Mongolian recipe to celebrate snow leopard blog birthday

October 31, 2009
Bayara. Photo from Panthera website.

Bayara. Photo from Panthera website.

 Here’s the next recipe to celebrate the snow leopard blog’s first birthday. I’m covering a recipe from each of the 12 snow leopard range countries. I haven’t been to Mongolia so I recently asked Bayarjargal (Bayara) Agvaantseren the Executive Director and founder of the Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation (SLCF) in Mongolia for a suggested recipe. I’ve wanted to blog about Bayara anyway as she recently won the $25,000 Rabinowitz-Kaplan Prize for the Next Generation in Wild Cat Conservation. The prize goes to “a special individual who has already made a significant contribution to conserving wild cats.” 

SLE rug from mongolia. Photo by Sibylle.

SLE rug from Mongolia. Photo by Sibylle.

I’m a big fan of Bayara’s as she is the one who started the community-based conservation program now known as Snow Leopard Enterprises (SLE) in Mongolia. SLE supports the semi-nomadic herders in Mongolia, helping them increase their income through handicraft production in exchange for their tolerance of snow leopards. I’ve blogged about the beautiful crafts these people make before and indeed have a number of their rugs hanging on my study wall. They are sold here through the Snow Leopard Trust website. I’ll give another plug – they make wonderful Christmas presents and it’s definitely that time of year to to think about presents. 

Bayara began her career in snow leopard conservation as a member with Tom McCarthy’s (from the Snow Leopard Trust) snow leopard research team. She worked as a translator with herders and helps to understand human-snow leopard conflicts. She’s also been key in formulating Mongolia’s National Snow Leopard Policy and most recently played a key role in initiating the first ever long-term ecological study of snow leopards in South Gobi, Mongolia. 

See more about the prize on the Panthera website.

Mongolian steamed Buuz. Photo from Mongolfood website.

Mongolian steamed Buuz. Photo from Mongolfood website.

Bayara’s recipe is for Buuz – which is dough filled with traditionally lamb in Mongolia, but can be filled with chicken, beef or vegetables and then steamed. While I haven’t ever made them with lamb (not one of my favourites I must say) I have made them with chicken – absolutely delicious. The secret is all in the steaming method and making sure they don’t stick to the steamer which for some reason mine do all the time. Bayara suggests this recipe here.

 I’ve created a page for all the Snow Leopard blog birthday recipes together – see it here.

China still trading illegal snow leopard skins

October 28, 2009

EIA logoThe Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) recently conducted undercover investigations into the illegal big cat skin and bone trade in China and found it easy to get tiger, snow leopard and other leopard skins.

‘China has really run out of excuses. They tell us they are doing their best, but we have been warning them about this for years and there are still huge gaps in their enforcement effort. If they can put a man into space, they can do more to save the wild tiger’, said Debbie Banks, Lead Campaigner at the Environmental Investigation Agency.

The EIA team did three weeks of undecover work during July and August this year and captured the illegal trade on film using a hidden camera while they enquired about animal skins on sale. During this time they were offered 11 snow leopard skins as well as many other cat parts. In a sad video the sellers show skins from Nepal, Mongolia, Pakistan and Afghanistan. “We can get you anything you want,” they say.

While buying and selling any big cat parts is definitely illegal in China it seems a lot of this activity is actually not too difficult to find in many parts of China including Tibet. Researchers found local officials in the vicinity of the shops trading the illegal goods and people at a horse festival in Tibet openly wearing skins in view of local authorities.

The EIA believes that the skins are less in demand from Tibetans themselves these days – perhaps the plea from the Dalai Lama in 2006 for Tibetans to stop wearing skins of endangered animals has worked. But demand from middle class and wealthy Chinese business people, army personell and government officials has not dropped. The skins are bought for home décor or clothing in Tibet and China, costing huge amounts of money that more people can now afford. A snow leopard skins costs around $US2200.

According to the EIA the illegal trade is organised by extensive criminal networks. ‘There is some law enforcement in China, in a few regions, but there are whole swathes of the country where this trade is allowed to carry on with almost no fear of detection. A mixture of corruption and apathy is helping to decimate endangered species and is indicative of what is happening to the wider environment,’ said Alasdair Cameron of EIA.

The EIA has provided the Chinese government with this sort of evidence for over 5 years but there appears so much localised corruption that little has changed.

The Environmental Investigation Agency is a UK-based Non Government Organisation that investigates and campaigns against environmental crime including illegal wildlife trade.

See BBC story and video here.

India Today imageSee interview with Debbie Banks from India Today TV.

Searching for Snow Leopards in February 2010

October 26, 2009
Jigmet Dadul, best snow leopard tracker in Ladakh. Photo kind permission of Snow Leopard Conservancy.

Jigmet Dadul, best snow leopard tracker in Ladakh. Photo kind permission of Snow Leopard Conservancy.

In 1997 I trekked in Hemis National Park, in Ladakh, in the northern Indian Himalayas. Along with 8 other volunteers and two snow leopard researchers (Dr Joe Fox and Dr Som Ale) we searched for scrapes, scat and any markings that told us that snow leopards still survived here in these awesome mountains after decades of being hunted for fur and body parts. We found a few signs but never saw the elusive cat. Not surprising as until recently even researchers working for decades in the wild seldom spotted these cats.
At that time the local villagers felt snow leopards were the enemy – the cats often killed domestic livestock if they weren’t able to get wild prey. Trekkers passing through these mountains had no idea that an animal called the snow leopard even existed let alone that this was one of its native habitats. There was huge uncertainty about their future. Could the beautiful snow leopard ever gain a claw hold for survival in these spectacular mountains?

But next February, in 2010 I’ll be there again…this time 12 years older, a bit rounder in the middle and in the dead of winter…yikes…

Cafe stop high on the trek. Parachute Cafe. Photo by kind permission of KarmaQuest.

Cafe stop high on the trek. Parachute Cafe. Photo by kind permission of KarmaQuest.

12 years later so much has changed. Thanks to the Snow Leopard Conservancy (SLC) and other conservation groups the villagers today supplement their agricultural-based livelihoods by helping keep the snow leopard alive. They have home stay businesses where trekkers use traditional accommodation, eat local food and learn about the Ladakh way of life. Village women also have businesses tending parachute cafes for thirsty trekkers on high mountain trails. *

KarmaQuest Ecotourism and Adventure Travel, a US-based company has been running winter snow leopard tracking trips with one of the world’s most renowned snow leopard researchers, Dr Rodney Jackson, Director of the Snow Leopard Conservancy to this part of the world since 2005. And why go in winter? Well winter is the time snow leopards come down to lower altitude and offers the best chance of seeing these rare and endangered cats in the wild.

The other trip members and I will join the SLC-India staff on their winter monitoring activities, studying the snow leopard when it descends from the snowy mountaintops in search of food, studying prey species and the snow leopard’s habitat.

Solar cooking technology. Indian Himalayas. Photo by kind permission of Snow Leopard Conservancy.

Solar cooking technology. Indian Himalayas. Photo by kind permission of Snow Leopard Conservancy.

No doubt we’ll all be thinking about the 2007 winter group that was lucky enough to observe a snow leopard eating its kill for more than an hour. Thus far KarmaQuest group members have seen a snow leopard every year! Considering that less than 100 Westerners had seen a snow leopard in the wild before 2005, this is a phenomenal rate of success!  And all thanks to the years of study, tracking and conservation efforts by Dr. Jackson and his Ladakhi team, of which Jigmet Dadul – reputed to be the ‘best snow leopard tracker in Ladakh’– will be there to help us beat the odds.

There are still trip places available for this fantastic opportunity. Check out the website from the folks over at KarmaQuest  and talk to Wendy Lama, an Ecotourism Specialist who has been travelling and working in this part of the world for many years. This is the trek of a lifetime, it would be wonderful if I saw you there too. The deadline for signing up is November 30, 2009.
*Parachute cafes – my other half wondered “are they cafes where adventure parachutists drop in to for a tea or latte?” No….they portable cafés made out of – you guessed it – parachute material.

Himalayas getting warmer – Blog Action Day for snow leopards

October 15, 2009
Our thick fur doesn't like global warming.

Our thick fur doesn't like global warming.

This blog supports “Blog Action Day” today, October 15th. It’s a global annual event uniting thousands of bloggers when today we post about climate change and global warming. What a great idea, to be linked to thousands of like minded people helping to bring ideas and action and learning about climate change across the globe. We are all in this together.

So just for the record. Snow leopards like the snow, they like the cold. That’s why they are snow leopards. They like it very cold up in their mountain habitats. They don’t have that thick fur, huge warm tail so they can spend time in the tropics. They are not happy with global warming. There is a lot of scientific evidence to show that the average temperature of the Himalayas is actually rising faster than many other parts of our earth. See The Age (Melbourne) article on receding glaciers in the Himalayas.

We CAN take action people. We CAN all do something. Turn the aircon off, eat less meat, drive a smaller car, drive less……it’s all doable. Think of those beautiful snow leopards and let them enjoy snow and cold for more centuries to come. Support Blog Action Day – 12,017 blogs – 155 countries – 17,875,239 readers.

Stop the presses! Gordon Brown, PM of the United Kingdom has joined the bloggers on this today and Greenpeace and Oxfam have also taken part. CNN has just done a feature story on Blog Action Day and not surprisingly Blog Action Day is the top Google search.

George Schaller working magic for snow leopards again

October 8, 2009
George Schaller with snow leopard cub. Photo by WCS.

George Schaller with snow leopard cub. Photo by WCS.

I’ve mentioned George Schaller many times on this blog – Ok, he’s my hero. He’s probably done more for snow leopard conservation than anyone else on the planet. George won the Indianapolis Prize in 2008 and during 2009 used the money  for snow leopard activities in China. Currently Vice President of Panthera and Senior Conservationist for the Wildlife Conservation Society, George visited China’s Qinghai Province in May 2009 to  help initiate snow leopard programs supported by Panthera, an organization whose mission is to conserve the world’s 36 species of wild cats.

The Indianapolis Prize has just reported on George’s work there. Most of his work was conducted in the Sanjiangyuan Reserve (“Source of Three Rivers Reserve”—Yellow, Yangtze, Mekong ), which covers nearly 58,000 square miles, primarily at elevations above 11,800 feet.  In addition to assessing snow leopard presence and threats, the trip provided Peking University Ph.D. student Li Juan with the training she needs to start a snow leopard study this year. George and Juan traveled more than 2,600 miles to evaluate potential study areas for the student’s research project, and George will continue to mentor Juan as she pursues her Ph.D.

While in Asia, George met with representatives from the Snow Leopard Trust and Shan Shui, one of the leading conservation organizations in China , to create a new collaborative snow leopard research and conservation program. These organizations signed a long-term agreement that will bring much needed expertise and funding to efforts to save snow leopards in China , where as much as 50 percent of the remaining wild population exists.

“George Schaller’s extensive research, fieldwork and training have been essential to saving snow leopards in regions of China ,” said Tom McCarthy , Director of Snow Leopard Programs for Panthera. “I can’t think of a better use of the Indianapolis Prize funds than teaching future generations the urgency and necessity of wildlife conservation.”

“The important aspects of this project for me,” added Michael Crowther, president and CEO of the Indianapolis Zoo, “are its collaborative and long-term nature.  It’s George’s innate ability to bring people together and to forge alliances that overcome the short-term problems of political or geographic conflicts in order to serve the greater good that makes him a hero for me, and for the world.  It seems he has again worked his magic for the snow leopards.”

Snow leopard blog birthday recipes

October 5, 2009
Doma (r) making Tibetan Khapsey. Photo by Sibylle.

Doma (r) making Tibetan Khapsey. Photo by Sibylle.

To celebrate the first birthday of the “Saving Snow Leopards” blog I’m going to post a recipe from each of the 12 snow leopard countries in central Asia during the next month. The first one here is one of my favorites – Tibetan Khapseys. They are traditionally made and eaten for Losar – Tibetan New Year. A couple of years ago I spent Losar in Kathmandu with my dear friend Doma who spent days making these lovingly for her family and friends. They were absolutely delicious! 

Tibetan Khapsey shapes. Photo by Sibylle.

Tibetan Khapsey shapes. Photo by Sibylle.

You’ll see from the photos that Doma shapes her Khapseys beautifully, and it takes her ages. I have given the method for making them much more quickly but you can copy her shape if you like.



1 kg white flour / 2 g salt /Vegetable fat to fry -ghee or vegetable oil / sugar


Golden brown Khapsey after being fried. Photo by Sibylle.

Golden brown Khapsey after being fried. Photo by Sibylle.

Knead flour with the salt and enough water to make a thick dough. Roll the dough into medium sized balls.
Heat vegetable fat or oil in a deep pot or wok until it steams. Flatten out each of the balls until they are long and slim, about 10 cm long and give each a twist just as you dip gently into the oil. Keep them submerged in the oil and fry until the edges are toasted. Strain the oil and keep separated, preferably on the kitchen paper to get rid of excess oil. When still hot sprinkle lightly with sugar. Khapseys keep for months in airtight containers.

Snow leopard blog celebrates first birthday

October 5, 2009
Saving Snow Leopards Blog 1st birthday

Saving Snow Leopards Blog 1st birthday

This snow leopard blog is now one year old! It’s been an amazing year for me, learning about blogs, learning more and more about snow leopards and ‘meeting’ so many like minded snow leopard conservationists, zoo staff, snow leopard supporters, animal lovers, photographers, writers, artists etc. So many people who have dedicated their lives and their life’s work to these animals in one way or another.

Over this year the blog has had almost 25,000 visits and the countries where people have visited from are not only the US, UK, Australia, Europe but also include Iceland, Tunisia, Iran and many many more. I’m often still in awe of this fabulous technology, the internet, which enables us to cross physical and cultural boundaries across the globe and share stories about the things we care about in common.

There’s no doubt the launch of Apple Mac’s OS X Snow Leopard has also brought many people to this blog who would otherwise not have visited. Some of those I know came by accident thinking the blog is about the OS X, but I also know from emails that many of those ‘accidents’ ended up looking at snow leopard photos and learning about this gorgeous endangered animal. Thanks Apple for helping us spread the word.

To celebrate I’m going to make a recipe from each of the 12 snow leopard countries in central Asia and I will share them here on the blog over the next month. Enjoy 🙂

Mistaken identity – Putin not releasing snow leopards

October 3, 2009
Persian leopard about to be released into a reserve near Sochin, Russia as PM Vladimir Putin looks on. Photo by AP, Alexei Druzhinin.
Persian leopard about to be released into a reserve near Sochin, Russia as PM Vladimir Putin looks on. Photo by AP, Alexei Druzhinin.

There’s been a lot of confused stories recently about Russian PM Vladimir Putin releasing snow leopards into a wildlife reserve as part of the promises in the lead up to the 2014 winter olympics. The animals are actually NOT snow leopards but Persian leopards. Recent media reports said that Putin released two snow leopards imported from Turkmenistan into the reserve near Sochi where the Winter Olympics will be held. This picture from AP wires clearly shows the beautiful cat is not a snow leopard. We wish the beautiful cats a good life in this reserve and the plan is to breed them and release any offspring into the wild, a very optimistic undertaking. I’m not sure if this has been done before. Certainly it’s never been possible to do it with snow leopards before but who knows, perhaps some day?