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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Through the Eyes of the Wildlife Photographer

May 27, 2017 7:18 am

Bjorn Persson snow leopard

The May 2017 Conservancy newsletter featured two wildlife photographers, Bjorn Persson and Oriol Alamany, and the world of the snow leopard as seen through their eyes. Read their amazing stories and share their personal experiences as they successfully search for and film the elusive snow leopard!

Bjorn Persson 
Bjorn Persson 2

Despite all the bad things going on in the world, there is pure, divine beauty to be found…”

Bjorn Persson is a photographer living in Tyreso, Sweden. For years, he has traveled “Africa in search of adventure and great images.” Persson says “the thrill of taking pictures isn’t about the actual photography. It’s about the preparations, the journeys, the long hours, and all the sweat and tears that ultimately go into a great image.” He goes on to say, “I always try to capture the unusual…a story no one has told before.”
His favorite place is Kenya and the vast fields of Masai Mara. He states, “this is the cradle of life, and that’s why we must do everything we can to save it.” Persson’s passion for wildlife started in 2002 while studying conservation and working with anti-poaching in South Africa. He says, “this was also when I realized what a critical state the African wildlife is in.” Since that time, his ambition has been “to spread awareness.” Persson concludes, “through my images, I want to pay tribute to these beautiful creatures in their magnificant surroundings. The African wildlife holds an immense beauty rooted deep in our souls, and by connecting to it, I think we can create the engagement needed to make a change.”

Recently, Persson traveled to a completely different, yet equally beautiful and delicate ecosystem, that of Ladakh, India, located in the Karakoram mountain range, one of the Greater Ranges of Asia, to photograph snow leopards in their natural habitat. And this is his story.

I was blessed to take these photos on a snow leopard expedition to the Hemis National Park in Ladakh, India.  I say blessed because if you’re extremely lucky, your only chance of seeing one is through a telescope one kilometer away. Snow leopards are one of the world’s most elusive animals, and the most common way to spot one is high up on the mountain ridges where they like to patrol. This is also what happened the day I first saw one.

After several days of patiently waiting (and freezing), we finally spotted a snow leopard passing by on a remote top. Just the sensation of actually having seen this mysterious ghost of the Himalayas was an unforgettable experience in itself. But I wanted more. Somehow I just felt that this was the day I had been waiting for my whole life. When it finally disappeared over the ridge, I asked the guide if it was a good idea to trek to the other side of the mountain. He said no. It was already getting dark, and most likely it would be gone by now. But the voice in my heart told me otherwise. I decided to get to the other side on my own. Deeply concerned, he explained that it was on my own risk, but before he’d even finished his sentence, I was gone. 

One hour later, and after a steep, strenuous climb up the mountain side, I lay down on the ridge to wait. Below me was a valley with some grazing blue sheep. I looked around through my binoculars but couldn’t see a thing. The sun was going down and my whole body was shivering from the icy winds sweeping through the gorge. Another 30 minutes went by, but nothing. I was just about to give up when I suddenly discovered that the blue sheep had frozen in their positions. Their ears pointed straight up and they were all looking in the same direction. My heart started pounding. I still couldn’t see anything, but now I knew it was there. Suddenly, a big dust cloud appeared before my eyes and out came the snow leopard. He was going after the sheep, and in blind panic they started running up the hill straight towards me. 

Bjorn Persson chase

Some of them passed so close they almost tread me down. The hunt was over in a few seconds, and when the leopard realized it wasn’t his lucky day, he stopped and started to make his way up a mountain in front of me.

At this point, the distance between me and him was less than a hundred meters. But despite my big, red down, he didn’t seem to notice me. Peacefully, he just walked up the side of the hill, sat down, and started overlooking his territory for other prey. I couldn’t stop taking pictures. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.

Bjorn Persson The Snow Leopard
But after a while, I put my camera aside and just observed him. The moment was too good to be experienced through my lens. It was just me, him, and the mountains. A lot of people talk about religious experiences. This was as close to one as I’d ever been. It was almost like he had come to me, not the other way around. And somehow it felt like he now rewarded my determination by leading me to him. 
Ultimately, he was only lit by the moon, but even though my legs were so frozen I could hardly feel them, I didn’t leave. Despite all the bad things going on in the world, there is pure, divine beauty to be found, and I was the lucky, fortunate witness. When he finally started making his way further up the mountain, tears started welling up. Call me a softy, but this was the best moment of my life.  Bjorn Persson - 

Bjorn Persson Ghost

Oriol Alamany
Oriol Alamany 2

“I was shivering, maybe by the intense cold, maybe by the excitement…”

Oriol Alamany is a photographer from Barcelona, Spain. An enthusiast of nature, photography, and film since childhood, he studied biology and graphic design. In the 80′s, Alamany shared the work as a naturalist, specializing in mountain fauna, with graphic design, cinema, and photography. He finally established himself as a professional photographer, having published in magazines such as National Geographic Spain, BBC Wildlife, Terre Sauvage, Geo, Lonely Planet, etc. He also has written and illustrated several books.
Mountains and felines are two of his favorite subjects. He tells the Conservancy, “I have done photographic works on the Pyrenees (particularly about its scarce brown bear population), the Alps, the mountains of Ethiopia, the Andes, the Rocky Mountains, the Atlas, and the Himalayas.” He goes on to say, “I was a member of the Managing Board of Aigüestortes i Sant Maurici National Park in the Pyrenees as a representative of conservationist NGOs.” He is a member of the European nature photographers collective Nature Photo Blog. And this is his story…
After three trips to the Himalayas, my wife, Eulàlia Vicens and I decided that the time had come to attempt a photographic work on the elusive snow leopard, our dream subject. We spent a lot of time studying the potential locations, and in February 2017, we traveled back to the Himalayas.
It is not easy to get around these mountain ranges in winter due to the cold (0 to -30ºC), the altitude (4000-5000 meters, 13000-16500 feet), and the poor conditions of the roads, accommodation, and food. But working together with local naturalists and trackers, we had the privilege of watching and photographing three different snow leopard specimens, sometimes for hours.

The second of our sightings was particularly outstanding. After several hours of walking and waiting around 4100 meters (13500 feet) on the snow at dusk, we were able to observe one snow leopard trying to kill a Siberian ibex, Capra sibirica. At first, the leopard was studying the ibex herd for a long time, taking advantage of the camouflage provided by a few brown earth patches in the totally snowy mountain slope.

Alamany snow leopard

After half an hour of patient stalking, he ran through the deep snow behind the ibex, who fled in terror until jumping over the vertiginous cliffs, with the leopard behind them.

Oriol Alamany leaping snow leopard

For an instant we thought that all had died falling into the void. But after some minutes, the leopard and the ibex reappeared safe and sound. The kill had failed.

Throughout the evening, the attacks were repeated twice more without success. I was shivering, maybe by the intense cold, maybe by the excitement. As a wildlife photographer it was a thrilling experience, and as a naturalist an interesting behavior observation.

For the next winter, we are planning to return to the Himalayas to finish our work especially on the snow leopard problems with local farmers and the conservation strategies. Oriol Alamany - 

cropped alamany 1

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Discovery of Three Snow Leopard Subspecies Creates New Conservation Opportunities

May 13, 2017 12:19 am

Bjorn Persson The Snow Leopard

In a major scientific discovery, a team of researchers has announced that there appear to be three subspecies of the snow leopard.  Until now, the elusive snow leopard, which inhabits a vast area of 1.6 million sq. km across multiple countries in Central and South Asia, was thought to be a single or “monotypic” species (Panthera uncia).   Despite the enormous size of its global range, hunting and poaching have taken a serious toll on the animal’s population, which today, is estimated to be only 3,500 to about 7000 wild cats.

The researchers, including co-investigators Dr. Rodney Jackson, Director-Founder of the Snow Leopard Conservancy in Sonoma, California, Tshewang Wangchuk, Executive Director of the Bhutan Foundation, who also serves on the Snow Leopard Conservancy’s Board of Directors, and Dr. Jan E. Janecka, Duquesne University, in close partnership with 20 different institutions, obtained samples of the animal’s scat (i.e., droppings) from wildlife trails and other areas frequented by the big cats, and then, analyzed the DNA in the samples.  The DNA analysis revealed three distinct  “genetic clusters” that are geographically separated and warrant subspecies status – the Northern subspecies Panthera uncia irbis found in the Altai region, the Central subspecies Panthera uncia uncioides, found in the core Himalaya and Tibetan Plateau and the Western subspecies  Panthera uncia uncia found in the Tian Shan, Pamir and trans-Himalaya mountain ranges.

Each of the proposed subspecies spans international borders, with about 40 percent of the cat’s global range considered trans-boundary – thus underscoring the need for international cooperation. The snow leopard remained the last of the five big cats to be the subject of a comprehensive subspecies assessment, in part, because its habitat, including some of the highest and coldest mountain ranges in the world, is so inhospitable.

Based on their analysis of the animal’s DNA, the researchers believe that the snow leopard underwent a genetic bottleneck approximately 8,000 years ago during what is called the Holocene Thermal Optimum, a period of time characterized by warmer temperatures, precipitation, and a tree-line shift to higher elevations on the Tibetan Plateau. This suggests that snow leopards may be particularly sensitive to climate change, and according to Dr. Jackson, such changes are also expected to have a pervasive impact on the pastoralists who share the same habitat over this vast area.

Ultimately, delineating or separating Panthera uncia into subspecies provides scientists with a better understanding of the animal’s evolution and ecology. The discovery of the three new subspecies of snow leopards, however is not a mere academic exercise, but will have significant conservation implications.  As Dr. Jackson observes, “results from our genetics study help us better understand how snow leopard populations are connected and could benefit from strategically-targeted conservation actions to ensure continued genetic interchange.”

The 12 countries the comprise the snow leopard’s range – Afghanistan, Bhutan, China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan – have joined together to designate 20 protected landscapes by 2020 to each support at least 100 breeding snow leopards, as part of an international effort called the Global Snow Leopard & Ecosystem Protection Program (“GSLEP”).  The researchers hope that their work will not only encourage the GSLEP to designate the protected landscapes, as expeditiously as possible, but implement trans-boundary and more flexible conservation measures recognizing the genetic distinctness of the three newly discovered subspecies.

The scientific article Range-Wide Snow Leopard Phylogeography Supports Three Subspecies, documenting the researchers’ ground-breaking discoveries, appears online in the Journal of Heredity published by the Oxford University Press:

Dr. Jackson, Director of the Snow Leopard Conservancy in Sonoma, California was instrumental in making the genetics study possible by collaborating with the other researchers, including in-country biologists, building partnerships with local communities, NGOs, and government institutions with financial support from the National Geographic Society and others.

The Snow Leopard Conservancy, headquartered in Sonoma, California, implements numerous conservation programs that support snow leopards, local conservation stewardship, and sustainable development.

May 11, 2017

Please direct correspondence to:
Dr. Rodney Jackson, Director
Snow Leopard Conservancy
75 Boyes Blvd., Sonoma, CA 95476
(707) 938-1700


Dr. Jan E. Janecka
Assistant Professor
Bayer School of Natural and Environmental Sciences
236 Mellon Hall
Department of Biological Sciences
Duquesne University

To request a copy of the article, please contact
Daniel Luzer:


Photo courtesy of Bjorn Persson

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I, Snow Leopard

Jan 31, 2017 9:23 pm

Many thanks to Orion Magazine for permission to share a piece from their July-September issue, “I, Snow Leopard,” a poem by Jidi Majia (Translated from the Chinese By Frank Stewart) with an Introduction by Barry Lopez.

Jidi Majia is an indigenous poet of the Nuosu (Yi) people of southwestern China’s mountains. His poetry expresses the mythic world and cultural tradition of the Nuosu, while displaying a deep concern with the urgent problems of global strife.

“Speaking in the voice of the endangered Snow Leopard, Jidi Majia conjures a mysterious, magnificent creature with a message about the consequences of unchecked violence toward animals – and equally about the violence that threatens the heart of the human species. He evokes a dramatic presence of Snow Leopard – the smoke-gray fur chased with a pattern of dark rosettes “spun from limitless space;” the long, thick tail for balance as it bounds across a cliff face; …- an animal possessing both metaphorical weight and biological authority.” (From the review of the poem by Small Press Distribution).

Photographs courtesy of the Snow Leopard Conservancy accompany the Orion piece.

Read more>I, Snow LeopardA
I, Snow LeopardB

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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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