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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New Faces at the Snow Leopard Conservancy

Sep 6, 2018 1:55 am

Charleen Gavette recently joined the Conservancy team as Program Officer. She is responsible for day-to-day oversight of the Conservancy’s field programs, capacity-building, and reporting. Charleen has been a long-time Conservancy volunteer, assisting with GIS modeling of potential snow leopard habitat and migratory corridors and creating maps for presentations. She has also been a key volunteer in our “Land of the Snow Leopard” project, attending workshops in Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan and leading the development of special computer apps. She will continue these activities as a Conservancy staffer.


You can find out more about Charleen here.


Brian Peniston is our new Program Manager overseeing the (United Kingdom) Darwin Initiative Grant awarded to SLC for snow leopard and biodiversity conservation in Nepal. He will be responsible for managing the two-year, nine-month grant “Sustaining snow leopard conservation through strengthened local institutions and enterprises,” a joint collaboration between Mountain Spirit, TMI, Global Primate Network, ENNOVENT, National Trust for Nature Conservation/Annapurna Conservation Area Project and local communities in the Manang and Mt. Everest Regions.



 You can find out more about Brian here.

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Snow Leopard to be Mascot for 2018 World Nomad Games

Jul 27, 2018 10:48 am
RJ & Snow Leopard play

The World Nomad Games were initiated by the government of Kyrgyzstan, to highlight and preserve the world’s nomadic cultures and historical heritage through the revival of traditional games and competitions.

By making Snow Leopard the mascot, the organizers of the Games hope to bring extra attention to the plight of this unique animal and to saving its habitat.

World Nomad Games 2018 Mascot

We are pleased to report that our Land of Snow Leopard Network will be represented at the Games! Kuluipa Akmatova, Project Coordinator with Rural Development Fund, and LOSL Network member, has been invited to bring a troupe of middle and high school students to participate in the cultural program. With funding provided by the Conservancy and wonderful costume additions provided by SpiritHoods, the kids will perform the play Snow Leopard, which is based on the traditional precept that tragedy will befall anyone who kills a snow leopard.

Snow Leopard Play

The World Nomad Games to be held in September will draw some 3,000 athletes from 77 countries to compete in 37 types of ethnosports, from archery to wrestling to horse racing to eagle hunting. More than 10,000 spectators and media personnel are expected to attend.

This is a remarkable opportunity for our Network to advance it’s goal of creating pathways for indigenous participation in snow leopard conservation!

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Rodney Jackson on BeProvided Conservation Radio

Jul 26, 2018 11:39 pm

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Photo Credit: Karen Czekalski.

Rodney Jackson, Founder and Director of the Snow Leopard Conservancy recently spoke with Marcia Sivek of BeProvided Conservation Radio about his life’s work in snow leopard conservation.

In Part 1 of the podcast, they discussed Jackson’s path that led him to the snow leopard and about snow leopard behavior.
Click here for Part 1 of the podcast.

In Part 2, Jackson described the threats facing snow leopards today and the Snow Leopard Conservancy’s approach to conservation. He also shared what gives him hope for the future of these cats and other wildlife.
Click here for Part 2 of the podcast.


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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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