New “Saving Snow Leopards” Blog design soon

April 11, 2010

New "Saving Snow Leopards" blog will be launched soon. Here's a preview of the new banner.

After almost 20 months of blogging here on the “Saving Snow Leopards” blog I felt it was time for a redesign to make the site bigger and better. The visitor numbers have grown to around 350 per day, a number of couldn’t have dreamed of when I started.

I know Apple Mac has a lot to do with this. Two, three years ago many people I talked to about snow leopards said they didn’t realise it was a real animal, but now thanks the OS, and all the many snow leopard conservation projects out there, millions of people around the globe know more, and care more, about our favorite endangered cats. So time for a more flexible and professional blog theme and hopefully it’ll be launched over the next few weeks. (Fingers crossed, we all know how hard this techie stuff can be, especially for some-one as techie-illiterate as me. But I’ve got a couple of nice creative people helping me 🙂

Stay tuned for the new site soon. It’ll be on a professional theme, Thesis, by Chris Pearson.


Xinjiang China snow leopard project expands

April 11, 2010

Philip Riordan, Xinjiang China Snow Leopard Project

The Xinjiang Snow Leopard Project team is back in China – and they’ve expanded their work from just Xinjiang province to across China, a very big task and we wish them luck!

The project has been running for a few years and is headed up by Philip Riordan, senior researcher at Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit. Philip says in his blog “ we’re being encouraged by the Chinese authorities to include other provinces in our project.  Kun and I paid a visit to Sichuan in the summer and were delighted to find signs of snow leopard in Wolong Biosphere Reserve and giant panda hang-out. We have support from the local forestry administration and hope to survey areas on the eastern edge of the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau in the coming winter, so expect more boring discussion of warm clothing and ice! Excitingly, the Sichuan Forestry Administration have taken some photos of snow leopards using remote camera traps and I hope to be able to post these up soon.”

Snow leopard photographed by the Xinjiang China Snow Leopard Project in Wolong Nature Reserve, China.

What I especially like about Philip’s approach is his empathy with the local community as well as the endangered cats he’s researching and trying to save. Commenting on a recent prosecution in Xinjiang of two farmers accused of killing a snow leopard Philip says, “These are farmers from a very poor community, trying to protect their family interests and stop a snow leopard taking their livestock. Hard line conservationists will view any illegal killing of endangered wildlife as a serious and punishable crime. Legislation in China, and other countries, to protect endangered species enshrine this principle, but less than hard-liners hope that court systems will allow for some sensitivity.

Xinjiang province, China, bordering on Tibet. Wikipedia map.

“We need sensitivity, because the people living and working with snow leopards and other dangerous or damaging wildlife hold the solution to their protection. In an ever increasingly crowded world, we cannot separate people from these animals, so we must find ways to ensure that vulnerable communities are not disadvantaged by the goals of conservation.”

This is an exciting project and you can catch more about how its going on Philip’s blog here.

Help Mongolia’s herdsmen and women in worst winter in decades

April 11, 2010

Men standing with livestock killed by extreme winter in Mongolia. Photo Sheila Zhao, GlobalPost

Mongolia has been going through a “dzud,” an extremely cold winter following a summer drought. According to the Mongolian government, an estimated 4.5 million animals have died across the country in the last few months, a huge blow to the herding community that makes up a large part of the population.

A nomadic herdswoman in remote part of Mongolia suffering worst winter cold and snow in decades. Photo by Sheila Zhao, GlobalPost

Record snowfalls and temperatures plummeted to minus 50 degrees Celsius (minus 59 Farenheit), making this the worst dzud in decades.

Herding communities depend on livestock for 90% of their income and officials worry an increase in crime, begging and prostitution may result, as desperate herding families, unable to find alternatives, seek to feed themselves and their families.

In the southern part of Mongolia, snow leopard region, the “dzud” may also encourage snow leopard poaching, despite recent years of successful community collaboration projects with organisations like the Snow Leopard Trust, protecting the endangered cats.

The government and UNICEF have appealed to the local and international community for urgent support to reach the herders with fodder, fuel, medicines, food and warm clothing.

Rana Flowers, UNICEF Representative in Mongolia said recently,  “The UN is acutely aware of the need to reach increasingly isolated populations with fuel and medicines, to get those in need out to trained medical care and to provide hygiene kits to stem the spread of disease, to ensure safe delivery and newborn care and to prevent the deepening of chronic malnutrition in this country.”

UNICEF says it faces a critical need for an additional USD 400,000 for medical supplies, equipment, micronutrients, and hygiene interventions as well as $322,000 to reach the growing number of affected communities with other life saving interventions.

The Snow Leopard Trust (SLT) has established a relief fund to help families through this crisis. An SLT partner, the Snow Leopard Trust UK, is giving $12,000 raised by Snow Leopard Vodka for aid like hay for remaining livestock. ‘Good on you’ to the folks at Snow Leopard Vodka!

If you’d like to support this effort to help the herding communities of Mongolia at this critical time you can do so through the Snow Leopard Trust here.

Deborah Peters, wildlife artist and “Cat of the heavens”

April 5, 2010

Deborah Peters snow leopard painting, "Cat of the Heavens".

Today I’m featuring another wildlife artist who has done a painting of a snow leopard. I’m in awe of these generous and talented people. And it’s been fascinating to feature some of these artists and see how they interpret the same animal so differently, but each with a sense of wonder and enchantment. See Martin Aveling’s “An eye to the future” and Michael Pape’s “Ghost of a Chance”

Today it’s Deborah Peters who has worked in computer animation and 3D in the film industry. She says what she learned there was “Show the story”. She enjoys pushing the envelope with extreme close ups and cropped compositions; what doesn’t enhance the story gets edited out of the picture.

Deborah snow leopard painting is titled “Cat of the Heavens” and she says, “I’ve always loved animals and started painting the Big Cats a few years ago. There’s something so regal and majestic about them. I’ve always been infatuated with the Snow Leopard’s beauty, but when I started reading about them on the Snow Leopard Trust website, they truly are unique from other cats. Their elusiveness, endangerment and yet ability to just hide from man unless they choose to be seen, is amazing to me.

Deborah Peters, wildlife artist.

“The desire to learn more about those I love to paint has been my focus this year. Up till now, I simply appreciated the beauty and soul of these animals. A little research unveiled some disturbing truths on how many are just trying to survive.

“This painting I’ve done is 36″ high by 24” wide, larger than life-size. I wanted to share this beautiful face that is aware of the viewer’s presence, but not threatened, just boldly staring back with those eyes that stare straight through us. What would she say if she could? And can we appreciate this moment? For me, doing this painting was humbling and I’m so proud to be partnered with the Snow Leopard Trust, who have truly found ways to help that make sense for the local people sharing the lovely cats’ domain.”

Thanks so much Deborah, this is a strong and stunning work. I love the color of what looks like sunlight on the fur. And congratulations also on your support of endangered animals and the Snow Leopard Trust.

For readers who are interested in owning this magnificent work you have the option of the original oil or limited edition prints on canvas or paper. Check them out on Deborah’s website.

Snow leopards in Russia, the spectacular Altai mountains

April 5, 2010

Spectacular Altai Mountains in Siberia. Photo The Altai Project.

I’ve become very interested in the Altai region in Russia recently because it’s snow leopard habitat and it’s likely I’ll be there this July. I’ve been trying to find the word the local people use for snow leopard and got an email from Jennifer Castner, the Director of the Altai Project.

But first, where is the Altai you might ask, as I did when I first heard about it. Well, it’s the unique and diverse mountain region of southern Siberia. And parts of the Altai have been declared a natural UNESCO World Heritage site for their importance in the preservation of endangered mammals, such as snow leopard, the Altai argali (a wild sheep) and the Siberian Ibex (wild goat). There are also some very ancient archaeological remains.

Altai Mountains from the air. Photo by Francesco Bandarin, UNESCO.

There’s a lot of pressures on this spectacular area, from gas pipelines to inappropriate development and underemployment of many of the local population. The Altai Project (based in California) is a small organisation working to ‘strengthen communities and protect nature in the Altai’. They’re working with local people and supporters from all over the world to protect the natural and cultural heritage and ways of life in the face of these challenges.

Archaeological remains in the Golden Mountains of Altai. Photo by Gary Tepfer UNESCO

One of the goals of The Altai Project is nature conservation, which includes endangered wildlife like the snow leopard. And like most snow leopard habitats, there is very little hard data on how many cats remain and the best way to support them in that region.

Jennifer is an expert on this remote part of the world. She’s lived and studied in Moscow and lived and worked in Kiev and is fluent in Russian. She’s travelled extensively in Siberia and the Russian Far East and Ukraine.

Here’s her explanation for the terms for snow leopard used by various peoples in this part of the world.

Jennifer – “I noticed (on the Saving Snow Leopard’s Blog) that you’ve been trying to figure out the term for snow leopard in Russian, and I’ve been rather idly wondering about the exact etymology of the terms I know. 🙂 In the Altaian range of their habitat, they seem to refer to them mostly as “(snezhny) bars”, but also as “irbis.”

I hunted around a bit online to better understand the differences. Neither word is actually Russian in origin, which I knew. ‘Snezhny’ is a Russian adjective means ‘snowy’. That’s easy.

‘Bars’ seems to come to Russian from Iranian/Persian (and possibly further back from a Turkic language, depending on where you look. It seems to refer to any big cat, but generally is used for ‘snow leopard’ and is in common use across Russia. (The Amur leopard is called a ‘leopard’ in Russian. ‘Tigr’ for tiger.)

‘Irbis” is definitely a Turkic word for snow leopard or just panther/big cat. It’s the term used in the Altaian language and probably some of the other indigenous (Turkic) peoples living in historic snow leopard habitat. I think it’s more localized in use, but still recognizable to many people who know their wildlife.”

Thanks Jennifer. ‘Snezhny’ for snow is good to know, although I think in July there won’t be too much of that when I go, but ‘Bars’ is a useful word in any-one’s language!

Curry and candles for Earth hour

March 29, 2010
Earth Hour for Saving Snow Leopards

Another small step to helping the planet and thereby helping our endangered wildlife.

So we had a dozen friends around on Saturday night, a nice way to celebrate Earth hour. I cooked the curries and they all brought a candle 🙂

Good fun and we saved a heap of electricity as we sat all night talking about life and the state of the world (and food) in the candle light.

Good news from UN meeting on illegal wildlife trade

March 23, 2010

We can be cautiously optimistic about news from Doha in Qatar where the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) has been meeting. Seems an agreement has been reached on wildlife trade which could mean that trading in illegal tiger parts will be treated as seriously as dealing in arms and drug trafficking. The agreement states the EU and tiger range countries will use INTERPOL to share intelligence against poachers and traders.

The news has implications for countries not acting on their people  illegally trading in snow leopard parts too. All parties to CITES have agreed to monitor the illegal trade in these endangered cats along with the tigers.

Without the co-operation of major enforcement communities it’s been difficult to make headway despite all snow leopard range countries having laws against the killing and sale of snow leopards.

“There have been many promises this week, but getting countries to actually use these new enforcement tactics will be the real test of the commitment to ending tiger trade, and saving the species”, said Debbie Banks, Senior Campaigner at the Environmental Investigation Agency, and Chair of the Species Survival Network’s Big Cat Working Group.

“Time is running out for tigers and other big cats. Tiger range countries and consumer nations need to work together to reduce demand for their parts and stamp out the illegal tiger trade”, said Avinash Basker, Legal Consultant to the Wildlife Protection Society of India.

Tiger and snow leopard conservationists have another piece of weaponry now, but it will still require action and followup. This means more money for CITES, which is currently only funded to around $5m per year, a pittance when we consider all the flora and fauna that’s endangered and the support that developing nations especially, need to protect their endangered species.