Saving Nepal’s Snow Leopards

Nov 30, 2016 12:46 am

Tashi Ghale and Rodney JacksonThe Manang District of central Nepal covers an area of 2246 and supports some 9,500 people in twelve villages. There are 32 primary schools and 17 secondary schools. To the north lies the District of Mustang, separated from Manang by Thorung La, a 5415-meter (17,766 foot) pass. Snow leopards have long inhabited this region, which falls within the Annapurna Conservation Area, but only with the advent of trail cameras has their presence been significantly documented.

In 2005, Tashi Ghale trekked over Thorong La from his home village of Manang, to meet Rodney Jackson and learn how to use a trail camera. Within the year, Tashi sent the first images of Manang’s snow leopards to be captured on the camera Snow Leopard Conservancy had donated to in snow

Today, Tashi serves as field conservationist on the Snow Leopard team of our new partners, GPN (see Foxlights for Baby Yaks in our Blog section). Tashi recently reported on activities carried out over the summer.

During our Pallas’s cat project implementation during last two years, I had a good opportunity to spend time with the herders, especially those in and around my home village, and learn about their understandings, problems and suggestions. But farther-flung villages were beyond our access, so I didn’t have much interaction with them in those areas.

After GPN and the Snow Leopard Conservancy formed a new collaboration, I was asked to spend May, June, and July building relationships in those more remote areas, and identifying key herders to distribute fox lights and maintain communications.

During my visit, I learned of herder’s positive response to fox lights in deterring snow leopards, and also of their Manang villager with FoxLightproblems and expectations. Herders requested help in predator-proofing corrals, especially where the Fox Lights have been used for some time. The return of the wolf is another threat; people still blame snow leopard for the losses.

I spent significant time describing our project activities, pros-cons of fox lights, and future activities. It was important to make a database of the number of herders present in the valley, and prioritize those who should participate in the first phase distribution. I installed 8 fox lights in Manang and Tanki Manang Villages.

I also met with Annapurna Conservation Area Management Committees, and shared information with them and the central Manang office about the ongoing collaboration between GPN-SLC.

We need to better understand habitat use pattern of snow leopard, and we need to create a livestock depredation database for both wolf and snow leopard. This will help with monitoring and better planning and implementation of conservation action.

Snow Leopard April 2016 (GPN)
Tashi captured this image in April, 2016, in an on-going intensive camera-trapping study being carried out as part of the GPN-SLC collaboration. This study has also produced the first evidence of Pallas’s cats in Nepal, and the return of Himalayan wolves to the Manang Valley after four decades. Tashi was recently honored by WWF with the 2016 Abraham Conservation Award.

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Snow Leopard Day!

Nov 4, 2016 9:28 pm

Thanks to everyone who attended our International Snow Leopard Day celebrations, and contributed to our Fund-a-Need for Savings & Credit associations in Nepal. By supporting these largely women-run organizations we send a many faceted message; we care about you and your families; we are willing to tackle the non-sexy, hard work of addressing your most basic needs — shelter and a measure of economic security, and last but not least, we acknowledge that indigenous communities hold the key to snow leopard conservation; and that we all want to secure a future for the most beautiful of the world’s big cats. With the strong network of credit unions, we can build on our education program and foster better people-wildlife relations.  It’s a win for communities and for snow leopards.


photo credit: Susan Janin

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Foxlights for Baby Yaks

May 25, 2016 11:01 pm

Credit (from web)

The Conservancy has partnered with the “Snow Leopard team” of Nepal’s Global Primate Network (GPN) and the Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP). GPN is dedicated to safeguarding the future of wildlife through scientific research and community outreach. Programs aimed at helping herders live with snow leopards are under way or under development in Humla and adjacent areas of Northwest Nepal, and include alleviating people-wildlife conflict, training of citizen scientists, livelihood enhancement, and educational outreach.

The Conservancy has made 43 Foxlights—which flash at night in bright, irregular patterns—available to herders for testing across Nepal. Results have been encouraging. Tashi Ghale, snow leopard conservationist with GPN, recently talked with Kunga Gurung, a 58-year-old herder who lives in Manang district of central Nepal. Mr. Gurung has been testing a Foxlight for the past two years, to protect young yaks from predation. Mr Gurung heads a team of herders collaborating for better herd management. He reported:

I have been involved in the profession of yak herding since my childhood. My family’s livelihood depends on the income that comes from selling my yaks.

In the past, snow leopards killed the yaks mostly at night, so we let them go freely on the pasture during the day, but recently, because of the increasing number of snow leopards in Manang, they kill the yaks also in the daytime, so we guard the young or newborn yak babies during the day and tie them at the coral at nighttime. Still, we were very worried about the yak calves as snow leopards had killed at least eight newborn or very young ones.

We had seventy yaks before the Snow Leopard Conservancy’s field officer, Mr. B. Gurung, working with SLC, ACAP and National Trust for Nature Conservation, installed the battery powered Foxlight at the side of our goth (corral) in May, 2014. Besides Foxlight, we also use dogs, shouting methods to deter snow leopard during the day, and yak dung fire at night. The Foxlight is very effective, and our herd increased over the two years. But at the pastures, which are very far from the corral and Foxlight, our team has lost 20 baby yaks, killed during the daytime. Last winter was cold and harsh and we lost 120 yaks to the cold and to dangerous avalanches.

We were very happy with the Foxlight and want to thank B. Gurung and SLC from the bottom of our heart.

Rinzin Phunjok Lama, Program Coordinator & Director of High Altitude Mammals Research & Conservation at GPN, observes that snow leopards are often blamed for depredation by wolves or jackals, and that a big challenge is mitigating conflict and developing the support and cooperation of herders. Since Foxlights only work at night, the team is working to strengthen traditional guarding and animal husbandry practices.

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Feb 9, 2016 9:32 pm

Rodney in the Field

Dr. Rodney Jackson Advances as Finalist for 2016 Indianapolis Prize

Six heroes vie for quarter of a million dollars in world’s leading award for animal conservation

INDIANAPOLIS – Indianapolis Prize officials announced today the six Finalists for the world’s leading award for animal conservation.  In recognition of his successes in the conservation of at-risk species, Dr. Rodney Jackson joins fellow finalists Dr. Joel Berger, Dr. Dee Boersma, Professor Carl Jones, Dr. Carl Safina and Dr. Amanda Vincent.

“Rodney and the Finalists for the Indianapolis Prize are heroes in many senses of the word,” said Michael Crowther, president and CEO of the Indianapolis Zoological Society, which administers the Indianapolis Prize as part of its core mission. “They’ve sacrificed their own self-interests to help others, and they’ve overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Our world is unquestionably better off because of heroes like Dr. Rodney Jackson, and we hope others will not only take notice of, but also join in his noble work to save wild things and wild places.”

Dr. Rodney Jackson has dedicated his life’s work to an animal he rarely ever sees, but when he does, he catches a glimpse of one of the most amazing species our planet has to offer. Studying snow leopards is not a passive endeavor, and these elusive creatures do not give up their secrets easily. Yet Jackson continues to endure harsh winters and dangerous terrain to track these big cats and teach locals how to coexist peacefully with them. His work to shift public perception of snow leopards – from a potential livestock predator to an economic asset – is why Jackson has advanced as a Finalist for the 2016 Indianapolis Prize.

As founding director of the Snow Leopard Conservancy, Jackson’s 35-plus year dedication to conservation comes from his deep conviction that snow leopards, and the humans that live among them, need our help.

His success story began in the 1980s, when Jackson conducted the first-ever radio-tracking research on snow leopards. That’s no small feat, considering that for the first quarter century of his career, he was lucky to even observe this nearly-mythical species in its natural habitat. But he persisted, logging more than 3,000 miles on foot and camping at altitudes of 12,000 feet in order to track and monitor movements throughout their 12 Central Asian range countries.

But Jackson’s work with the communities that live among snow leopard habitat – the indigenous peoples of countries such as Nepal, Mongolia and India – may be his greatest contribution. By understanding the imperative of honoring cultural practices, he works closely with the herders whose lives are directly impacted when snow leopards prey upon their livestock. Jackson is setting an example for engaging communities in conservation action and helps reverse herders’ perception of snow leopards. Once a despised pest, they’re now a valued asset.

“At an age when many retire, Rodney is planning new ways to carry his pioneering methods so that the iconic snow leopard can have a vibrant future,” said Charles Knowles, founder and president of the Wildlife Conservation Network.

Jackson received his doctorate from the University of London, where he also received an undergraduate degree in zoology and botany. He also holds a master’s degree from the University of California.

Media Contacts

Judy Palermo

PR Senior Manager 317-630-2010

Melanie Laurendine

Conservation PR Specialist 317-630-3265

Emily Brelage

VOX Global 317-454-8035

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Indianapolis Prize





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Disney Conservation Hero, Tungalagtuya Khuukhenduu

Nov 24, 2015 4:44 pm

Tunga with 4 young students standing in front of her holding puppets

Disney Conservation Fund is honoring Tungalagtuya Khuukhenduu (above with students) with a 2015 Conservation Hero Award for her outstanding work in conservation education, and her dedication to engaging young people and fellow members of her community in environmental education programs. Tunga’s dream for Nomadic Nature Trunks is that it will someday be a government-supported program included in every school’s curriculum, and people will live in harmony with the Being in the Colorful Coat.

Mongolia has long been a land of abundant wildlife and wild places, but today both are in jeopardy. Conservation education and collaboration at the school and community level are a critical component of the nation’s natural heritage. Yet with nearly half of the 3 million people in the country living in the remote steppes and mountains, traditional education settings are rarely possible at the community level. In 2007, Tungalagtuya Khuukhenduu (also known as Tunga) created the Nomadic Nature Trunk Program (NNT) to bring quality conservation education materials to the traditional nomadic cultures of Mongolia.

Growing up in a family of eight children in a small village of South Gobi province, Tunga spent her childhood close to nature with her favorite pastimes being collecting flowers and butterflies, and finding unique stones and pieces of wood to use as toys. Family vacations were in the beautiful Gobi Gurvan saikhan mountain range and her summers were spent with her grandparents who lived in the Gobi Desert and had many livestock. While these summers were filled with hard work collecting branches and cow dung for fires, bringing water from deep wells a far distance away for livestock and human use, and processing dairy products, Tunga loved being with her grandparents. They held much knowledge of the natural world and freely shared it with her. She was always curious about the animals, plants, and insects around her, so her grandparents were wonderful teachers and encouraged her imagination.

Four pictures of Tunga with various groups of villagers

While in secondary school, Tunga was a member of a conservation club that had activities such as planting trees, nurturing house plants, and cleaning school grounds. However, no lessons were taught on the wild flora and fauna of Mongolia and environmental education didn’t play a part in her school’s curriculum.

In 1994 Tunga graduated from the National University in Mongolia and began work as a wildlife biologist with a Dutch and Mongolian research team in Hustai Nuruu National Park. Her research included studying wolf population, behavior, and seasonal food trends, and mountain ungulate and bird observations. She was also in charge of training park rangers on wildlife observation methods and data collection. Her wolf diet research led her to interview herder families to collect data on livestock loss and wild animal carcass observations. Thus, every season she visited approximately 75 herding families to talk about wildlife and gather valuable information. It was during this time that she began to realize that the contributions of local people are so important for research work and nature conservation. She also noticed that these nomadic herding families had no access to much needed environmental education.

For the next eight years, Tunga continued her wolf research work throughout Mongolia. In 2002, she became an educational specialist with the National Environmental Program implemented by the National University of Mongolia. During this time she focused on conducting trainings for biology teachers, but it was difficult as there was a significant lack of resources for environmental and ecological education and absolutely no conservation books for children.

Pictures showing contents of trunk: various animal puppets, footprint molds, guide books

From 2004 to 2006, Tunga played a significant role with New Zealand Nature Institute’s “Community Based Conservation of the Gobi Region” program where she oversaw development of the “Co-Management for Conservation” project. Through this project she facilitated community trainings and community based wildlife monitoring, as well as strengthened already established Eco Clubs and local institutions for conservation.

Through all of the work Tunga had been doing since graduating college, as well as her own experiences as a child, she saw the glaring reality that quality environmental education materials were greatly lacking not only for schoolchildren, but also for adults. So, when she was invited in 2007 by Wildlife Conservation Society of Mongolia to join in the development a curriculum for an education program in the Eastern Steppe region, she jumped at the opportunity and the result was the creation of the Nomadic Nature Trunk Program. Nomadic Nature Trunks are traveling classrooms that provide a three-week curriculum, with interactive lesson plans and hands-on projects. Lessons are designed to promote positive perceptions of nature and the environment, increase scientific and cultural knowledge, and encourage environmental stewardship. Each trunk includes activities and materials such as puppets, posters, maps, animal tracks, books and games focused on region-specific biodiversity and conservation concerns.

In 2010, Tunga and Dolzodmaa Purevjav created Nomadic Nature Conservation (NNC), a new conservation organization for nomadic people throughout Mongolia based on the Nomadic Nature Trunk Program. NNC was able to expand the NNT Program as a resource for the wider community to include both adults and children. NNC staff hold trainings to teach the proper use of the materials in “train-the-trainer” workshops. In 2012, Snow Leopard Conservancy partnered with NNC to produce a set of trunks with activities focused on environmental education in the Altai Mountain region–key snow leopard habitat.

Tunga with a student wearing a snow leopard print shawl and mask

Teachers and administrators have expressed interest in the program because it is compatible with the Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) curriculum, recently revised to incorporate environmental education into other subjects. Also, before the trunks were created National Park staff and community groups had a lack of materials for environmental outreach and education. Now these trunks are available to use in each area for a one month period. Staff of Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park used a trunk as part of a cross-border summer camp with Mongolian, Chinese, and Russian participants which expands the impact even further.

Javzansuren, a specialist of public awareness in the protected area of Uvs Aimag, says, “The trunks are often used for communities and the lessons are appreciated by the community members. They have gotten new knowledge of habitat loss and the importance of mountain ungulates. I have learned a lot of information about wildlife such as Ibex, argali sheep, and snow leopards.”

Byamba, who lives in the Yamaat Mountain range says of NNT, “The lessons are very important and the nomadic people find them easy to understand. I now understand the mountain animal food chain.”

Tunga has shown extremely impressive dedication, creativity, and resourcefulness in creating and bringing essential environmental education materials to remote people throughout Mongolia–something no other organization is doing there. Her efforts are absolutely invaluable in the protection of Mongolia’s wildlife and wild places. Tunga’s dream for the Nomadic Nature Trunk Program is for it to someday be a nationwide government-supported program included in every school’s curriculum. In the meantime, she continues to give everything she can to NNC and the NNT Program to reach as many people as possible.

 Thank you Disney Conservation Fund for recognizing Tunga as the Conservation Hero she is!

Close-up of Tunga wearing royal blue Disney Conservation Fund tshirt and Hero medal around her neck

Disney Conservation Fund written in blue and green ink with several animals in the D of Disney

For information on Disney’s commitment to conserve nature and a complete list of 2015 Conservation Hero Award recipients, visit

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