My forty years devoted to protecting snow leopards in the wild has repeatedly convinced me of the powers of collaboration, networking and notably, mentoring field conservationists. I have found sharing knowledge with many young conservationists and researchers, as well as herders and community leaders from across the snow leopard’s vas range extremely fulfilling and productive.

Snow Leopard Conservancy staff, partners, and I are mentoring some dozen passionate and enterprising individuals from Nepal to Mongolia, the USA to Russia, as we all grow by sharing experiences and learning from each other. Comprised of dedicated conservationists, biologists, village folk, and business entrepreneurs, these men and women range in age from the early twenties to mid or late forties.

I could name many for their devotion to the cause and their incredible accomplishments, starting with Rinzin Phunjok Lama, this year’s Rolex Award of Enterprise winner (see below). My Rolex Award came in 1981, and I am so delighted for Rinzin to join this special group of talented individuals. He’s an excellent example of the next generation of Snow Leopard Conservationists the Conservancy and its partners are focusing on. Our partner, the Wildlife Conservation Network, is helping support others through its scholarship and grant programs: Nadia Mijiddorj (Mongolia), Maria Azhunova (Russia), Gao Yufang (China), Dr. Suraj Upadhaya (Nepal) and Tshiring Lhamo Lama (Nepal) to mention a few.

Personally, I have found mentoring extremely rewarding: Both parties benefit, learning from each other though fieldwork and lively exchanges, discussing new approaches to longstanding problems or challenges like improving livelihoods for remote mountain communities. Together, we are encouraging mountain people to serve as effective stewards or protectors of this rare cat as well as other predators like the much-persecuted wolf.

Rodney Jackson, Director

Rinzin Phunjok Lama 

Laureate of the 2021 

Rolex Awards for Enterprise 

For more than four decades, Rolex has supported exceptional individuals who have the courage and conviction to take on major challenges; men and women who have a spirit of enterprise, initiating extraordinary projects that make the world a better place.

Rinzin was chosen as recipient of the 2021 Rolex Awards for Enterprise for his role in promoting local initiatives for biodiversity conservation in Nepal’s trans-Himalayan region. “His philosophy of community-based conservation places the power and responsibility to solve the problem in the hands of local people, challenging them to become better stewards of both farmed lands and wilderness.” (Rolex.org, 2021)

“His vision is to use community-based conservation as a focus to promote local leadership, local business and governance ownership and so build more resilient and self-reliant mountain communities. With help from a core of similarly inspired young people, he engages with institutions such as village councils, youth clubs and women’s groups to spread awareness, educate, engage and mobilize.” (Rolex.org, 2021)

Rinzin says, “I want to show that, if given the opportunity, local people can lead exceptionally and are capable of managing large-scale conservation projects and community engagement, as true stewards of the land.”

Tsewang Namgail 

and Land of Snow Leopard Network

2020 Disney Conservation Heroes

Among the 20 individuals and teams awarded in 2020 was Tsewang Namgail, who was nominated by the conservation organization Panthera.

In 2003, with Ladakhi Rinchen Wangchuk, the Conservancy founded the Snow Leopard Conservancy India Trust (SLC-IT). It is now a standalone local NGO, headed by Tsewang Namgail with Jigmet Dadul, the world’s leading snow leopard spotter (over 200 sightings)!

Tsewang leads a team of 13 in Ladakh, where 60 percent of the snow leopard population of India is found. They work to reduce conflict between snow leopards and local herders, looking for ways that will benefit both through community- based tourism, education, and research. Tsewang and his team construct predator-proof livestock corrals, promote local food production, and help to develop enterprises like eco-cafes and homestays for ecotourists that provide alternative sources of incomes, offset livestock losses, and enhance the value of snow leopards to the local communities.

The Land of Snow Leopard Network (LOSL), who was nominated by the Snow Leopard Conservancy, was also chosen to receive a 2020 Disney Conservation Hero Award. LOSL Network, which is part of a ground-breaking collaboration between western and indigenous science, has two overriding goals: reviving ancient conservation practices and creating pathways for Indigenous Cultural Practitioners (ICPs) to be coequal partners in research and planning for the conservation of snow leopards.