Suzi Eszterhas

Dear Friends,

Wishing you a wonderful start to the New Year! I truly feel a sense of optimism and hope for positive change for both animals and people in 2023, thanks to your unwavering and altruistic support.

I am delighted to share with you that we were able to exceed our fall fundraising campaign goal of $150,000 by $10,000!  Your generous gifts all throughout the year allowed us to save the lives of snow leopards from conflict over livestock and build lasting compassionate human-wildlife coexistence through local community guardianship.  Thank you so very much!

We hope you enjoy our first winter newsletter of 2023, which coincides with the magnificent snow leopard’s breeding season.

Fun facts about snow leopard reproduction: The snow leopard’s mating season is January to March, with births occurring from April to June, following a 90 to 105 day gestation period. Female snow leopards usually give birth to 2 or 3 cubs, with a rare occurrence of 4 to 5 cubs in a litter. The mother will keep the vulnerable cubs safe in a den in the rugged high mountains while she is nursing, leaving only to search and hunt for prey until the cubs are weaned and strong enough to join her to start learning how to hunt small mammals. The cubs will generally stay with their mother for 18 months, up to 2 years, before moving on to establish their own territory and becoming sexually mature. At this time, the mother will go back into estrus and start the cycle all over again. 

Tashi R. Ghale

Living in one of the planet’s most hostile environments has extreme inherent challenges. SLC’s purpose is to ensure the survival of snow leopards by reducing the anthropogenic (human-related) threats to this incredible alpine big cat. We are deeply grateful for your trust and dedicated support for helping us reduce these threats, giving snow leopards the chance to thrive.

From left, Aigerim (Taalim-Forum), Almagul Osmonova (Taalim-Forum), Ashleigh Lutz-Nelson (SLC) and Alina Zhenishbekova (Rural Development Fund) participated in the GSLEP meetings in Bishkek Oct 21-22, 2022.

Last fall, I had the opportunity to travel to Central Asia to participate in the 7th Global Snow Leopard Ecosystem Protection Program (GSLEP) meetings in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, which was initiated at the Bishkek Declaration in 2013, with the support of Snow Leopard Conservancy as a founding organizational partner. I am truly encouraged by all the coordinated efforts of the governments, NGOs and international organizations involved in snow leopard conservation, biodiversity conservation and sustainability, who make this possible to ensure snow leopard survival, especially the local communities and SLC’s partners living with snow leopards. Read the 2022 GSLEP Resolution here.

Preventing retributive killings of snow leopards and community-based conservation were reported as priorities by the range countries and GSLEP. SLC’s immediate goal is to ensure local communities, and especially herders come to perceive snow leopards and other wildlife as assets, rather than pests. Our ultimate goal is for snow leopards to be valued as an essential component in the high mountain ecosystem and that communities will demonstrate coexistence and guardianship toward this vulnerable big cat. We are striving for vibrant landscapes and robust, culturally rich communities that are more resilient to climate change, habitat degradation, and the loss of biodiversity. Human health, animal health, and environmental health are intrinsically interconnected as the future of people is interdependent with that of the snow leopard, an apex predator. All our interventions are implemented by SLC’s partners, working closely with local communities in 7 of the 12 snow leopard range countries.

Bayaraa Munhtsog (Irbis Mongolia), Buyanbadrakh Erdenetsogt & his wife (Association for Protection of Altai Cultural Heritage) and Ashleigh (SLC) visit with nomadic herding family friends in the steppe during the first (unexpected) snow of the season – the earliest in 40 years! Understanding the needs of families living in snow leopard and wolf habitat is critical to successful conservation efforts.

During my visit to Central Asia, it was an honor to meet in person with SLC’s partners with Land of Snow Leopard (LOSL) and Irbis Mongolia in Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia. Working with partners, including LOSL’s Indigenous Cultural Practitioners (ICPs) Zharparkul Raimbekov and Buyanbadrakh Erdenetsogt, and witnessing the on-the-ground impact of our collaborative programs firsthand was a heart to heart experience I will never forget.

Alina Zhenishbekova (Rural Development Fund), Zharparkul Raimbekov (Kyrgyz LOSL Indigenous Cultural Practitioner), Ashleigh (SLC) and Kuluipa Akmatova (Rural Development Fund) after a ceremonial blessing and meeting to discuss future program work at the Rural Development Fund office in Biskhek.

LOSL Shaman and Country Coordinator Buyanbadrakh Erdenetsogt (Association for Protection of Altai Cultural Heritage), Ashleigh (SLC) and Mongolia LOSL Country Coordinator Ebi Khurelbatar after a ceremonial blessing at the sacred site on the outskirts of the rapidly expanding capital city of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.

Other highlights included meeting with teachers and students from the Nature Trunk expansion program and Ethno Ecocamp program in Kyrgyzstan. Ms. Umut Zholdoshova, Project Coordinator of United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and her son Aklybek joined us to share their enthusiasm of the educational program that integrates culture, spirituality, and ecology into fun, interactive activities. This program is inspiring youth and adults into conservation action.

Umut shared that while she had worked in biodiversity conservation and sustainability throughout her career, it wasn’t until her 8 year old son, Akylbek, went through the program that she realized the true value of education in conservation. Akylbek, pictured below wearing a snow leopard SpiritHood, is now a champion for snow leopards, sharing all his knowledge to inspire his younger sister and peers about how to save this incredible cat.

Photo: Umut Zholdoshova

Akylbek Zholdoshova, participant of the Nature Trunk and Ethno Eco Camp program and champion of snow leopard conservation

A supporter of SLC for more than a decade, SpiritHoods, generously donated both snow leopard and wolf hoods to accompany all of the Nature Trunks as we began the next phase of incorporating new lessons involving spirituality and culture specific to the different regions. These lessons emphasize the importance and interdependence of all species, building understanding and reverence for all beings living in their shared high mountain ecosystem. The teachers and Indigenous Cultural Practitioners (ICPs) are elated about the trunk program and the impact it is having with their students through the inspiring, educational lessons that blend traditional knowledge and science.

Tungalagtuya Khuukhenduu (Nomadic Nature Conservation) instructing a 6th grade Ecocamp on the web of life game and the other lessons from the successful Nomadic Nature Trunk program.

While in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, I also had the fantastic opportunity to join a Nature Trunk School Ecocamp training with a 6th grade class led by SLC’s partner Tungalagtuya Khuukhenduu (Nomadic Nature Conservation).

In 2021, the award-winning Nomadic Nature Trunk program expanded, with the generous support of the Pawanka Fund, to serving urban schools in addition to rural families living directly in snow leopard habitat, reaching a larger proportion of secondary students. This is critically important to snow leopard conservation as half of all Mongolians now live in the capital city.

A delightful, charismatic instructor, Tunga led the inspiring Trunk lessons on all aspects of a high mountain ecosystem, including snow leopard conservation. It was evident the students and teachers were elated to receive the training and carry it forward with their peers. We all left feeling inspired!

Darla Hillard (right) and her successor, Maria Azhunova (left), LOSL Director and Stanford University’s Environmental Bright Award recipient, at the annual LOSL Gathering in Mongolia in 2019.

Beginning in 2023, Land of Snow Leopard Network (LOSL) is under new leadership: Maria Azhunova (Director), Almagul Osmonova, (Assistant Director) and the leadership council made up of Country Coordinators and ICPs. SLC’s LOSL Facilitator and Co-founder Darla Hillard retired at the end of 2022. Darla’s four decades of extraordinary contribution to snow leopard conservation, support of mountain communities, and facilitation of the development of LOSL has been instrumental in the Network becoming the groundbreaking initiative of positive change that it is today. Darla, our hats are off to YOU, and we wish you the most wonderful retirement!  As you would say, “Upward and Onward!”

Our partner of 18 years, the Baltistan Wildlife Conservation and Development Organization’s (BWCDO) extraordinary accomplishments have led to equal involvement of both girls and boys in school conservation programming and International Snow Leopard Day celebrations. Their accomplishments also include construction of predator-proof corrals, benefitting over 5,000 households, livestock, and wildlife in Gilgit-Baltistan.

Dr. Muhammad Zaman

In 2022, BWCDO began a new chapter under the very capable leadership of Dr. Muhammad Zaman, with ambitious goals to continue and expand this important work.

Ghulam Mohammad

We would like to extend our gratitude to previous General Manager, Mr. Ghulam Mohammad, for his dedicated leadership over this incredible time of growth for BWCDO and wish both Mr. Mohammad and Dr. Zaman all the very best in their new roles.

As we move swiftly into the new year, we are happy to share a few other updates on our plans to make 2023 the best year yet for snow leopards.

We are excited to launch the second phase of the One Health veterinary project in Nepal with International Veterinary Outreach and Nepali partners and expand facilitation of community livelihood and entrepreneurial development as well as other conservation interventions, such as training of Foxlight use in Nepal, Mongolia, and other range countries.

B. Jollymore – KarmaQuest Trek

This month, the SLC team is headed to the Indian Himalaya for the KarmaQuest Wintertime Quest for the Snow Leopard trek. Our team will be visiting with the Snow Leopard Conservancy India Trust team and the snow leopard-friendly Ladakhi communities involved with the award-winning Himalayan homestay program started 20 years ago. We’ll also be meeting with a local wildlife rescue and rehabilitation facility that cares for injured snow leopards and other wildlife.

With below zero temperatures in Hemis National Park, we hope to catch a glimpse of our favorite cat – the Queen of the Mountains – during her breeding season and perhaps a Himalayan wolf and Pallas’s Cat, too. If we’re successful, we will share our pictures with you, our wonderful supporters. Our deepest gratitude to you.  We couldn’t do this work without you!

Suzi Eszterhas

Wishing you peace, good health and happiness in the new year, and always.

Yours very truly,

Ashleigh Lutz-Nelson
Executive Director

Ashleigh Lutz-Nelson
Executive Director