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.


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.


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.”


Wild snow leopard released

June 11, 2009
Wild snow leopard about to be released in China. Photo Xinhua

Wild snow leopard about to be released in China. Photo Xinhua

A female snow leopard was released back into the wild in northwest China this week after receiving care for a respiratory tract infection. She hesitated a few seconds after the cage was opened, then rushed to the woods without looking back at the people in the wildlife protection group who had taken care of her since she was found 6 weeks ago.  “She was exhausted and panting when she was found. We believed she was too sick to hunt from an infection and so she came into the village to look for food,” said Zhao Chongxue, a researcher with the Gansu Endangered Animal Research Center.  Staff added medicine to food and water for the snow leopard for 10 days essentially curing her, Zhao added.
The animal is listed as endangered in China, the same level as the giant panda. Full article Snow Leopard Network.

A good news story, let’s hope the local population can help protect her from poachers who may have been following the news. According to the Research Center staff, the area where they released her is ideal snow leopard habitat, sparsely populated and a lot of prey species.


In the field – research in Xinjiang, China

February 28, 2009
alimujan-xianjiang-china-project

Photo by Xinjiang Snow Leopard Project

The Xinjiang Snow Leopard Project (XSLP) is an initiative started by the Beijing Forestry University and the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) at Oxford University. You can read about the project on their website –

The team is working closely with the Xinjiang Government and local communities to research what’s happening with snow leopards and their prey in the Taxkurgan Nature Reserve of West Xinjiang.

The last published information about snow leopard numbers in this area is from the 1980s where George Schaller estimated in one of the local communities that there were between 50 and 75 snow leopards. This project is really important to see what has happened to the snow leopards here in the last 20 odd years. They already know from sightings by local herders that there are snow leopards still in the area and the 2009 work will help to establish numbers and impacts on local herder communities.

The team is keeping a blog of the project. Check it out here