The Snow Leopard Conservancy currently works in eight of the twelve snow leopard range countries–Bhutan, India, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, the Altai and Buryatia Republics of Russia, and Tajikistan–with local communities to provide education and to develop alternative incomes for the local people through ecotourism and Himalayan homestays.
Jigme Dorji National Park lies in the northwestern part of Bhutan, sharing a border with the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China. The park protects an area of 4316 sq. km., and supports a rich biodiversity. It was in JDNP where tigers were first recorded above 4000 meters, sharing habitat with snow leopards. Here snow leopards frequently prey upon young yaks, leading local herders to view the cats as pests that need to be eliminated. Working collaboratively with our partners and local communities, the Conservancy is focused on projects aimed at the benefits of having snow leopards present, with the communities being the primary drivers of conservation. Activities underway include community-based snow leopard monitoring and improvement of livestock management practices.
In 2012, communities in Jigme Dorji National Park asked the Conservancy for support in creating an annual Snow Leopard Festival to educate adults and children about the importance of snow leopard conservation in the high mountains. The first Festival was a tremendous success in October 2013. In addition the Conservancy is assisting with the publication of an illustrated book about snow leopards designed for the Bhutanese communities.
The Snow Leopard Conservancy’s community partnership in Pakistan began in 2003, with conservation and education activities in the Northern Areas region of Baltistan. Our collaborative programs focus on corral predator-proofing, improved livestock guarding and livestock insurance programs, environmental education, outreach, and community-based monitoring using snow leopard sign surveys, periodic prey counts and camera trap surveys.
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In 2004, in the village of Hushe, a snow leopard entered a livestock pen and killed many sheep and goats. In the past, they would have killed this stock-raiding cat, but the community instead released it. For their actions, the Conservancy nominated Hushe for the Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund’s 2004 Hero Award for all of Asia. Hushe village’s demonstration of changing attitudes won them this award. Activities in Pakistan are centered on six villages adjacent to good quality snow leopard habitat where BWCDO has established Snow Leopard Conservation Committees responsible for managing and monitoring the community projects.
Snow Leopard Conservancy supports teacher training and conservation education in nine schools throughout three valleys of Baltistan. About 345 students in 3rd, 4th and 8th grades participate. In 2013, students from seven regional colleges participated in the Baltistan Inter-College speech competition, Wildlife and Environment, with the theme of “Save the Snow Leopard.”
Project Snow Leopard (PSL) is an innovative partnership between the community and private enterprise, founded in 1999 by Dr. Shafqat Hussain. Shafqat developed a unique livestock insurance program that won him an Associate Laureate Rolex Award for Enterprise in 2006, and led to his appointment as National Geographic Society’s Emerging Explorer for 2009.
Read About Project Snow Leopard in Pakistan
Project Snow Leopard is now part of the Baltistan Wildlife Conservation and Development Organization, directed by Ghulam Mohammad. In 2011, then master’s student Bilal Anwar conducted the first food habits study in which scats were genetically confirmed by our associate, Dr. Jan Janecka, to belong to snow leopards.
The India program grew from our activities in Ladakh and through our partnership with the Mountain Institute. Working closely with Rinchen Wangchuk and NGO associates, we tested and refined innovative techniques for engaging local people in community based conservation of snow leopards and their prey. In 2003, we registered SLC-India Trust as an environmental and social NGO under Indian law. In 2010, SLC-IT began working independently of Snow Leopard Conservancy.
For more information please visit: http://snowleopardindia.org/index.php
In 2005, the Snow Leopard Conservancy established a partnership with the Pune-based nonprofit, Kalpavriksh, to develop a community-based environmental education program for rural Ladakh, focused on conservation of snow leopards and other wildlife of the local trans-Himalayan region. Challenges in this remote region include bringing quality education to children who live in small, widely scattered and largely ignored settlements, exacerbated by teacher absenteeism and motivation.
For this program, Kalpavriksh developed an educator’s handbook and locally relevant educational material (posters and games) for classes 4 to 8. In 2007, officials in the State of Jammu and Kashmir Education Department requested these teaching tools be made available to all government schools in the region.
Highlights of Accomplishments
Highlights of Accomplishments
We initiated a corral predator-proofing program to prevent retributive killing of snow leopards by livestock owners. For every community’s winter corral predator-proofed, we believe that up to five or more snow leopards are effectively removed from risk of being trapped or poisoned by angry herders.
Working with the Mountain Institute and a grant from UNESCO we launched the award-winning Himalayan Homestays program. The J&K Wildlife Department assumed control of this program in 2010.
In 2004 we were able to transfer many of these ideas to community-based tourism initiatives in Spiti under a partnership with MUSE (see the Muse report 2007-2009.pdf and Field Notes from Spiti.pdf ).
Due to the incredible protection efforts of the local people, government, and SLC-India Trust, snow leopards are being seen regularly in Hemis National Park.
Between 2002 and 2005, working in collaboration with the J&K Wildlife Department in Hemis National Park, we pioneered the use of noninvasive camera traps to assess snow leopard abundance and better estimate the population size of this shy, rarely seen cat. A detailed handbook on camera-trapping snow leopards can be downloaded here. The scientific paper describing this technique, which is being applied in other parts of the snow leopard’s vast range, can be downloaded here.
The Snow Leopard Conservancy’s program in this important range country was initiated in 2007. Dr. B. Munkhtsog, Director of the NGO Irbis Mongolia and Senior Scientist with the Mongolian Academy of Sciences, asked Rodney Jackson and Dr. Jan Janecka of Texas A&M University to train Mongolian biologists in camera trapping and noninvasive genotyping of scats. This proved to be the beginning of our multi-nation applied genetics program.
We believe that conservation efforts targeting the border area will promote recovery of the depleted Russian snow leopard population. In addition to the Mongolian study, a multinational team is examining the genetic diversity of snow leopards in Russia, Pakistan, China, Nepal, and Tajikistan.
Read the case study of Togoldor
In September 2008, our field team attached a satellite collar to an adult male snow leopard, which they named Togoldor (very great, amazing, incredible). For a year, the collar transmitted GPS locations before it automatically fell off, as programmed. This animation tracks Togoldor’s movements as he travels around his home range. We concluded that Togoldor was the dominant resident male on the mountain. We believe he made a large kill every 10-21 days as indicated by the red dots. Such sites are clumped in selected parts of the mountain which we believe support more ibex, the primary large prey of snow leopards in Mongolia.
We were surprised that Togoldor never left Baga Bogd. Togoldor showed a strong preference for the northern edge of Baga Bogd, where the human population is lowest. We detected 28 sites where we suspected he made a kill and fed over the next few days. This reinforces how vital it is to protect these isolated mountains linking snow leopards between the South Gobi and core habitat elsewhere in Mongolia. Thus, we are expanding our genetic surveys to help identify and map the main breeding populations linking the South Gobi with Russia’s Altai-Sayan mountains.
The Conservancy partners with the women-run Mongolian NGO Nomadic Nature Conservation (NNC) to refine and improve the Mongolian educational standards by incorporating ecology and conservation related concepts on a national level. Through their charming and effective Nomadic Nature Trunk program, innovative educators in Mongolia have created a mobile education project that brings activity-based instruction in natural sciences and environmental conservation to rural Mongolian schools and communities. By supporting NNC, the Conservancy is furthering its goals of conservation-action and community education that both honors and encourages indigenous belief and histories.
Dr. Rodney Jackson and Dr. B. Munkhtsog with sedated snow leopard (photo: SLC)
Nepal is thought to harbor 300-500 snow leopards, making it an important range country (along with China and Mongolia). In 2005, the Conservancy’s former Regional Conservation Director, Som Ale, photographed a snow leopard in Sagarmatha (Mount Everest) National Park —the first confirmed sighting since the 1960s for this UNESCO-acclaimed protected area. Snow Leopard Conservancy Director Rodney Jackson and associates conducted the World’s first radio-collaring study of snow leopards from 1981 to 1985 in Nepal’s remote west. This seminal study was featured in National Geographic (June 1986), and led to the publication of Darla Hillard’s account,Vanishing Tracks: Four Years Among the Snow Leopards of Nepal.
In the north-central region of Mustang, we provided twelve of the 22 yak herders with Foxlights (above), and our partners at GPN trained them in their use. These flashing lights frighten snow leopards and, thus far, have effectively deterred the big cats from attacking livestock. GPN is also monitoring snow leopards via 28 trail cameras. The resulting photos, in conjunction with fecal DNA studies, will help us determine how many cats inhabit the area.
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The program was established in four communities off the main Everest Base Camp trekking trail and thus lacking the benefits from tourism. The goal was to help local households increase their income as a means for mitigating the periodic loss of livestock to predation. The Conservancy provides each participating village with start-up funding and training in accounting and transparent management with safeguards to prevent or minimize loan defaults. Each household agrees to invest a nominal sum each month in the savings fund. Loans are made to promote local livelihood-related activities. A portion of the interest is set aside for projects that contribute to snow leopard conservation. There are now 179 members in four associations, primarily led by women. One 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. We are working with Mountain Spirit to expand this successful program.
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In 2015, Snow Leopard Scouts learned about Foxlights and worked with local herders to install one in a nearby livestock corral. In 2011, we paired elder livestock herders with high school students to monitor snow leopards via trail cameras. These teams have captured many images, including a mother with cubs (see photo), and images of a common leopard—proof that they overlap with snow leopards in central Nepal.
Between 2000 and 2007, we collaborated with a Nepalese nonprofit to produce a series of children’s books that were translated into three languages, including Tibetan braille, and were used widely by young readers in Nepal. We also built the Junior Ranger Program to reach thirty schools in far western Dolpo (the site of Peter Matthiessen’ classic book, The Snow Leopard). While the program was suspended due to the civil war, several of the participating students have gone on to careers in wildlife conservation.
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Since 2000, the Snow Leopard Conservancy has supported initiatives in Nepal to increase conservation awareness among teachers and school children, and conservancy partners GPN currently produce a weekly radio program about snow leopards, Hiu Chituwa Ko Serofero (Surroundings of the Snow Leopard). Broadcast in the evening prime time, public interest in the program and, by extension, snow leopards, are tracked after each show. Listeners are invited to call in and answer a quiz for a chance to win a prize. While at least one hundred male and female listeners call in each week, up to 500,000 people are estimated to tune in, in a region where the radio is very important to the mostly rural population.
I love this program that describes our snow leopard. I don’t miss any episode. It will be more favorable if the program is broadcast to the whole country so that all Nepalese could show concern toward this precious topic.
– Amar Sherpa, Dolpa
Read about Nepal's Snow Leopard Radio Program
The Snow Leopard Conservancy has been carrying out sign surveys, snare removal and anti-poaching activities in the Argut River Basin of Russia’s Altai Republic since 2010. Surveys confirmed the virtual loss of snow leopards from the Argut River Basin. This was believed to have been the Altai’s largest population of the cats. The loss was largely attributed to poachers setting wire snares. Despite camera-trapping over a six month period, not a single cat was found, although healthy populations of Siberian ibex, major prey for snow leopard, were found.
Illegal snaring is very common in the Altai Republic, targeting musk deer, snow leopards, lynx, wolves, and other larger animals. In remote regions like the Argut River basin, snaring is a main source of income for local families.
The Conservancy assisted in the deployment of a special anti-poaching team of inspectors from the Altai Republic Game Management Department and local residents who were trained in snare removal techniques. One of the team members is a former notorious poacher in the area, but is now working for the good of snow leopards, rather than against them. The team has reduced the number of snares from 800 to approximately 200. Additionally, they have completely eliminated snares from two valleys that support the last remaining snow leopards in Argut.
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As of 2013, trail cameras have revealed the presence of six snow leopards in the Argut watershed, as well as the two cubs pictured above which is evidence that the cats are breeding. In addition, our partners have detected several snow leopards near Belukha Mountain, along the border with Kazakhstan. Other snow leopards are known to inhabit the border with Mongolia, so there are two populations, albeit small, from which animals could disperse and recover this historically important population. We believe that the local snow leopard population could increase considerably over the next 10 years if snaring is completely eliminated from the area.
Our hard work is not in vain! We can see that the Argut Valley’s snow leopards are breeding! I want to thank and congratulate all for this success: the field workers, all those who help in the organization and financing of field investigations and snare removal! –Sergey Spitsyn
In 2010, staff of the Snow Leopard Conservancy visited the Altai Republic where we formed a partnership with the Foundation for the Sustainable Development of Altai and WWF-Russia to expand Snow Leopard Day and bring conservation education to an even wider group of children and adults.
Local festivals are now held in May in two communities, with direct participation by about 160 children. These festivals are followed in September by International Snow Leopard Day festivities in the regional capital, Gorno-Altaisk. This program has the full support and sponsorship of the Ministry of Education and Youth Policy of the Altai Republic, the Republic’s Center for Additional Education of Children, and Nature Park “Quiet Zone Ukok.”
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Snow Leopard Day Festival
The idea of a Snow Leopard Day Festival in Russia’s Altai Republic grew out of a meeting of the Conservancy and Maya Erlenbaeva in 2008 in San Francisco. Maya, the cultural expert and manager of Ukok Nature Park at the Altai Republic’s southeastern tip, returned home and teamed with teachers at the local school. The festival they created featured art contests, traditional dances, specially produced plays and other activities. It was highly successful.
These festivals gave us great inspiration and joy and we understood that children are the best people to invest and work for conservation of rare animals and snow leopards!
Director, Foundation for Sustainable Development of Altai
Read the Snow Leopard Day Festival