Jak Wonderly’s Snow Leopard Expedition

Jun 25, 2018 9:07 pm

Wildlife photographer Jak Wonderly traveled to India in January 2018 on a photographic expedition. Read about his amazing adventure as he searched for the elusive snow leopard.

Jak Wonderly Hemis National Park 2018

The eight thousand mile journey had brought me to the base of a 71-foot golden Buddha. It was near the Stok Monastery in Ladakh, India, that we left our vehicle, strapped the camping equipment to the backs of ponies, and began the walk into Hemis National Park. With equal parts excitement and trepidation, I hiked into the colossal landscape. The trail – where there was one – was often marked with prayer flags and rock engravings of stupas.

Jak Wonderly Hemis National Park 2018

Setting off on this adventure, I didn’t know how my body would handle the altitude as we climbed as high as 14,000 feet. More concerning was the weather forecast; sleeping in a simple tent with temperatures projected to be as low as -20 degrees Fahrenheit seemed downright dangerous, but I trusted my team and was driven to find the Grey Ghost. I had been fortunate to photograph all the other big cats in the wild, and I expected this expedition to be the most difficult.

Jak Wonderly Hemis National Park 2018

When I woke the first morning in my tent, everything inside was covered in frost. Most of the battery-powered equipment would not turn on. Anything liquid that wasn’t inside my robust sleeping bag was frozen solid, including my sunscreen and contact lens. But my fingers and toes still had blood flow, and when I stepped outside my tent in the pre-dawn hour, I was treated to an incredible starry sky with snow-capped peaks all around.

Jak Wonderly Bharal "blue sheep" 2018

Snow leopard camouflage is legendary; we spent ten hours a day climbing to vantage points and studying patterns of light and dark on the mountainsides, hoping to see the flick of a tail or the twitch of an ear. Occasionally we would spot blue sheep on a distant ridge – a staple of the snow leopard diet – or a golden eagle circling high above. With fourteen hours of darkness each night huddled in my tent and no electronic distractions, my imagination incessantly spun scenarios of spotting a leopard in the vast Himalayan landscape.

Jak Wonderly snow leopard pugmark 2018

After a few days, we discovered leopard pugmarks in the snow. The tracks were considered to be a couple of days old already, and as the Grey Ghost can travel 25 miles in a single night, there was no point in attempting to follow them. But to see the paw’s outline in the crystalline snow and know that my path had crossed with hers made the already exhausting journey worthwhile.

We hiked further and higher each day. We discovered the tracks of what appeared to be a mother and two cubs, but again, the tracks were not fresh. I tried to remain patient as the number of days left on my expedition was down to just a few, and we had not yet seen a snow leopard.

On the eighth day, we decided to try our luck in a new location. As soon as we hiked back close enough to civilization to get a cell phone signal, we contacted Jigmet Dadul from the Snow Leopard Conservancy India Trust. He had exciting news; reports were coming in from a remote village that a snow leopard had killed a yak during the night. With goose bumps, I ended the call, and we trekked quickly back to the roadside where we met with a Jeep and made the treacherous three-hour drive to our new location.

When we arrived, I learned that the yak was a livestock animal belonging to one of the six families in the village. Snow leopards preying on livestock are a serious problem. Retribution killings by farmers and herders are not uncommon; this would be a tragedy, but I could understand the motivation. Loss of livestock to predators is a real threat to a family’s food source and/or finances.

20180115- 20180115_B_2448 reduced A

Despite a group of expert spotters, it wasn’t until a boy from the village pointed out the ridgeline where the cat was last seen that we finally got a glimpse of the Grey Ghost. I saw a grey rock in the golden sunshine among many other grey rocks and some brush. But this one was a little softer around the edges. And then it lifted its head and looked directly toward us. She was beautiful, darker than I had expected, and being back lit by the early afternoon sun gave her the appearance of having a small mane. We measured her at 600 meters away, much too far for a clear photograph, but I was ecstatic that we had finally gotten a glimpse of this elusive creature.

Jak Wonderly snow leopard 2018

After a few minutes, she stood up and went down the opposite side of the ridge. I was afraid that was the last we would see of her but tried to trust she would inevitably come down to the yak. Finally, as the sun fell behind the jagged mountains, she emerged from her perfectly camouflaged perch among boulders and sauntered down towards the yak. But the light was much too dim for photography, and we returned to the village with hopes she would still be present in the morning.

20180115- 20180115_B_2217_preview REDUCED

We arrived the next day well before the sun was up, walking in near blackness towards the kill site because we considered using flashlights to be potentially disruptive to the leopard. We set up a blind about 200 meters from the yak, and as the daylight crept up, I could make out the snow leopard sitting right next to the carcass. Since at long last we had located the leopard, most of the team retreated so that there would be minimal noise and movement bothering the cat.

During the day, when the harsh light made photography difficult, I inquired about the loss of the yak and interviewed the farmer it belonged to. A yak of this age would probably be worth $150 USD, several weeks if not several months of pay for people in this region. Fortunately, the Snow Leopard Conservancy had already established a livestock insurance program in this village, and the farmer who lost the yak was a participant. He would be reimbursed in full for the loss.

20180115- 20180115_B_2380_preview REDUCED

Over three days, I had a total of 12-15 hours with the snow leopard. The last time I saw her she stood in very beautiful evening light, looking right at me, and teary eyed, I said thank you to her and to everyone who helps protect the snow leopard. For me, the snow leopard represents that precious part of ourselves – mystical and often hidden from the world – that holds great power. Spending time in her world and finally seeing her was like a dream that continues to empower me.

The Grey Ghost needs our very practical protection so that she can continue to inspire our souls.

Comments are closed

Snow Leopard Russia Census

Jun 14, 2018 1:24 am


WWF Russia has announced the snow leopard census results.

The population of the snow leopard in key population groups in Russia is up to 61 snow leopards, including 23 cubs in 11 litters, according to latest estimates of WWF Russia.

The results of the wide-scale snow leopard monitoring initiated and supported in 2018 by WWF Russia Altai-Sayan Programme have proved that the snow leopard population has been stable in Russia for the last three years. The monitoring annually covers the areas of the Republics of Altai, Tyva, and Buryatia within the boundaries of the Altai-Sayan Ecoregion, the last refuge for the rare predator in Russia.

This past winter, the monitoring experts covered 70% of the snow leopard habitat in Russia. According to census results, there are 61 snow leopards, including 23 cubs and 38 adult individuals. Monitoring techniques included visual observation of pug marks, camera-trap photography, and genetic analyis.

Dr. Misha Paltsyn and Dr. Rodney Jackson, Director of the Snow Leopard Conservancy, helped to train park rangers in camera trapping and drafted the standardized monitoring protocols present at a workshop in the Altay in April 2017.


The Russian record for number of cubs in one litter was registered in the Republic of Altai with the female snow leopard giving birth to four cubs.

Alexander Karnaukhov, the Altai-Sayan Programme Senior Coordinator, says:

“The snow leopard population has been relatively stable in Russia for the last three years since 2015 when WWF Russia initiated the first serious snow leopard census in our country. In 2017 we registered 53-56 individuals. Unfortunately all key groups of predator are vulnerable and heavily threatened. For instance, the number of the snow leopard basic prey, the Siberian Ibex, is going down everywhere, especially in the Republic of Buryatia. Poaching is wide spread and snare poaching remains common among the local people of the remote areas of Altai and Tyva. This year our monitoring group registered the strange tracks of the female snow leopard as if the animal was dragging something big behind. We presume it must have been the log tied to the snare where the animal might have got into. It was a terrifying find. Nevertheless, there are positive news. Last year we registered the female with two cubs in the Ukok Plateau for the first time.”

WWF Russia hopes that snow leopard will obtain governmental support and attention as well as the Amur tiger.

Comments are closed

Snow Leopard Conservancy Awarded Darwin Initiative Grant

May 22, 2018 6:46 pm

Tashi R Ghale/GPN Nepal Snow Leopard Family

photo courtesy of Tashi R. Ghale/GPN Nepal


Darwin Initiative – 52 new projects to receive £10.6 million  

On International Day for Biological Diversity, May 22, 2018, the UK Government has announced the latest round of successful funding bids from the Darwin Initiative to deliver on flagship committments set out in the 25-Year Environment Plan. Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, awarded a total package of £10.6 million to 52 projects over the next three years from across the globe that will support and enhance biodiversity. Since 1992, Darwin Initiative has funded 1,055 projects from 159 countries, with a value of £140m.


Environment Secretary, Michael Gove

According to Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, “International Day for Biological Diversity offers an important moment for us all to consider how we can help the natural environment thrive on our planet. Through the Darwin Initiative, we are driving change to protect and enhance international biodiversity. Our 25-Year Environment Plan has set the priorities for funding and demonstrates the UK’s global leadership.”


Darwin Initiative

The Darwin Initiative is a grant scheme that helps to protect biodiversity and the natural environment around the globe. Many of the applications reflect the UK Government’s 25-Year Environment Plan commitments to protect the marine environment, to secure the benefits of biodiversity for the poorest communities, and to help prevent the extinction of species. The fund is administered by the Department for the Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs and uses the UK Government’s Official Development Assistance.


Snow Leopard Conservancy

As a project receiving funding, the Snow Leopard Conservancy has been given support for sustaining snow leopard conservation through strengthened local institutions and enterprises.


Director of the Snow Leopard Conservancy, Dr. Rodney Jackson

Director of the Snow Leopard Conservancy, Dr. Rodney Jackson said, “Nepal is adopting the new Federal Constitution aimed at devolving more powers to the local municipality level, thereby giving local communities a greater role in biodiversity conservation. The Darwin Inititavie support comes at the perfect time, enabling the Snow Leopard Conservancy and partners to greatly expand important grassroots, community-driven actions benefitting the snow leopards, known by some as the Ghost of the Mountains, in two of Nepal’s most important mountain protected areas.”


A full list of projects, including a number of small schemes, to be supported by the Darwin Initiative is available on


logo 1
Comments are closed

Highlights of 2017

Apr 5, 2018 1:28 am

Snow Leopard Annual Report

Photo courtesy of Janco van Gelderen

The Conservancy facilitated deployment of 57 new trail cameras in Mongolia, Nepal, and Pakistan, greatly adding to our local partners’ ability to monitor snow leopard populations in their critical habitat areas.

Tashi Ghale camera trap Annual Report

Tashi Ghale, Conservationist with Conservancy partner GPN, sets a trail camera in Nepal’s Manang District. Knowing the actual leopards that inhabit their neighborhood engages communities in better stewardship of the cats and their ecosystem.

Conservancy partners led the celebration of Snow Leopard Day in Nepal and Pakistan. Land of Snow Leopard (LOSL) Network members independently initiated celebrations in Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Altai & Buryat Republics of Russia, and Tajikistan. Combined, their conservation messages reached some 15,000 students, teachers, and members of the general public living in snow leopard habitat.

Snow Leopard Play Russia

LOSL Network members organized the first cross-boundary Snow Leopard Day festival, between schools in the Russian and Mongolian Altai Mountains

Conservancy partners worked with herders to install Foxlights and predator-proof livestock corrals, protecting up to 125 snow leopards from retributive killing across more than 25 village areas in Nepal and Pakistan.

Herders setting up FoxLights Annual Report

Herders ready to set up their solar-powered Foxlights.

36 Community Monitors were trained by our Land of the Snow Leopard Network members in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Russia, and Mongolia, to use our special App for Android devices. They are now monitoring wildlife and collecting culturally-relevant stories that will inform innovative educa-tional tools for snow leopard conservation.


Sacred site Guardian Zhaparkul Raymbekov (seated, in white) gives a blessing for LOSL Network members at a sacred spring in Kyrgyzstan. The Conservancy works through the LOSL Network with Shamans, Sacred Site Guardians, and their supporters to revive traditions that protect snow leopards. Photo – Lyubov Ivashkina

Bhutan’s fifth annual Jomolhari Festival featured a new logo and felted snow leopard handi-crafts created by students at the school for the deaf.

Snow Leopard Logo annual report


Read our 2017 Annual Report here…


Featured Trail Camera Photo – Courtesy of Ghulam Mohammad, BWCDO

Comments are closed

World Wildlife Day 2018 – Big Cats

Mar 3, 2018 12:09 am

Photo by Steve Tracy

Photo courtesy of Steve Tracy

On December 20, 2013, at its 68th session, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed March 3 as UN World Wildlife Day to celebrate and raise awareness of the world’s wild animals and plants.

Theme for World Wildlife Day 2018

world wildlife day 2018 poster reduced

“Big cats are among the most powerful creatures to grace this planet, but they are also the most fragile. They are facing many threats to their survival in the wild, be it loss of habitat and prey, poaching and smuggling, human-wildlife conflict or climate change.”

Click here to read more on the official website!

world wildlife day 2018

Meet the Big Cats 

Tiger – Lion – Jaguar – Leopard 
Cheetah – Puma 
Snow Leopard 
  • Poaching & illegal wildlife trade
  • Retaliatory killing as a result of human-predator conflict
  • Loss of prey from both illegal and legal hunting by humans
  • Loss of habitat
  • Climate change - impacting the entire ecosystem, including vegetation, water supplies, & animals – threatening to make up to a third of the snow leopard’s habitat unusable.

Current Conservation Efforts Focused on the Snow Leopard:

  • Commercial international trade is prohibited by CITES
  • Establishment of new protected areas
  • Anti-poaching measures – removing snares & the use of remote trail cameras
  • Initiatives to reduce conflict with herders – strengthening livestock corrals, electronic light deterrents, livestock insurance programs
  • Alternative livelihoods – ecotourism, handicrafts
  • Community awareness & conservation education – school-based programs, festivals
  • The Global Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Protection Program

Photo by Steve Tracy

Photo courtesy of Steve Tracy

There are many ways to get involved and “Make A Difference” for Snow Leopards in Honor of World Wildlife Day!

  • Learn more about Snow Leopards, the challenges they’re facing, and the ongoing conservation programs on our Website
  • Post on Social Media to “spread the word” & create awareness
  • Give a Monetary Gift to purchase items such as trail cameras, electronic light deterrents, fencing, and flashlights, or support conservation education in snow leopard range countries -
    • $10 provides art supplies for a Snow Leopard Day festival
    • $20 trains a teacher in environmental education
    • $60 provides binoculars for a student wildlife monitor
    • $100 rents two yaks to carry supplies for a summer environmental camp
  • Symbolically Adopt a Snow Leopard
  • Click on Make A Difference to discover other ways you can help!
  • Visit your local zoo or wildlife park
  • Volunteer your time




Comments are closed
« Page 1, 2, 3, 4 ... 16, »