“Your Snow Leopards are Killing our Goats”

 “Since you started working here, we’ve lost more livestock than ever. There are too many snow leopards. We don’t need livestock vaccination, we just need you and the cats to go away!”

By Matt Fiechter, Communications Specialist, Snow Leopard Trust

I’m stunned. Speechless. This conversation was supposed to be about how conservationists and herders in northern Pakistan could work together to protect snow leopards, and how that would help everyone. Instead, I’m suddenly forced to defend the cats, myself, and everything we do, as an angry herder levels a series of accusations against me. They’re harsh and relentless, and I’m not sure they’re completely off base.

Ali Nawaz, the Snow Leopard Trust's Pakistan Program Director

Ali Nawaz, the Snow Leopard Trust’s Pakistan Program Director

Thankfully, I’m not alone. Dr. Ali Nawaz, the director of the Snow Leopard Foundation Pakistan, comes to my rescue, responding to the herder respectfully, but powerfully. He shares sincere sorrow at the losses of the herders. But then he asks questions. “How many livestock did you lose? Are you sure they were taken by snow leopards? How many animals died from diseases in the same time span?”

Other villagers present at the meeting speak up, admitting that livestock losses may not necessarily have grown from previous years. One herder says he lost a dozen goats to disease last winter, and wants to know more about the vaccination program we mentioned. An elder apologizes for his hotheaded neighbor’s hostility, and asks some critical questions of his own. Slowly, the conversation takes on a more positive, constructive tone. We seem to be making some progress.

Then, the exercise is over. Time to analyze what happened.

“Community Engagement for Snow Leopard Conservation”, the title of the workshop I’m participating in, sounded slightly abstract two days ago. Now, thanks to a role-playing session on negotiations that allowed me to assume the role of a field conservationist for half an hour, it has become very real and tangible.

Field teams from Kyrgyzstan, India, and Pakistan have come together for this workshop in Kyrgyzstan’s Ala-Archa National Park to discuss best practices, experiences and principles of how to engage with communities that share snow leopard habitat in order to protect the endangered cat.

Members of the Snow Leopard Trust's Pakistan team discussing with Science & Conservation Director Charu Mishra

Members of the Snow Leopard Trust’s Pakistan team discussing with Science & Conservation Director Charu Mishra

The PARTNERS Principles – Our Approach to Community-Based Conservation

A Darwin Initiative grant has provided this opportunity to get the teams together. The workshop is based on the PARTNERS Principles, an acronym that describes the Snow Leopard Trust’s approach to community based conservation:

  • Presence of the conservationist in the community,
  • Aptness of conservation interventions,
  • Respect for local people,
  • Transparency in interactions,
  • Negotiation,
  • Empathy,
  • Responsiveness,
  • Strategic support.

Social scientist Juliette Young and ecologist Stephen Redpath have worked with Charu Mishra, SLT’s Science and Conservation Director, to design the workshop.

The PARTNERS Principles

The PARTNERS Principles


I’m here to learn from them, and to give inputs on how we can do a better job of communicating about this challenging work with supporters, donors, and friends – on how to bring the stories from the roof of the world into homes across the planet.

I work with the team on the principles of storytelling, on characters, plot, narrative arc, and on theory of change. I show them examples from the likes of Humans of New York or charity:water to demonstrate the powerful impact of great storytelling for a cause.

Great photos hint at great stories

Great photos hint at great stories

Later, as my colleagues from Pakistan, India, and Kyrgyzstan share the stories they’ve experienced in their work, I can sense how they’re trying to employ those principles, and I feel a certain sense of pride that I imagine every teacher knows very well.

However, when we reenact some of those stories in the role-playing session, I’m very much the student, and I’m in way over my head. Looks like I’ve quite a way to go before I could be a successful field conservationist.

I know that many of the people who live in snow leopard habitat are herders, depending on livestock for their livelihoods. I’m aware that to them, the carnivorous cat can be a source of trouble, rather than a valuable species worth saving.

One of the keys of our approach is to partner with these communities and find solutions to conflicts between their interests and those of conservation.

Offsetting losses through livestock insurance schemes is one approach that has worked in many areas. Vaccinating livestock has been a successful strategy as well, particularly in regions where herders were losing more animals to disease than to predation. Generating alternative sources of income, e.g. through selling handicrafts under the Snow Leopard Enterprises label, is another well-received idea.

In all those programs, partner communities agree to protect snow leopards and wild prey species in their area from hunting or retaliation killings, while we provide the means and training to improve their livelihoods.

From a distance, these programs seem like easy win-wins.

What I wasn’t fully aware of – but learned the hard way in the exercise on ’negotiating with communities’ – is how things can be a lot more complicated than they seem.

Pakistani snow leopard researcher Hussain Ali spends several months each year with mountain communities.

Pakistani snow leopard researcher Hussain Ali spends several months each year with mountain communities.

“I’ve been received by some communities like a dear friend, while others met me with outright hostility”, explains Hussain Ali, a senior research associate in our Pakistan program, and the man who, a few minutes ago, so convincingly mimed the angry herder in our role-play session. “I was trying to be relatively nice to you”, he says with a smile.

As a researcher, Hussain often spends several weeks ‘embedded’ in a community – eating, praying, and talking with the locals. “Over time, a mutual trust usually develops” he says, “but in the beginning, it can be tough!”

Marginalized Communities Bear the Brunt of Conservation

“We shouldn’t be surprised by those challenges. Many of these rural communities are marginalized economically and politically, and at the same time, they bear the brunt of conservation”, explains Dr. Charu Mishra, who leads the Community Engagement workshop. “It’s up to us as conservationists to find ways to build relationships and share the costs of protecting wildlife with these people.”

The workshop was designed to help field teams cope with these challenges, develop their confidence in community engagements, and build strong, mutually beneficial partnerships with the communities they work with.

“Like every human relationship, community partnerships require empathy, respect, honesty and a lot of time,” Charu says.

There are no set rules to engaging with communities, and each village, each family, each person, is different. But in the PARTNERS document that Charu has developed from the collective experience of our field teams, eight shared principles and best practices are provided that can guide a field conservationist’s work with rural communities:

“For instance, it’s crucial for our work to not only understand the ecological challenges, but also the cultural context of a community. Even as natural scientists, we can’t lose sight of social phenomena; religion, social structures and so on. They can greatly influence attitudes towards wildlife.”

Later, Khurshid Ali Shah, who heads the Snow Leopard Foundation Pakistan’s office in Chitral, will tell a story that’ll perfectly underline Charu’s point.

Khurshid Ali Shah, the head of our Chitral office, with his colleague, Yasmeen Cheema, who heads SLE in Chitral

Khurshid Ali Shah, the head of our Chitral office, with his colleague, Yasmeen Cheema, who heads SLE in Chitral

“Once I spent a week in a remote village, trying to get the community’s support for conservation. One day, a highly respected local Muslim religious leader asked me why I was trying to protect snow leopards. He felt that the predator was causing too much damage to the community and should be gotten rid of. I explained to him that I understood my job as that of a guardian of God’s creation, and that I was perhaps sent here because God’s creations were not safe in the area. I told him that I believed we had no right to remove this cat from the world God had given us, and that I felt it was our duty to preserve it. He fell silent, reflected on what I had said, then shook my hand and told me I had his support.”

Being Immersed in Communities

“This story is more than a nice anecdote”, Charu Mishra says. “It shows how important it is to think of cultural contexts. This religious leader would not have been convinced by an economic argument, for instance. But he was open to a spiritual one”

Beyond that, Charu says, the example also demonstrates why it’s crucial to be present in partner communities: “Khurshid had spent several days in this community, eating, sleeping, praying with the people. He earned their trust with his sustained presence, his empathy, and respectful interactions. An outsider, someone who had just arrived the same morning, would perhaps not have been able to win the religious leader’s support.”

Later that day, I suddenly realize why Khurshid’s story impressed me so much.

It perfectly follows all the principles of storytelling that I’ve rambled on about a few days before. It has two memorable characters that find themselves in a situation of conflict, and it has a resolution that’s poetic and powerful. Just the kind of stuff I look for as a communications officer. The next time I hold a training on storytelling, I won’t have to think very hard about a great example.


The workshop on community engagement was supported by a grant from the Darwin Initiative. Whitley Fund for Nature has been a long-term supporter of our community-based conservation programs, and the Acacia Conservation Fund provided support for the development of the PARTNERS document. Our Kyrgyzstan team hosted the workshop, and we are especially thankful to Kubanych Jumabay, our Program Director and Cholpon Abasova.

Joint strategy to combat Illegal Wildlife Trade in Central Asia

Press Release, Bishkek, 9/30/15

Central Asian countries hold technical workshop and agree to join forces in the fight against illegal wildlife trade in the region.

A joint strategy was developed as a key outcome in the first ever regional workshop, focused on combating illegal wildlife trade in Central Asia. The workshop, held in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek on September 17 & 18, was attended by representatives of environmental and law enforcement agencies from Kyrgyzstan, as well as governmental and non-governmental organizations from Kazakhstan, Russia and Tajikistan and international conservation organizations.

snow leopards and their prey are threatened by poaching in Central Asia

snow leopards and their prey are threatened by poaching in Central Asia

Wildlife crime occuring in the region includes poaching, trafficking and trade primarily in endangered snow leopards, bears, ungulates and birds”, said Mr. Rustam Muratov of Tajikistan.

Only a small proportion of these illegally trafficked wildlife products ultimately end up in Central Asia – but delegates at the workshop recognized that their countries are frequently used for transit of such products on their way towards illegal markets in East Asia, the Middle East, Europe and America.

Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan are determined to stop these crimes.

“We need to align our efforts in the preparation and implementation of an Action Plan to combat illegal wildlife trade in our countries and work together in a coordinated manner”, said Sabir Atadjanov, Director of the State Agency for Environmental Protection and Forestry under the Government of the Kyrgyz Republic and host of the workshop.

Dr. Koustubh Sharma, the Snow Leopard Trust's Senior Regional Ecologist, addresses delegates.

Dr. Koustubh Sharma, the Snow Leopard Trust’s Senior Regional Ecologist, addresses delegates.

Corruption, lack of competence of executing bodies, low incentives, lack of accountability, insufficient coordination between organizations and inadequate capacity of frontline staff were identified as the main challenges to implementing effective law enforcement strategies to combat wildlife crime in the region.

“With joint efforts, these challenges can be met”, said Mr. Ilya Ivanochkin, Russian Federation. Opportunities the delegates identified include the use of existing legal frameworks and the establishment of mechanisms for inter-agency collaboration and cooperation.

“Providing targeted training to frontline staff including rangers, police, custom officers and border service personnel is essential”, added Kubanychbek Jumabai Uulu, the Kyrgyzstan program director for the Snow Leopard Trust, one of the workshop’s co-organizers. “Thanks to a grant from the UK government, we’ve already begun to train rangers in Kyrgyzstan’s protected areas in cooperation with INTERPOL. Such efforts could be scaled up across the region”, he added.

Educating the public via conventional and social media, establishing multidisciplinary wildlife enforcement networks, and providing incentives to encourage frontline staff were also identified as priorities, and the need to establish a Regional Wildlife Enforcement Network was highlighted. Techniques for monitoring wildlife crime were also discussed.

“We require reliable, replicable and robust indicators to monitor wildlife crime”, said Koustubh Sharma, Senior Regional Ecologist of Snow Leopard Trust and International Coordinator of the GSLEP Secretariat.

INTERPOL provided valuable technical expertise.

INTERPOL provided valuable technical expertise.

INTERPOL’s Luke Bond added, there is need for a multi-agency coordinated, collaborative and strategic regional response supported by National Environmental Security Taskforces within each participating country to combat the threat posed by wildlife crime.“

Such a regional network was proposed as part of the draft strategy delegates elaborated. Its goal will be to focus on common themes cutting across international boundaries to provide greater control over illegal poaching and trafficking of wildlife; to share intelligence, conduct joint operations, engage in advocacy and identify capacity building opportunities.

Animated discussions led to a joint strategy to combat wildlife crime in the region.

Animated discussions led to a joint strategy to combat wildlife crime in the region.

The State Agency for Environmental Protection and Forestry under the Government of the Kyrgyz Republic, along with the Secretariat of the Global Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Protection Program (GSLEP), the Global Environment Facility Small Grants Program – UNDP in Kyrgyzstan (GEF/SGP-UNDP), Snow Leopard Trust (SLT), United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and INTERPOL were key organizers of this workshop.

This workshop is a continuation of the joint actions of the 12 snow leopard range countries following the adoption of the Bishkek Declaration on Conservation of snow leopard at the Global Forum on Snow Leopard Conservation held in October 2013 under the leadership of the President of the Kyrgyz Republic, Hon. Mr. Almazbek Atambayev.  “Such workshops with clear outcomes build our faith in believing that we will achieve the GSLEP goal of securing at least 20 landscapes by 2020”, said Mr. Kuat Chumakaev of Kazakhstan

The GSLEP aims to ensure the long-term survival of the snow leopard in its natural ecosystem. It is a joint initiative of the governments of the range countries, international organizations, civil society and the private sector.

“We’re looking forward to work with Central Asian countries to circulate and implement this new strategy once the document is finalized”, said Kyial Alygulova, the GSLEP secretariat’s manager.

Contact Information:

Ms. Kyial Alygulova + 996-779-92-55-55,

Dr. Koustubh Sharma: + 996-551-12-81-16,

Secretariat of the GSLEP in Bishkek -tel. + 996-312-56-41-95,


The Global Snow Leopard and its Ecosystems Protection Program:

State Agency on Environment Protection and Forestry:

GSLEP on Twitter: @gslep_secretariat, #globalsnowleopard

GSLEP on Facebook:

Community to protect the snow leopard:

India: The Complexities of Community Conservation

Working with communities in snow leopard habitat to protect these endangered cats often entails more than meets the eye. In India’s Spiti valley, effective conservation comes in many shapes and forms, from garbage management to grassland protection. Join our local team for a look beyond the snowy peaks of the Himalayas and find out how they address threats to snow leopards from all imaginable angles.

By Ajay Bijoor, Research Associate

It’s peak summer, and time for surveying our community ‘fenced’ reserves that we helped establish in Spiti. We have three of those grazing-free reserves set up in Spiti with village communities of Losar, Kibber and Chichim. They provide a much-needed haven for snow leopard prey species like the blue sheep and ibex.

Local community members assist our team in monitoring the grazing-free reserve set aside in Chichim

Local community members assist our team in monitoring the grazing-free reserve set aside in Chichim

This year we’ve set up two new reserves: one each with the villagers of Lalung and Kiato. The reserve set up with the villagers of Lalung (in the area called Lingti valley) is our largest so far at c. 400 sq. km, and is seen as one of the best areas for both blue sheep and snow leopards. 

Such arrangements have been set for a period of five years, allowing populations to recover.

Without such reserves, there is a risk of pastures being overgrazed, which appears to drive out wild snow leopard prey species. This is a particular concern in parts of Spiti, where migratory herders bring in livestock from the plains during the summer months. The numbers of livestock these herders bring are much higher than those held by locals and hence their levels of grazing are intense.

kyrgyz ibex

Wild snow leopard prey species like the ibex are competing with livestock for forage. Grazing-free reserves help provide sufficient food sources for wild prey.

Migratory herders have been accessing pastures in Spiti valley for several generations. This is based on traditional grazing rights they hold.

Given the arid nature of the landscape, Abhishek—one of our doctoral researchers—is trying to understand the possible impact of such intense grazing on the wild prey populations. This summer he carried out extensive surveys to compare grazed and un-grazed pastures for occurrence of wild prey and the availability of forage. He is also spending time with the migratory herders, trying to understand what is driving them to enter newer areas.

Abhishek and his team

Abhishek and his team

Wild Prey: Great for the Cats, a Challenge for the Villagers

Abundant wild prey is great (and essential) for snow leopards. However, this can cause problems for nearby villages. In the past few years, locals of Spiti have seen a financial boom from the sale of green peas—a cash crop that is now commonly cultivated across Spiti valley during their annual agricultural cycle, in addition to barley which is the traditional crop. Blue sheep and ibex sometimes damage standing crops, especially green peas. Summer is when the problem reaches its peak.

Surveys have shown that this damage to crops helped create negative perceptions towards wildlife within many communities.

A village in Kibber, a community high above Spiti valley.

A village in Kibber, a community high above Spiti valley.

Incidents of such damage continue until the harvest. Fields prone to damage are characteristically those that are close to cliffs. Based on this learning, we have worked with local villagers of five villages (Kibber, Chichim, Gete, Tashigang, Demul) to deploy local guards whose responsibility it is to ensure that wild ungulates do not enter the fields.

Feral Dogs Cause Problems for Wildlife

In Spiti, as in other parts of the snow leopard range, growing populations of feral dogs are emerging as a real threat to snow leopards and local communities. They attack and kill livestock as well as wild prey species, and they’ve even been seen chasing snow leopards away from kills.

Besides sterilization campaigns to control the population, garbage management is one of our key strategies to address this problem. Feral dogs often feed on garbage left in the villages. A major component of this garbage includes livestock carcasses resulting from mortality every winter. Poorly disposed carcasses become the primary resource on which dogs survive through the harsh winter months.

A new garbage enclosure in Kee village

A new garbage enclosure in Kee village

This August, we built a new fenced enclosure for garbage collection in the village of Kee. The enclosure will allow villagers to dump different types of waste that are collected at the village-level, while keeping dogs out. This is the fourth such enclosure in Spiti.

One Size Does Not Fit All

Community-based conservation initiatives such as our livestock insurance scheme have shown to help herder families in snow leopard habitat coexist with the cats. But these programs don’t exist in a vacuum – in fact, they’re usually part of a multi-faceted approach to solving conflicts between the interests of livestock-rearing herder communities and those of conservationists.

Each landscape in snow leopard habitat is different, and thus people face different challenges. In some parts of the range, livestock diseases may be a major issue. Elsewhere, the lack of income sources is the main challenge.

wild snow leopard in India

a wild snow leopard surveying its habitat in Spiti, India. Photo by NCF India / SLT

Also, the nature of conflict faced by communities within a landscape change over time. For example, crop damage which was not a major concern in Spiti valley until the last decade has now become an issue that can affect people’s perceptions especially since they started growing cash crops.

Engaging with communities to understand these problems and working together towards solving them takes time, mutual trust and the willingness to invest in the long run. 

Thanks to your generous and loyal support, the Snow Leopard Trust has been able to build these relationships and achieve real progress for the cats in many parts of their range. We’re committed to continuing and expanding this work – and we hope you’ll stay at our side every step of the way!

Help Restore Drinking Water to Pakistan’s Snow Leopard Conservation Communities

2-year-old Muhammad Afhan has seen more suffering in his short time on Earth than anyone should witness in a lifetime. His village, Mori, in Pakistan’s Chitral district, was hit by devastating floods this summer. Houses were buried under thick layers of mud, drinking water pipes were destroyed and swept away. You can help him and his community get back on their feet!

Muhammad Afham and his dad, enjoying a happy moment during a sad time

Muhammad Afham and his dad, enjoying a happy moment during a sad time

Mori is one the communities in Pakistan that we partner with to protect snow leopards. As part of a livestock vaccination program, the people of Mori have agreed to keep the cats in their area and their wild prey species save.

But since the floods hit, nothing is the same anymore in Mori. Muhammad’s father just points at the debris around him, words failing to describe the destruction.

Flooding and landslides destroyed hundreds of homes

Flooding and landslides destroyed hundreds of homes

Khawaja Aman Ullah, the head of the local conservation committee, explains that dozens of people lost their homes. “They were just flattened and taken away by the water and the mud.”


Please help the flood-affected communities in Pakistan rebuild their lives with a donation now!


The disaster also destroyed the village’s supply of drinking water – a system of pipes leading to a reservoir. “Many of our conservation partner communities in this area have suffered the same devastation”, says Kashif Syed of the Snow Leopard Foundation Pakistan, who visited Chitral to assess the damage in August. “People here are eager to rebuild, but they need help to do so. They’ve lost everything.

New water pipes and building supplies to restore homes are at the top of the list of priorities – and with good reason! Clean fresh water is essential for people’s health as well as for their livelihood. Livestock no longer have enough to drink, and orchards can’t be irrigated, leading to further suffering.

As a conservation organization, we don’t usually get involved in humanitarian relief efforts, but the sheer scale of devastation and suffering in these snow leopard conservation partner communities is just too large to ignore.

We’ve partnered with these people to protect snow leopards for many years, and today, they need our help. We won’t be able to help everyone, but we can at least help those we know with their most urgent needs.

The Afghan family and their neighbors have been working hard since the flood to restore infrastructure, but they lack the funds to purchase the necessary water pipes and construction materials to restore their fresh water supply, their homes, their lives.

You can help!

Please go to our fundraising campaign for Pakistan’s flood victims and make a contribution if you can:

For instance, $15 can purchase 100 feet of water pipe in Pakistan. $80 can buy 10 lightweight plywood board to rapidly rebuild houses. With $200, we can restore Mori’s drinking water.

$10,000 could go a long way toward meeting some of the most urgent needs in our partner communities, so please give what you can to help us meet this goal. Thank you!

Online fundraising for Help Restore Drinking Water to Pakistan’s Snow Leopard Conservation Communities

Rivers are still muddy, weeks after the disaster

Rivers remain muddy, weeks after the disaster

There are plenty of civil engineers, carpenters and skilled laborers in these communities, so they will be able to purchase the materials they need quickly and get to work immediately.

The Snow Leopard Trust has worked with the people of Mori, and more than a dozen other villages across Northern Pakistan for almost a decade, partnering with them to protect the endangered snow leopards in the area.

This recent disaster has not only brought suffering and misery to our partners and friends, it also threatens to set back conservation efforts by years, as basic survival has become local resident’s only concern.

With this in mind, we’re asking you to please help young Muhammad Afhan and our partner communities in this time of need – both for people and wildlife.

Anu’s Tale – From Little Cub to Proud Mother of Triplets

Using remote-sensor research cameras and GPS tracking collars, Snow Leopard Trust researchers have been able to follow and observe a young female snow leopard named Anu over the course of four years as she grew up, dispersed from her mother and later had cubs herself twice in her mountain habitat in Mongolia’s South Gobi. The latest photos show Anu followed by three small cubs. Her tale is a powerful sign of hope for the endangered cat species.

In the fall of 2014, our team retrieved one of our research cameras, stationed near a watering hole frequently used by the area’s animals. Days later, we got an excited email from the field: “Amazing pics. Mother with 3 cubs!

Three tiny snow leopard cubs, captured by a research camera in Mongolia

Three tiny snow leopard cubs, captured by a research camera in Mongolia

It took half a year and some painstaking detective work until we realized we knew the mom of these three cuties. It was Anu!

In the secretive world of the elusive snow leopard, Anu is an exception. While other cats stay hidden forever, Anu has become something a public ambassador for her species. Born in Mongolia’s Tost mountains on the edge of the Gobi desert in 2009, Anu was first thrust into the spotlight a year later.

Part of A Groundbreaking Study

Around the time Anu was born, researchers from the Snow Leopard Trust had set up camp just a few miles from her den site for what was to become the world’s first long-term study of this endangered cat’s ecology and behavior. Using technology such as motion-sensor cameras and GPS tracking collars, the scientists sought to lift the veil on some of the snow leopard’s secrets: how much space do these cats need? How much prey do they consume? How do they interact? Where do they migrate to, and which patterns do they follow?

The answers to some of these questions have helped shape effective conservation measures over the last years. The study showed that more than a dozen cats lived in this area – information that has been critical in partially protecting Tost from the threat of mining until now. Data from the study proved that snow leopards migrate between various mountain chains, crossing steppe and desert if necessary – promoting efforts to protect these important corridors along with the mountains they link.

In 2010, when Anu was around one year old, she was photographed for the first time by one of the Snow Leopard Trust’s research cameras, hiding behind her mother, a cat the scientists had named Inquisitive for her curious nature.

Young Anu, partially hidden behind her mother

Young Anu, partially hidden behind her mother, in 2010

At the time, it was estimated that Anu would soon disperse from her mom and set out on her own to find a suitable home range, and indeed, in the spring of 2011, when she made her next appearance in front of a camera, Anu was traveling alone and had developed into a fully grown young cat.

When we saw Anu again in 2011, she had dispersed form her mother and was traveling alone.

When we saw Anu again in 2011, she had dispersed form her mother and was traveling alone.

Historic Mom

A couple of weeks later, our research team achieved a breakthrough: an alarm went off at basecamp, indicating that a snow leopard had been caught by a hidden snare, giving the scientists the opportunity to equip the cat with a GPS tracking collar. The cat in the snare was Anu.

The researchers had set out to collar a young female, hoping she’d have cubs while they were tracking her. Anu didn’t appear to be pregnant though – but with the collars lasting for about 18 months, they were hopeful for 2012.

As her collar steadily sent location data to a satellite, our team tracked Anu’s movements for about a year. In the spring of 2012, they noticed a change in her ranging patterns. She restrained her movements more and more, using only a very small portion of her home range. Eventually, she stopped moving altogether. For the Trust researchers, this was exactly the sign they had been hoping for. They believed Anu was about to give birth.

They tracked her signals to a remote cave, not far from the study’s base camp. There, hidden behind a wall of rocks that must have been built years earlier by local herders, they heard faint sounds. They attached a camera to stick – a bit of a makeshift set-up, as this was before the era of the ubiquitous self-stick – and carefully lifted it over the wall to film the inside of the cave.

It may only be a few seconds of shaky images, but the footage the team took that day was historical: the first ever video of a wild snow leopard cub in its den, with its mother, Anu.

Watch the footage of Anu and her cub. Another female, Lasya, was found with two cubs around the same time.

A few days later, Anu ventured out of the den to hunt for food. The team used this opportunity to examine her cub, carefully inspecting, weighing and photographing the little kitten. They quickly left the den site and waited at a safe distance for Anu to come home.

After a few hours, Anu returned with dinner and settled back into the den with her offspring.

The photos and videos had a major impact in the scientific community and were celebrated by snow leopard lovers around the world. Anu, however, didn’t seem to be impressed by her sudden fame. Instead, she began venturing out of the den with her cub, teaching the little one to hunt and survive in the rugged mountains of their home.

Anu’s GPS collar dropped off as scheduled soon after, and the team lost sight of her and her cub for a while – our research cameras kept track of them though. 

In the fall of 2012, they appeared in a photo – the cub still relatively small. Our team was anxious to see how the two cats would fare through the hard Mongolian winter.

A few months later, in early 2013, the got their answer, as Anu and her cub again passed in front of a camera. By then, the tiny ball of fur our team had found in its den had grown into a handsome young adult.

Anu and her tiny cub, photographed in 2012

Anu and her tiny cub, photographed in 2012

After this sighting, we lost track of mother and cub for a couple of months. In this time, the cub must have dispersed to find its own home range.

Detective Work Leads to Discovery

When a camera stationed near a watering hole in 2014 took pictures of a female snow leopard with three cubs, we were elated. Footage of wild cubs is still exceedingly rare, and is always a powerful sign of hope.

A dedicated volunteer, Simone Schreiber, put together a short video of the playful cubs, and thousands of supporters enjoyed seeing them. Behind the scenes, however, we were trying to find out how this cat was.

Check out video footage of Anu and her three cubs, taken in 2014

In the photos from the watering hole, it’s hard to make out much of the mother’s fur pattern, which is how individual cats can be identified. So, as a direct ID was impossible, our researchers looked for other photos of the quartet, where they may be more easily identified.

Finally, Dr. Koustubh Sharma, the Trust’s Senior Regional Ecologist, found the key pic: a crystal-clear image of the mother, trailing her three cubs, taken near the same watering hole, but by a different camera. He was able to confirm that it was the same cat as in the other photos. More importantly, he now had a good picture of her spots to compare with our database of snow leopard photos.

Her three cubs just ahead, Anu walks past another research camera

Her three cubs just ahead, Anu walks past another research camera

What sounds like a quick job for a computer is actually a bit more complicated than that. Slight differences in posture, angle or lighting can distort fur patterns significantly. Sometimes, what looks like two different cats may indeed be one and the same animal, while similarities in patterns between two cats can lead to false IDs.

“It took some time, and I hit quite a few dead ends, but I was finally able to confirm that the mother with three cubs is indeed Anu”, Koustubh says. 

“Seeing Anu again, with a new litter of cubs, gives me hope. It shows that this sliver of snow leopard habitat we’re working to protect in Mongolia is a suitable home for this endangered cat, and could support a healthy population.”

You can help protect Anu and her cubs and their habitat in Mongolia’s South Gobi by making a donation today!


When can we expect to see Anu and her small family again? “If we’re lucky, they’ll have passed some of our cameras this spring. We’ll collect those photos soon, so stay tuned”, Koustubh says.