Protecting Snow Leopards in Remote Zanskar, Northern India

Dec 14, 2018 2:38 pm

Zanskar was once an independent kingdom. Its remoteness is underlined by the one four-wheel-drive road in, traversing a 14,436 foot pass. The road is closed in winter. Then, the only lifeline for the 10,000 or so people who live there is an expensive helicopter or a dangerous 60-mile walk on ice at the edge of the Zanskar River.

Rodney Jackson and Darla Hillard were invited to visit Zanskar in 2003, to help introduce snow leopard conservation initiatives to herders in the region’s scattered communities.

Rodney & Darla - ZanskarPass

Since then, your support has made the difference in helping Zanskar’s livestock herders co-exist with snow leopards.

Today, Snow Leopard Conservancy India Trust (SLC-IT) leads conservation initiatives in Zanskar.

Dr. Tsewang Namgyal, who directs SLC-IT, was born and raised in a small village in the neighboring region of Ladakh. Tsewang’s love of wildlife was inspired by the open-air school he attended.

“We shared our classroom with butterflies, birds, lizards, and small mammals like pikas. I also explored the mountains, herding sheep and goats on the weekends.”

Tsewang could not have imagined then that he would grow up to lead an organization that has been instrumental in saving snow leopards in both Zanskar and Ladakh.

For the past three years, Tsewang and his SLC-IT team have been focusing on helping communities in Zanskar make their livestock corrals invulnerable to snow leopards.

Tsewang Namgial

The SLC-IT team meets with herders to investigate their livestock loss to snow leopards. Survey results inform the selection of beneficiary communities. Families provide labor and local materials such as stones. The project provides wire mesh, hardware, and wood beams.

It may sound fairly simple to make improvements to stone-walled livestock enclosures. But Zanskar’s remoteness presents special challenges.

Cell phone service is unreliable, making it difficult to communicate with communities building new corrals and to know the status of the project.

Climate change is bringing more summer rain. Flooding often obliterates roads and paths, delaying transport of materials to the project sites. Flooding delays project activities, because the villagers get involved in repairing their infrastructure.

Tsewang says, “Sometimes we have to take a chance and send the materials without knowing whether the walls have been completed and if the community is ready for the next step. We have to do our best to keep costs down.”

Time and patience are necessary ingredients in successful conservation action. Fortunately, we have managed to accomplish most of our goals. We are very grateful to the donor community for investing in this crucial work.

Corral in Zanskar

Thirty-one new corrals were built such as this one in Anmu Village.

 Corral Project Impact After Three Years

  • No recorded depredation of livestock
  • At least 6,000 domestic animals kept safe from snow leopards at night
  • Some one hundred snow leopards protected from retaliation for livestock depredation
  • More than 50 herders trained to design and build the improved corrals.

The corral project was partially funded by a grant from the Australian Himalayan Foundation.

Jak Wonderly

Since our trek to Zanskar in 2003, a visitor’s chances of seeing a wild snow leopard in the SLC-IT program area have grown remarkably. In January of this year, photographer Jak Wonderly observed this cat for three days, watching her chase magpies off her kill.

The Snow Leopard Conservancy and our partners have seen that a little help can go a long way toward creating coexistence between people and snow leopards. Donors like you have enabled us to work with herders throughout India, Mongolia, Nepal, and Pakistan to make their livestock enclosures secure. We have seen our model replicated, and we have seen communities reclaim their reverence for the animal that symbolizes their natural heritage.

Please help us continue to lead the way in conservation actions that are rooted in community ownership and participation. Your year-end gift will go a long way toward saving these magnificent cats! 








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Reviving Indigenous Practices for Protecting Snow Leopards

Nov 18, 2018 5:26 pm

by Darla Hillard

RinchinLogoV2Final copy

The Land of the Snow Leopard (LOSL) Network, now in its third year, is part of a groundbreaking collaboration between Western and Indigenous science. Our goal is to create pathways for Indigenous people to be equal partners in research and planning for conservation of snow leopards.

This past September, Rodney, Charleen, and I traveled to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, to meet with LOSL’s seven Country Coordinators and other key Network members. We wanted to work through some challenges of communicating in more than five languages and working in remote, mountainous snow leopard habitat across more than 600,000 square miles of the Altai Republic, Buryatia, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, and Tajikistan.

In our program areas, the snow leopard is not only a flagship species for biocultural diversity, it is the axis mundi of ancient traditions, legends, and beliefs. These beautiful, mysterious animals are protectors of sacred mountains, a unifying force, and a source of spiritual power and wisdom. Despite the remoteness of their high-mountain habitat, snow leopards are vulnerable to human-caused threats across a wide spectrum. Most of these cats roam outside the relative safety of national parks or other officially protected areas.

Altai Shaman and LOSL member Slava Cheltuev traveled to Buryatia in 2015 to attend the Okinsky Snow Leopard Honoring Ceremony

Altai Shaman and LOSL member Slava Cheltuev traveled to Buryatia in 2015 to attend the Okinsky Snow Leopard Honoring Ceremony

The LOSL network includes over 100 organizations and individuals. Our founding members include Shamans, Sacred Site Guardians, and revered Elders. We refer to them as Indigenous Cultural Practitioners (ICPs) and define an ICP as “one who communicates with and receives support and guidance from the spirits/creator/ancestors/guardians.”

While ICPs serve as guides, the greater LOSL community includes lifelong herders who know the ancient practices for reading and living in their environment, indigenous educators, historians, scientists, and traditional hunters.

The catalyst for this work is the Global Snow Leopard Ecosystem Protection Plan (GSLEP), whose leaders recognize that achieving the plan’s objectives will require collective action – including the full participation of local communities.

The strength of LOSL is our knowledge and experience of the spiritual and cultural importance of Snow Leopards to the work of securing landscapes for their preservation. Our challenge is to help the Snow Leopard range country governments understand and embrace the Spiritual nature of Snow Leopard and it’s fundamental place in indigenous practices and knowledge of how to protect the species.

We have made significant progress, in part through the creation of two database structures. One is a geospatial computer App for monitoring wildlife sightings, poaching incidents, and other data in a way that supports the goals of the GSLEP, including the overarching goal of “20 landscape-level snow leopard populations protected by the year 2020.”

Unique to this project is a platform that enables our members to collect interviews, stories, folklore, photos, and videos. Country Coordinators had collected a large amount of this culturally-important data, but they had encountered problems in getting the information onto our platform so it could be shared among the network members. Thus, we called the September meeting to deal with database management.

Charleen clarifies a point during the Database Management Workshop

Charleen clarifies a point during the Database Management Workshop

Once we had solved the technical problems, we developed a system and form for summarizing and categorizing photos, interviews, etc. that were considered of cultural and/or spiritual importance. All summaries will be translated into Russian and English. This allows us to easily share the data, to identify commonalities, create reports, and develop tools for revival/preservation of traditional practices. No one has attempted this kind of effort before, to standardize the integration of culturally-important data into conservation planning and action for snow leopards.

Norbu gets into the Web of Life game being conducted by BBCIC and LOSL member Alexander Khamaganov

Norbu gets into the Web of Life game being conducted by BBCIC and LOSL member Alexander Khamaganov

We discovered that ICPs and other LOSL Network members are already developing tools and taking an active lead in reviving traditional practices that save snow leopards. They are bringing new ways of learning about snow leopards to their local schools. In Russia’s Buryat Republic, the Baikal Buryat Center for Cultural Conservation followed the example of our Mongolian partner, Nomadic Nature Trunks. They introduced interactive conservation education through visits to all the schools in Okinsky Region. Norbu Lama, the local Buddhist spiritual leader, talked to students about the indigenous attitude towards nature, and how to record observations using our LOSL snow leopard monitoring App.  The children at one school decided to write special love letters to snow leopards.


The Okinsky students made beautiful paintings after Norbu’s talk

Further, Norbu Lama worked for more than a year to achieve for Okinsky official designation as a Territory of Traditional Use of Natural Resources. The designation gives special management authority to local people.  This means that they can now, for example, protest mining, forbid hunting, and establish tourism. The territory includes Mönkh Saridag Mountain, sacred to Norbu’s community and the highest peak in the Sayan Mountain range. Mönkh Saridag is the site of Norbu’s annual community ceremony to honor Snow Leopard as their protector.

In Mongolia, Shaman Buyanbadrakh led the effort to establish Spirit Lord of Sutai Mountain in his home province of Hovd. The mountain is now officially acknowledged as a spiritual and cultural sacred site of the Mongolian Altai.

In the future, we will be sharing some of the traditional stories collected by our LOSL Network members.

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Indianapolis Prize Gala 2018

Nov 18, 2018 5:15 pm


Photo of the Indianapolis Prize Gala courtesy of the Indianapolis Prize

Conservation’s greatest heroes gathered September 29, for the Indianapolis Prize Gala, celebrating those protecting wild things and wild places!

Dr. Rodney Jackson, Founder & Director of the Snow Leopard Conservancy was among the distinguished finalists for this year’s Indianapolis Prize. This was the 5th time he had been selected as one of the prize finalists.

The video below, courtesy of the Indianapolis Prize, describes Rodney Jackson’s work in Snow Leopard Conservation.



Feature photo courtesy of Photo by Karen Czekalski.

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Tashi R. Ghale selected as a 2018 Disney Conservation Hero

Nov 18, 2018 5:00 pm

We would like to congratulate our partner, Wildlife Photographer & Citizen Scientist, Tashi Ghale, who has been selected as a 2018 Disney Conservation Hero.


He received the award for his dedication to conservation of Snow Leopards and their habitat in his community! Tashi works with the Conservancy’s Snow Leopard Scout program in Nepal and is an expert in camera trap photography.

Tashi Ghale camera trap Annual Report

The Disney Conservation Fund actively supports the world’s leading conservation organizations with funds and professional resources to save wildlife and habitats, inspire action, and protect the planet.  This commitment is reflected through the fund’s comprehensive focus on stabilizing and increasing the populations of 10 different at-risk species including apes, butterflies, coral reefs, cranes, elephants, monkeys, rhinos, sea turtles, sharks and rays, and tigers. DCF also provides grants to support conservation programs that engage communities in comprehensive solutions that serve people, wildlife and habitats. Learn more about the Disney Conservation Fund. 

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Youth Raise Money for Snow Leopards

Sep 14, 2018 7:18 pm
Jenkin's fundraiser
Three boys from the UK recently raised money for snow leopards. Nine-year-old Sonny Jenkin did a sponsored sea swim while his 5-year-old brother Fynn and their friend, Fabian Giltsoff, sold homemade pizza on their local beach in Budleigh Salterton, Devon.


Mom Heather Jenkin tells us that Sonny is very passionate about helping endangered animals. At age 5, he raised money for jaguars and last year for red pandas. This year he chose to sponsor snow leopards. When asked why, he answered, ” they are beautiful animals, and I love the pattern on their fur. I decided to raise money for them because they are endangered, and I feel very sorry for them. They are being murdered by poachers, and that needs to stop!”


So, as Heather said, “Sonny swam far out into the sea between 3 buoys”, with the encouragement of his family. As he swam, they chanted “swim for the snow leopards Sonny!”


We at the Snow Leopard Conservancy would like to express our heartfelt thanks to the boys for their  ingenuity and generosity. They are, indeed, an inspiration. We must all remember to “keep swimming” to help save the snow leopard and all precious wildlife species with whom we share this planet.


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