Home News News S.O.S.(L)… Save Our Snow Leopards!

S.O.S.(L)… Save Our Snow Leopards!

Did you know the biggest threat facing snow leopards is humans? We detail the threats these shy creatures face and how you can support them.

Snow leopards are one of our core species here at David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation (DSWF). And if you’ve followed us for any amount of time, you may know that our snow leopard ambassador, Dagina, is not just our resident super mum – but also probably the best studied snow leopard in the world, thanks to DSWF funding.

We work with our project partners, the Snow Leopard Trust (SLT), in Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia to monitor populations of this enigmatic big cat, and to engage the local communities living alongside them. In fact, DSWF is the only UK-based conservation charity directly supporting and funding the vital, species-saving work of the Snow Leopard Trust.

Why snow leopards need our help

Dangerous allure

Snow leopards have long been targeted by the illegal wildlife trade. Seldom seen and masters of their domain, they are capable of death-defying feats of agility, which adds allure to their natural mystique. Combined with their position as the apex predator of their environments, their bones and body parts have long been in demand for traditional medicine, but also as charms and marks of status.

For decades, their incredible fur was sought by global markets – which undoubtedly contributed to drastically reducing populations. Today, there could be fewer than 4,000 snow leopards in the wild. And worryingly, although the global fur trade is much diminished – a new market in the Middle East is driving renewed and prolific demand. Despite being strictly protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), enforcing and policing this in the remote regions the snow leopard calls home comes with obvious difficulties.

Confiscated snow leopard skin. Image Credit: Snow Leopard Trust.

A changing world

However, the biggest threats to snow leopards are associated with climate change. Milder winters and wetter springs have enabled the nomadic alpine communities across the snow leopard’s traditional range to encroach on previously more hostile territories. In fact, the Asian mountain regions the snow leopard calls home – known as ‘the third pole’ – are warming at twice the rate as the rest of the planet.

A milder climate is making these remote regions more accessible. For the first time ever, infrastructure can be added to the growing number of threats the snow leopard faces – with deaths attributed to road kills and from industrial pressures, such as mining. As humans converge upon these precious segments of pristine wilderness and homogenize them into grazing and industrial areas, the amount of viable snow leopard habitat is compromised and reduced further.

This impacts the entire ecosystem – as it not only reduces the available habitat for the snow leopard (just 10% of the protected areas across their range now hold viable populations), but also its prey – ibex and blue sheep (aka bharal). As humans encroach into these areas, they not only dominate the available grazing – but are also unlikely to ignore the opportunity to hunt available wild game. Whether through the eventual starving out of the native ibex and blue sheep, or due to increased hunting pressure from humans, the result is the same – much smaller numbers of available prey for the snow leopard.

Unfortunately in this instance, the snow leopard is incredibly adaptive. It can live in a world of shifting temperatures within reason (resisting the direct impact of climate change), but it will also all too readily adapt from a diet of ibex and bharal to domestic goats, sheep, cattle, and even poultry. This brings them into direct conflict with the nomadic herders, trying to make the most basic of livings in some of the most hostile environments on the planet. This human-wildlife conflict can, and does, quickly escalate into retaliatory killings.

Image Credit: Behzad Larry.

As the number of snow leopards being killed for predating livestock increases, it converges with the renewed demand for their fur – and those within the illegal wildlife trade looking to take advantage of this. For the communities living alongside snow leopards, any opportunity to increase their meagre earnings will surely be welcomed.

And with only small, isolated populations of this incredible big cat left – there is a very real threat that the number of snow leopards left in the wild could be decimated.

What we can do about it

Revolutionary research

Today, we’re asking you to make a difference for all snow leopards, by supporting DSWF in funding new and ongoing research – which is vital for their long-term survival.

Earlier, we mentioned our snow leopard ambassador Dagina – who we affectionately call our super mum. But DSWF-funded research has revealed that snow leopards are among some of the most dedicated mothers in the big cat family. Their cubs often stay with them for nearly two years – an average of 21 months.

Given the fact that snow leopards live in some of the most remote places known, having people on the ground to study and track them isn’t always possible – which is why minions are used! Minions are in fact the affectionate nickname given to the data-collecting devices and camera traps – whose large, singular lens bears some resemblance to the banana-loving animated characters. GPS tracking collars are also fitted to snow leopards and ibex to further monitor them.

A snow leopard inspects a “minion”. Image Credit: Snow Leopard Trust.

Recently, A.I has also been used to make the daunting task of identifying individual snow leopards easier. Instead of comparing photos at close level one by one, it is now possible to track multiple animals with ease across vast areas – and identify new individuals (some of which bear famous names – four-legged, furry versions of James Bond and Jessica Alba are currently stalking the Himalayas).

Research provides valuable insight into breeding behaviour, dispersal patterns, diet, and even dependence on snow levels. This enables us to provide the right solutions and policy advice to provide snow leopards with what they need in this rapidly changing environment, and as they face the overarching threats of biodiversity loss and climate change.

For instance, a female snow leopard fitted with a GPS collar was shown to travel between Pakistan and Afghanistan frequently. Others have been tracked crossing borders between Russia and Mongolia, Tajikistan and Afghanistan, Nepal and Bhutan, and Tibet and China. With this information, we’ve played a vital role in emphasising the need for transboundary co-operation and landscape-scale conservation (also known as an ecosystem approach), resulting in new policies and global-level coalitions based on this cutting-edge research.

Taking back the land

One of the core elements of the projects and programmes supported and funded by DSWF, is the vital importance of local and indigenous communities in conservation.

A core project for SLT was taking over the co-management of a former hunting concession in Shamshy, Kyrgyzstan. Previously, corruption had meant game species had been decimated and abused without proper management, and with little money going back into the local community. Now, Shamshy has been established as a field research laboratory, with incredible new studies being carried out there, as well as active conservation education programmes to engage school children from the area.

Numerous jobs – from building maintenance to supplying the operation, as well as volunteering opportunities have been created. Most importantly, effective management has recently seen a breeding population of snow leopards return to the area – although we suspect the resident lynxes are less enthused than we are!

Following the herd… and protecting it!

DSWF funding is also enabling livestock herders to better protect their animals. Effective corrals based on an array of designs can be built and implemented, tailored individually to any landscape, and shown to be an effective deterrent to snow leopards. Furthermore, a vaccination programme has been implemented – keeping these hardy domestic animals healthy and protected from something that kills far more of them than snow leopards ever could – disease.

Providing an alternative to the illegal wildlife trade and hunting

As with most local communities and indigenous populations, those living alongside the snow leopard have a kinship with, and a knowledge of nature that cannot be rivaled by outsiders. That connection – which can be used to abuse and plunder the natural resources they are so familiar with, can also be utilised to protect them.

The paltry ‘rewards’ generated by providing to the illegal wildlife trade and hunting concessions (that keep most of their profits to themselves), can’t compete with the dignity and satisfaction that come from working with the natural landscape rather than against it. Honey production and other alternative livelihoods are enabling these local communities to create sustainable, high-quality products that are in significant demand throughout their region.

Aligned with the education work and outreach targeting both children and adults, real change is now happening within these communities.

Local community volunteers monitor the landscape. Image Credit: Snow Leopard Trust.

How will raising money help?

By donating today, you can support DSWF by buying equipment, collaring more snow leopards, and continuing to invest in this incredible, species-saving work. Unfortunately, the snow leopard has never needed our help more. Help us FIGHT for and PROTECT these amazing creatures.


£3,000 Funds a GPS collar for a snow leopard

£300 Funds a research camera in the field to photograph snow leopards

£150 Supplies a camera-trap for vital research

Please donate today if you can – even the smallest amount can make the biggest difference.

Secure a Safer Future for Snow Leopards

Your support will enable us to fund new research, camera traps, and GPS collaring in Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan. Don’t let the ‘ghost of the mountain’ disappear altogether.

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