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.

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!

Tracking snow leopards over 60km in Mongolia

March 23, 2010

Map showing Snow Leopard Trust Mongolia camp and movement of some of the collared cats. This is the most successful project ever to collar cats and research their behavior and movement over lengthy periods of time. Follow the adventures of the team and the cats on the SLT Blog. Map from SLT Blog.

This project is making snow leopard research history, no doubt about it. The Snow Leopard Trust continues to gather huge amounts of data with a new male cat collared in Mongolia on February 16th. The snow leopard, called M7 by the Trust team, has covered rugged terrain across mountains and made a kill. The team are having world breaking success in this project,  having collared 7 cats in total now and following them with the GPS collars for over a year.

Read more of the team’s adventures and follow in the footsteps of the collared snow leopards in the stark and remote south Gobi area of Mongolia on the  Snow Leopard Trust Blog.

Meet all the collared cats and read about their foibles and their movements on the Trust’s Blog here.

Poems and paintings of the Princess of Snow

March 18, 2010

Karma Wangchuk in mountains of Bhutan, a keen conservationist, teacher, poet and artist.

Karma Wangchuk from Bhutan, the tiny Himalayan “Kingdom of the Thunder Dragon” sent me some beautiful paintings and poems about snow leopards.

Karma teaches English at the College of Education in Paro, one of Bhutan’s main towns. He’s a keen nature lover and loves cooking, trekking, travelling, drama, dance, gardening and music. He has contributed paintings for the book “The Mammals of Bhutan.”

I was really impressed with Karma’s enthusiasm for his country’s environment and the endangered snow leopards there. As a teacher I’m sure he’ll be able to have a powerful influence over the way his country’s younger generation respond to wildlife like snow leopards in the coming years.

Karma’s interest in snow leopards was inspired by George Schaller’s very first pictures of snow leopard in the wild in the National Geographic magazine and like many of us, reading that wonderful book by Peter Matthiessen “The Snow Leopard”.

Karma's beautiful painting of a snow leopard. He travelled to India many times to see snow leopards in a Zoo there to do this lovely work.

As he’s never seen a snow leopard in the wild in Bhutan (neither have most people), Karma went all the way to a zoo in northern India, eight times, to see the snow leopard he’s painted in these lovely works. True dedication.

Bhutan (and the world) needs people like Karma!

The Emblem of Bhutan, tiny kingdom in the Himalayas and home to snow leopards

Karma’s Poems
I am a leopard of the snow
When the summer is high my spots glow.
Beware! It is a fatal force.
I am as silent as spirit
And as swift as the wind,
I am ever watching you
Though you do not see me,
You try to trace me
But I cannot be,
I live a lofty life
Where the snow meet the space
And where cold is second death.
I am the leopard of the snow
And when you steal my glow
You humans!
It will perhaps be my last glow.


Higher! Higher still
Than the tricky towering peaks,
Challenging the prowess
Of this awe-inspiring denizen;
In the land of Yeti,
With its jagged rocks
And abyss of death.
Vast, virgin snow
Numbly awaiting gloom
In its unseen clutch.
But the spirit sneaks up undeterred,
Nonchalant stare, shunning vertigo,
Humbling every pass and peak.

Rejoice in this feline face!
Pass the tidings of its regal grace!
Always there and always aware,
Princess of snow,
Princess less known
To this dreary world of restless souls.

Mother and cubs photographed for first time in Tuva

March 17, 2010

First ever photos of snow leopards in Tuva, Russia. A mother and two cubs. Photo taken by Alexander Kuksin.

The first Russian-Mongolian research expedition to study snow leopard numbers in the Republic of Tuva ( tiny republic in the south of Russia) took the first ever photographs of snow leopards in that region.

The team found 14 tracks of the cats on the Tsagan-Shibetu ridge in the western part of the country just in the last few weeks. The photos include an adult female with her two grown cubs.

A close up of snow leopard in the tiny Republic of Tuva, southern part of Russia. First ever photos of snow leopards taken there last week. Photo by Alexander Kuksin.

Next month the research will continue across the border in Mongolia. Meanwhile the Russian team, along with WWF is also working on the possibility of eco-tourism in the region to support the local people in this remote part of the world where there is little in the way of employment. This is truly good news about snow leopard numbers in this region, a  hope that although numbers are small, they may be increasing.

Read more about Tuva and see a map at Wikipedia.

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.