Are snow leopards in decline in Nepal?

July 28, 2009
Snow leopard numbers decline in mountains of Nepal. Photo by Sibylle.

Snow leopard numbers decline in mountains of Nepal. Photo by Sibylle.

The news about snow leopards in Nepal seems to be mixed.  The Myrepublica website, a news website from Nepal has reported that the number of snow leopards there has been estimated to have declined – now believed to be between 300 and 400, while previously their number was estimated to be between 400 and 500. Counting of snow leopards was done in the mountainous region from Ganesh Himal to Rolwaling, Sagarmatha, Makalu Varun and Kanchanjungha with the financial help from WWF America, England and Finland. The same report says that the tiger population has also declined. Hopefully these number can be improved in the next years by more conservation efforts. See Report here.

However snow leopard researchers say that the evidence isn’t clear to suggest that number are down, just that the data is being interpreted differently. Let’s hope they’re right. See Snow Leopard Network for more on this discussion.


July 24, 2009
Leon at Melbourne Zoo. Photo by Glenn McColl.

Leon at Melbourne Zoo. Photo by Glenn McColl.

I’m amazed at how dedicated and passionate people are about the animals they sponsor at Melbourne Zoo. Recently I spoke with Glenn McColl, a very keen snow leopard photographer about all the terrific photos he’s taken of Meo, Tashi and Gobi in the last few months. Glenn hasn’t done any formal photography training training but is self  taught through reading and taking many pictures, seeing what works and what doesn’t.

He explained the secrets of his best photos.

Glenn McColl, keen snow leopard photographer at Melbourne Zoo

Glenn McColl, keen snow leopard photographer at Melbourne Zoo

”Taking photos at Zoos takes time and patience as I’m sure you’re aware. Each visit I try not only too take a great shot, but also research a little into the behavior of the animal at a certain time during the day in order to know when they are most active. For the snow leopards, first thing in the morning when the Zoo opens and about the last hour before closing are the main times that I try to photograph. The cubs and Meo are most active around these times, as are many of the animals at the Zoo.I also like this time because of the lighting.”

Glenn is so enthusiastic about the cats that he’s planning visits to other zoos in Australia to photograph their snow leopards over the next few months.

“I’d love to do a trip to Mongolia some day just to be in the snow leopard’s habitat and hopefully see one in the wild. In the meantime, I’ll continue to work at my craft and support and sponsor these beautiful cats. Opportunities like my recent photo submission to the Snow Leopard Trust give me the greatest satisfaction in giving something back for the pleasure the animals give me from behind the lens.”

You can see more of Glenn’s photos here on the Melbourne Zoo Friends of Snow Leopards website.

Support snow leopard conservation and the Snow Leopard Trust with Glenn’s photo’s on T-shirts and other products here.

Stories of shape shifting snow leopards

July 23, 2009
Jackie Morris 'The Snow Leopard' book cover.

Jackie Morris 'The Snow Leopard' book cover.

Children’s author/illustrator Jackie Morris has written and illustrated a beautiful book, The Snow Leopard about the Wakhi people in Afghanistan. Talk about being seduced by a book’s cover – the illustrations are beautiful.

The story, based on ancient village tales, concerns a shape-shifting guardian (the locals call them mergichans) in the body of the wide-eyed snow leopard. As a protector she guards an infinity of mountain realms and the people in them but it is time to find some-one to take her place. In this tale the snow leopard protector seeks out a young girl to train in the wisdom of guradianship. Not only is the story intriguing for kids (our friend’s young girl sat with the book for hours) but it also has a lovely (but subtle) environmental message about the future of mountains.

This book is a beautiful way to introduce young children to snow leopards. I was going to give the book as a present, but I can’t part with it, so will just have to buy another 🙂

More about the Wakhi people and their supernatural snow leopard guardians on the Myths page of the Snow Leopard Conservancy’s website here.

Raising our glasses to snow leopards

July 23, 2009
Snow Leopard Vodka

Snow Leopard Vodka

Amazing how many different ways there are to help in the conservation of our beautiful wild snow leopards. Here’s another one. Glasgow whisky maker, Whyte and Mackay has committed to a conservation partnership to support the Snow Leopard Trust by donating 15% from profits of sales of their new Snow Leopard vodka.

The money will support a couple of projects in Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia both of which  help educate local communities on their region’s fragile ecosystems. The aim of the community education is to inform children and adult villagers on how to protect the snow leopard as well as teaching new enterprises to enable them to earn more income.

Mystical ice snow leopard

July 15, 2009
A very mystical ice snow leopard keeping Tashi, Gobi and Meo company at Melbourne Zoo. It only lasted for a few days in our mild winter weather but was a real draw card for visitors and the snowies liked it too. Photo by Sibylle.

A very mystical ice snow leopard keeping Tashi, Gobi and Meo company at Melbourne Zoo. It only lasted for a few days in our mild winter weather but was a real draw card for visitors and the snowies liked it too. Photo by Sibylle (at 7.30 in the morning, that's why it's dark!)

Snow leopard cubs get exam & full physical

July 13, 2009

This is exciting – we can see an indepth examination of the snow leopard cubs (now 6 weeks old) at Woodland Zoo, Seattle USA. There’s a lot to do, weighing, measuring, checking, vaccinations etc. This is the most comprehensive video of a zoo examination I’ve ever seen. And the little guys are so calm and placid, just quietly staring at everyone with huge sad eyes 🙂 But they do get raw chicken for reward, their first ever hard food while mum Helen looks on. Congratulations to staff at the Zoo for doing such an indepth exam and videoing it.(Produced by Ryan Hawk.)

Illegal hunting and killing of snow leopards

July 7, 2009
Traffic International "Fading Footprints" 2003

Traffic International "Fading Footprints" 2003

I’m reading one of the most comprehensive and powerful reports on the trade of wild snow leopards called “Fading Footprints – the killing and trade of snow leopards.”

It’s a huge piece of research, published in 2003 by TRAFFIC it makes quite depressing reading. At the time the research was conducted, despite legislation protecting snow leopards in most of their range countries, they are still being hunted and killed for furs and body parts for traditional medicines. When furs can be sold for $US300-$US800 its easy to see the incentive. Retribution killing by farmers protecting livestock is also still common especially in areas where they’ve had not education about how to protect their livestock.

Recognising that all the range countries have different challenges the report outlines many recommendations for how things could be improved, like strengthening enforcement of the laws. This makes sense. Having laws isn’t enough if they can’t be enforced then snow leopards hunting will continue. The antipoaching team, the Gruppa Bars in Kyrgyztan (see my recent blog post) is one example of this.

 Other recommendations include helping the local communities that share snow leopard habitat which is one of the most important things that both the Snow Leopard Trust and the Snow Leopard Conservancy are doing. Its been found that when local communities understand how rare and endangered the snow leopards are they are willing to work to protect it if they aren’t financially disadvantaged.

The report is almost 6 years old. Much has been done by many dedicated agencies and people throughout the range countries. But there’s no doubt that the cats are still under huge threats.