Reviving Indigenous Practices for Protecting Snow Leopards

Nov 18, 2018 5:26 pm

by Darla Hillard

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The Land of the Snow Leopard (LOSL) Network, now in its third year, is part of a groundbreaking collaboration between Western and Indigenous science. Our goal is to create pathways for Indigenous people to be equal partners in research and planning for conservation of snow leopards.

This past September, Rodney, Charleen, and I traveled to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, to meet with LOSL’s seven Country Coordinators and other key Network members. We wanted to work through some challenges of communicating in more than five languages and working in remote, mountainous snow leopard habitat across more than 600,000 square miles of the Altai Republic, Buryatia, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, and Tajikistan.

In our program areas, the snow leopard is not only a flagship species for biocultural diversity, it is the axis mundi of ancient traditions, legends, and beliefs. These beautiful, mysterious animals are protectors of sacred mountains, a unifying force, and a source of spiritual power and wisdom. Despite the remoteness of their high-mountain habitat, snow leopards are vulnerable to human-caused threats across a wide spectrum. Most of these cats roam outside the relative safety of national parks or other officially protected areas.

Altai Shaman and LOSL member Slava Cheltuev traveled to Buryatia in 2015 to attend the Okinsky Snow Leopard Honoring Ceremony

Altai Shaman and LOSL member Slava Cheltuev traveled to Buryatia in 2015 to attend the Okinsky Snow Leopard Honoring Ceremony

The LOSL network includes over 100 organizations and individuals. Our founding members include Shamans, Sacred Site Guardians, and revered Elders. We refer to them as Indigenous Cultural Practitioners (ICPs) and define an ICP as “one who communicates with and receives support and guidance from the spirits/creator/ancestors/guardians.”

While ICPs serve as guides, the greater LOSL community includes lifelong herders who know the ancient practices for reading and living in their environment, indigenous educators, historians, scientists, and traditional hunters.

The catalyst for this work is the Global Snow Leopard Ecosystem Protection Plan (GSLEP), whose leaders recognize that achieving the plan’s objectives will require collective action – including the full participation of local communities.

The strength of LOSL is our knowledge and experience of the spiritual and cultural importance of Snow Leopards to the work of securing landscapes for their preservation. Our challenge is to help the Snow Leopard range country governments understand and embrace the Spiritual nature of Snow Leopard and it’s fundamental place in indigenous practices and knowledge of how to protect the species.

We have made significant progress, in part through the creation of two database structures. One is a geospatial computer App for monitoring wildlife sightings, poaching incidents, and other data in a way that supports the goals of the GSLEP, including the overarching goal of “20 landscape-level snow leopard populations protected by the year 2020.”

Unique to this project is a platform that enables our members to collect interviews, stories, folklore, photos, and videos. Country Coordinators had collected a large amount of this culturally-important data, but they had encountered problems in getting the information onto our platform so it could be shared among the network members. Thus, we called the September meeting to deal with database management.

Charleen clarifies a point during the Database Management Workshop

Charleen clarifies a point during the Database Management Workshop

Once we had solved the technical problems, we developed a system and form for summarizing and categorizing photos, interviews, etc. that were considered of cultural and/or spiritual importance. All summaries will be translated into Russian and English. This allows us to easily share the data, to identify commonalities, create reports, and develop tools for revival/preservation of traditional practices. No one has attempted this kind of effort before, to standardize the integration of culturally-important data into conservation planning and action for snow leopards.

Norbu gets into the Web of Life game being conducted by BBCIC and LOSL member Alexander Khamaganov

Norbu gets into the Web of Life game being conducted by BBCIC and LOSL member Alexander Khamaganov

We discovered that ICPs and other LOSL Network members are already developing tools and taking an active lead in reviving traditional practices that save snow leopards. They are bringing new ways of learning about snow leopards to their local schools. In Russia’s Buryat Republic, the Baikal Buryat Center for Cultural Conservation followed the example of our Mongolian partner, Nomadic Nature Trunks. They introduced interactive conservation education through visits to all the schools in Okinsky Region. Norbu Lama, the local Buddhist spiritual leader, talked to students about the indigenous attitude towards nature, and how to record observations using our LOSL snow leopard monitoring App.  The children at one school decided to write special love letters to snow leopards.


The Okinsky students made beautiful paintings after Norbu’s talk

Further, Norbu Lama worked for more than a year to achieve for Okinsky official designation as a Territory of Traditional Use of Natural Resources. The designation gives special management authority to local people.  This means that they can now, for example, protest mining, forbid hunting, and establish tourism. The territory includes Mönkh Saridag Mountain, sacred to Norbu’s community and the highest peak in the Sayan Mountain range. Mönkh Saridag is the site of Norbu’s annual community ceremony to honor Snow Leopard as their protector.

In Mongolia, Shaman Buyanbadrakh led the effort to establish Spirit Lord of Sutai Mountain in his home province of Hovd. The mountain is now officially acknowledged as a spiritual and cultural sacred site of the Mongolian Altai.

In the future, we will be sharing some of the traditional stories collected by our LOSL Network members.

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Indianapolis Prize Gala 2018

Nov 18, 2018 5:15 pm


Photo of the Indianapolis Prize Gala courtesy of the Indianapolis Prize

Conservation’s greatest heroes gathered September 29, for the Indianapolis Prize Gala, celebrating those protecting wild things and wild places!

Dr. Rodney Jackson, Founder & Director of the Snow Leopard Conservancy was among the distinguished finalists for this year’s Indianapolis Prize. This was the 5th time he had been selected as one of the prize finalists.

The video below, courtesy of the Indianapolis Prize, describes Rodney Jackson’s work in Snow Leopard Conservation.



Feature photo courtesy of Photo by Karen Czekalski.

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Tashi R. Ghale selected as a 2018 Disney Conservation Hero

Nov 18, 2018 5:00 pm

We would like to congratulate our partner, Wildlife Photographer & Citizen Scientist, Tashi Ghale, who has been selected as a 2018 Disney Conservation Hero.


He received the award for his dedication to conservation of Snow Leopards and their habitat in his community! Tashi works with the Conservancy’s Snow Leopard Scout program in Nepal and is an expert in camera trap photography.

Tashi Ghale camera trap Annual Report

The Disney Conservation Fund actively supports the world’s leading conservation organizations with funds and professional resources to save wildlife and habitats, inspire action, and protect the planet.  This commitment is reflected through the fund’s comprehensive focus on stabilizing and increasing the populations of 10 different at-risk species including apes, butterflies, coral reefs, cranes, elephants, monkeys, rhinos, sea turtles, sharks and rays, and tigers. DCF also provides grants to support conservation programs that engage communities in comprehensive solutions that serve people, wildlife and habitats. Learn more about the Disney Conservation Fund. 

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Snow Leopard Magazine, Volume 4 – June 2018

Sep 8, 2018 12:49 pm

Tashi Ghale

We are pleased to share Volume 4 of The Snow Leopard Magazine, published in June 2018 by the Snow Leopard Conservancy’s partners in Nepal. This year’s edition contains many interesting articles, including one written by the Darla Hillard, Director of Education for the Snow Leopard Conservancy, regarding environmental education and its importance to snow leopard conservation. Another article discusses the discovery of three separate sub-species of snow leopards while yet another explains the IUCN downlisting of the snow leopard from endangered to vulnerable and what that means for snow leopard conservation. Yet another fascinating article discusses postage stamps bearing images of wildlife, including the snow leopard.

Click on this link to read the current volume of the Snow Leopard Magazine.

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Shan: Coexistence with Snow Leopards

Sep 7, 2018 3:04 am

Visual artist and writer, Susan Leibik, traveled to Ladakh, India, in search of the snow leopard which she relates was a transformative experience. She was able to capture the snow leopard both visually in her charcoal drawing and through the written word.

Susan Leibik

The following is an excerpt from Susan’s article “Shan” as it appeared in the Kyoto Journal 91.

Some 80 feet away on a flat throne of rock, the snow leopard sits. Stepping up to the scope, I peer through as if to another dimension.  

That face, the hidden spirit of the mountains themselves revealed. The snow leopard is sitting atop her kill, the carcass of a blue sheep…Her fur is spotted with dark rosettes along her flank and down her extraordinary long and lush tail. The tawny buff-gold of her coat is luminous, seeming to generate its own rare light. Her face, all the sensory graces of her being converge there; the soft tufts of fur on her inner ears, the unique patterns of spots and ink dark calligraphing curves of marks above her eyes; the broad nose, whiskered muzzle, dark-lipped mouth…Her huge forepaws are resting in front of her, instruments of agility and athleticism. They grip rocks, float through deep snow, and lead her leaps in pursuit of prey. Her eyes are green amber, like some rare and unusual gem. 

Susan Leibik Shan

Looking through the scope, she seems to be staring straight back, full on. Her gaze overturns me…I cannot take my eyes away from her mesmerizing presence.

Read the complete article here.

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