan has been an independent republic since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. At the center of its richly complex history is a thousand-year-old epic poem recounting the life story of Manas, a towering figure who fought to establish and defend a homeland for the Kyrgyz people and free them from oppression. The poem, said to be 30 times longer than the Odyssey, has been passed down orally through the centuries, through chanters known as Manaschis. Scholars call the poem as stirring as ”The Iliad,” as episodic as ”Don Quixote,” and as rich in moral guidance as the Gospels.

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NicoManas adjustedDuring our workshop we had the treat of a morning spent at the historical park dedicated to this hero. A mural near the end-point of the museum displays shows the aftermath of Manas’s death in China and his widow, Kanikey, bringing their son back to safety in Kyrgyzstan. There’s a sword at the bottom of the painting that we were told has been passed down from one master-chanter to another. When I asked who has it now, our interpreter, Kyialbek, clarified, “the sword is the poem.”

Today some six million people live in Kyrgyzstan, which has about the same land area as Nebraska.

Our Journey to the Talas River Valley

From Bishkek we rode northwest for eight hours in two comfortable buses, over two high passes, to reach our workshop venue in the beautiful Talas Valley.

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Between the two passes, we had a long break at the summer camp of a herder family.

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They fed us an amazing lunch of traditional foods and showed us how kumis is made—the traditional drink of fermented mare’s milk that is a household stable in Kyrgyzstan and elsewhere in Central Asia. It tastes a little like sour yogurt.

Kumis

This family is part of a pastoralist herders’ network that has been engaged by Rural Development Fund, one of the Collaborative Partners, (see below) to contribute to the documentation among herders of traditional knowledge about snow leopards.

The Land of the Snow Leopard Network – Reaching for the Stars

In our Network are keepers of the ancient wisdom, including Kyrgyz Elder and Sacred Site Guardian Zhaparkul Raimbekov, Buryat Buddhist leader Norbu Lama, Mongolian Shaman E. Buyanbadrakh, Altaian Shaman and Guardian of Sacred Irbis Tuu (Snow Leopard Mountain) Slava Cheltuev. For convenience, we refer to them as Indigenous Cultural Practitioners (ICPs). They communicate with the spirits, (or creator, or ancestors, or guardians—all these terms have been used in translations of our discussions). Buyanbadrakh, for example, received his Shamanic skills from seven of his ancestors. From these entities, the ICPs receive invisible information, visionary dreams, or support and guidance to help an individual or community.

You could say, then, that our Network is reaching for the stars, bringing together these ICPs, along with other wisdom-keepers: lifelong herders who know the ancient practices for reading and living in their environment; Indigenous educators, historians, and traditional hunters striving to maintain or revive their cultures; a handful of boots-on-the-ground natural scientists; and two progressive grant foundations—all in an effort centered on protecting snow leopards.

Our goals are the revitalization of cultures in our program area, and the integration of Indigenous Knowledge into mainstream planning for snow leopard conservation.

Our Workshop Venue – Talas, Kyrgyzstan

BaiBolOverlookDaniar and Gulmara operate the Bai Bol Ethno Complex, our home for the weeklong workshop, just outside the Talas town center. This couple, like some 70% of Kyrgyz people, are Muslim, and as it was the beginning of Ramadan, they were fasting from sunup to sundown. Ours was the first international workshop they had hosted, and they worked hard to make sure everything was satisfactory.

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Daniar plants peonies in honor of his mother; they are her favorite flower. As the week progressed and we got to know each other, I realized that they are particularly knowledgeable about the history of the Talas region; they keep a small museum, and they were very interested in our Network and its goals.  When I went to pay the bill, it reflected a substantial discount, which they wanted to give in celebration of the holy month.

 

LOSL Network App

For the past two years the LOSL Network has been developing a custom App for use by remote communities in monitoring wildlife and collecting data in a way that supports the needs of local communities as well as the goals of the Global Snow Leopard & Ecosystem Protection Plan (GSLEP).  Read more about the GSLEP here.

Last year’s testing of the App revealed the need for changes that would make it easier to use.  We also needed to discuss data security and other practical issues in maintaining the network and ensuring its sustainability.

The Collaborative Snow Leopard Conservation Program

LOSL is one of seven projects/partners working under a three-year grant with the working title of “Collaborative Snow Leopard Conservation Program.” Coming up with a name for the collaborative was another of our tasks. Once the other partners add their suggestions, a vote will determine the winner.  The name will also identify a website being developed to disseminate information and educate the public about our collaborative work.

Workshop

A report on the LOSL workshop will be forthcoming, for those who love details! For me, one of the main take-aways from our discussions was the commonalities across our Network, and how the stories, legends, and traditions that will make up the LOSL “cultural database” can be used in several powerful ways, including the forthcoming website, to have a real impact on snow leopard conservation.

Everyone signed our list of Action Items

Everyone signed our list of Action Items

A Visit to Sacred Sites

When 30 people put their heads together in these deep discussions, it’s essential to take breaks, to get out in nature and remember why we are so determined to create these pathways for Western and Indigenous science to unite around the Snow Leopard.

Zhaparkul adjZhaparkul, who lives in Talas, was our guide on these outings. He is a guardian of the nearby sacred sites, and is deeply involved in their preservation and in educating people about them.

RinchinEvilEye2 adjBesides our visit to the Manas Historical Park, Zhaparkul took us to a sacred spring spring site—actually a series of springs—named after Manas’s wife Kanykei, and her daughter-in-law Ai’chürök.  Zhaparkul explained that the waters of the first spring can protect us from the Evil Eye, and that he would do a special blessing for each of us. The blessing is most effective if the subject doesn’t see the water coming, if they are startled.

Needless to say, there was a lot of laughter during these blessings!  It was a warm day, and it was so pleasant sitting on the grass, none of us wanted to leave.

Our next outing was a visit to the Sacred Site of Arashan, which lies at the entrance to Besh Tash National Park.  The springs here have also been known since ancient times. Arashan means Sacred Mineral Water. In the Buryat language, Arashan means Sacred Spring, and in Tajik, it means Sun Ray. Interestingly, if I understood correctly, the founding ancestor of the spring disappeared, in a ray of sunshine, after living many centuries.

We were greeted by a couple who came to be caretakers of Arashan after visiting the springs as pilgrims, and seeing that the place was being trashed by visitors, they saw the need for protection. They have several businesses and some land. Profits from those are invested in Arashan. There’s no fee, but they accept donations, which cover 15-20% of their costs. They hear from the spirits of the spring what they need to do whether it’s to move stones to a particular place or what to plant or other questions about the gardens; they consult the spirits.

People come to the springs from all over the world, as a last resort, but the healing is effective. They explained that these springs are different from other sacred sites; people get a vision from the spirits.  Artists and scientists get inspiration.

Spring

I got a sense of what they meant when we visited the first spring and following Zhaparkul’s prayer a feeling of calm washed over me.  The trip had been marked by difficulties over money; failed wire and Western Union transfers, ATM and credit cards that didn’t work in Bishkek, the bank’s rejection of any US bill that had a wrinkle or ink stain.  Since I was responsible for all payments, it had been extremely stressful.  But suddenly I knew it would all work out okay.

Zhaparkul'sBlessingAt the Spring of Love and Tenderness, Zhaparkul explained that he wanted to give Rodney and me a special blessing in honor of our many years of working with indigenous communities to save snow leopards. That experience in a beautiful shady forest with the clear pool of the spring and Zhaparkul’s powerful voice in counterpoint to the rippling of the nearby stream is one I will never forget.

The keepers of the site had invited some local volunteers to meet us, including a park ranger who had come to Arashan for a teacher training workshop and became involved in the volunteer movement to protect the springs.  He thinks the movement is gaining momentum. Our visit provides a platform for cooperation, not only to save snow leopard but also other wildlife.

Rodney asked about snow leopards and was told that a herder had seen one way up the canyon, behind the third bridge. Later, Rodney and Norbu hiked up the canyon from the springs and came upon a large boulder where a snow leopard had made a scrape to mark its presence.  We thought that was an excellent sign or blessing of our work.

SLMarkingRock

From Arashan, we drove deeper into the park.  Akylbek wanted to show us the place where he set his camera traps.  Unfortunately, the bridge there had been washed away, and we couldn’t cross the river to get to the cameras.

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Eagle Hunters & Dog Racing

We were late getting back to the Bai Bol where we ate a quick dinner and headed back out for a presentation by Salburun, the local Eagle Hunters’ Association.

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What fun that was as everyone took turns holding such a magnificent creature—even though it was the birds’ time of molting and the hunters wouldn’t be able to demonstrate how they work with the horsemen and Taigans (traditional hunting dogs).

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We also each got a turn at trying to hit the target with the traditional bow.  The women ruled!  We did note that the bows were made much thinner than the ancient ones we had seen in the Manas Museum.

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The hunters wanted to demonstrate the Taigan’s abilities, so they dragged a hide bundle behind a very fast horse and turned the half-dozen dogs loose to give chase.  By the time the horse reached the end of the field, the grey Taigan had overtaken the horse.

Taigan

In fact, our hosts were the Taigan jarysh (dog racing) champions of the recent Second World Nomad Games (worldnomadgames.com/en/).

DogRace

In that official race, the course was 350 meters; 19 athletes competed, from Georgia, Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. While the horse gets up to a speed of 60-65 km/hr., the fastest dog is the winner. In 2016, Kyrgyzstan won all the medals: gold, silver, and bronze.

Traditional Cultures, the Global Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Protection Program, & the Support of the President of Kyrgyzstan

The President of Kyrgyzstan, Almazbek Atambayev, had opened the games with the comments, “In the modern world, people are forgetting their history, and there is a threat of extinction for traditional cultures. Nomadic civilization is an example of sustainable development, which is what all of humanity is looking for today.”

This is the same President who has led the GSLEP effort; he understands the work of our LOSL Network, especially in the context of the GLSEP mandate to “Enhance the role of local communities in snow leopard conservation efforts by adopting and implementing policies and laws that favor the involvement of such communities as stewards of biodiversity and champions of conservation.” (globalsnowleopard.org).  His support has been invaluable.

Many thanks to Lyubov Ivaskina and Nicolas Villaume for sharing their great photos!

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The Snow Leopard Magazine

Jun 8, 2017 5:57 pm

Tashi Ghale

Tashi Ghale

We are pleased to share the third volume of The Snow Leopard Magazine, published in May 2017 by the Snow Leopard Conservancy’s Nepal partner, that focuses on Nepali efforts to conserve snow leopards. This edition contains many interesting articles; one written by Dr. Rodney Jackson, “Reflection on the First Radio-Tracking Study of the Snow Leopard,” and pertinent news articles including “Foxlights Distributed in Manang and Upper Mustang” and “GSLEP Meeting held in Kathmandu, Ministers Uphold Their Support for Snow Leopard Conservation.”

You can read it here - The Snow Leopard Magazine Volume 3 May 2017

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