The first snow leopards were collared and tracked from 1981 to 1985 in Nepal’s remote western district of Mugu by Conservancy Director Rodney Jackson and associates. This seminal study was featured in the June 1986 National Geographic, and led to the publication of Darla Hillard’s account, Vanishing Tracks: Four Years Among the Snow Leopards of Nepal. Jackson trained national park rangers in field survey methods. In the early 1990s, Jackson led the first in-depth study of livestock depredation by snow leopards in the Annapurna Conservation Project Area, with colleagues who included Som Ale, currently serving as the Conservancy’s Regional Conservation Director.
Som witnessed and photographed, in 2005, the first confirmed sighting of the elusive snow leopard on the Nepal side of Mount Everest since the 1960s.
Nepal is thought to harbor 300-500 snow leopards, making it an important range country (along with China and Mongolia).
Since 2000, the Snow Leopard Conservancy has supported initiatives to increase conservation awareness among teachers and school children. We collaborated with a Nepalese nonprofit to produce a series of children’s books and we built the Junior Ranger Program to reach thirty schools in far western Dolpo (the site of Peter Matthiessen’ classic book, The Snow Leopard).
More recently, Som Ale has overseen the introduction of a “Snow Leopard Scouts” program in the eastern part of Nepal. See the Education section for details.
In 2003, we partnered with the Nepal Trust to protect snow leopards in Humla, also in the country’s far west. Activities were placed on hold less than two years later as a result of the Maoist insurgency. Now that the insurgency is ended, we are renewing our conservation efforts. Read about it here.
In 2010 we partnered with the National Trust for Nature Conservation, and opened a Snow Leopard Conservation Project office in Kathmandu.
Under Som’s direction the first savings and credit group was developed in Thame (49 households) and Phortse (70 households). Each participating village was endowed with start-up funding of about $2700, in two installments. Each household member agreed to invest $1.35 per month in the seed fund, while the Conservancy provided training in accounting and helped the community set up a transparent management structure, with safequards to prevent or minimize loan defalts.
The Conservancy is monitoring the groups’ performance as a prerequisite to making the second payment. The Thame group doubled their savings within a year, by holding special cultural shows for tourists and making loans to members at 18% interest instead of the 25-30% charged by money-lenders.
This work is being conducted under the supervision of the Buffer Zone Management Committee, the main legal body charged with community development and resource conservation activities in the park. The goal is to build a fund from which at least 25% is invested in snow leopard conservation with activities that may vary from partially compensating livestock depredation to patrolling habitat for musk deer snares.