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International Snow Leopard Day: Hope, and Concern for the Cat

Press Release. Seattle, October 23, 2014.

Cat lovers across the world are celebrating the first International Snow Leopard Day on October 23rd. With range countries and the conservation community more committed than ever to saving this endangered cat, there is reason for hope. At the same time, shrinking habitats and prey numbers as well as poaching continue to threaten the remaining snow leopards.


Committed to raising awareness for the plight of an iconic species, the twelve Asian countries that are home to the cat have declared October 23rd, 2014, to be International Snow Leopard Day.

a snow leopard captured by a research camera in China

a snow leopard captured by a research camera in China

The day marks the first anniversary of the signing of the landmark Bishkek Declaration on the conservation of this elusive big cat, signed on October 23rd, 2013, at the first Global Forum on the Conservation of the Snow Leopard in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek. The range countries (Afghanistan, Bhutan, China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan) also resolved to celebrate 2015 as the International Year of the Snow Leopard

Made possible by the initiative of the Kyrgyz president, Mr. Almazbek Atambaev, and coordinated by the Global Tiger Initiative at the World Bank, the Forum resulted in an unprecedented agreement that could change the snow leopard’s fate, with the range country governments agreeing to the first Global Snow Leopard & Ecosystem Protection Plan and committing to protecting at least 20 landscapes as secure snow leopard habitat by 2020.

Earlier this year the twelve range countries have gone above and beyond that goal by identifying 23 landscapes covering more than 500,000 sq/km of snow leopard habitat (see map below – download hi-res).

A map of the 23 snow leopard landscapes to be secured by 2020.

A map of the 23 snow leopard landscapes to be secured by 2020.

In addition, the countries are working on landscape management guidelines and two-year work plans.

Over the coming years, the range countries, international conservation organizations and public as well as private funding institutions will work together to ensure that these landscapes can indeed be a safe haven for the endangered cat.  To coordinate the efforts mapped out in the GSLEP, a working secretariat has been established in Bishkek.

Revised Snow Leopard Survival Strategy

Both planned and ongoing snow leopard conservation efforts are getting an added boost on International Snow Leopard Day with the publication of the revised Snow Leopard Survival Strategy.

This document, edited jointly by the conservation organizations represented in the Snow Leopard Network, establishes a scientific baseline and identifies priorities and best practices in protecting the endangered cat.

Concerns Remain

Despite the progress that’s being made for the snow leopard, the cat remains endangered. There is no accurate, range-wide population count, the most recent estimate from the Global Snow Leopard Ecosystem Protection Program in 2013 estimated the number of snow leopards remaining in the wild at a dangerously low 3920 – 6390.

A wild snow leopard cub in Spiti, India

A wild snow leopard cub in Spiti, India

The cat’s habitats, which are increasingly fragmented, continue to be under pressure from mining, large-scale development, and climate change. Populations of natural prey species are thought to be in decline as well. Poaching and retaliation killings by local herders who fear for their livestock are another major threat that remains very much acute.

Worldwide Effort Needed

In the last few years, the international community has made more significant steps to saving the snow leopard than ever before. It is crucial that those efforts be intensified in the coming decade, as the cat’s fate may indeed be decided by our generation.

Snow Leopard Trust

The Snow Leopard Trust, based in Seattle, WA, is a world leader in conservation of the endangered snow leopard, conducting pioneering research and partnering with communities as well as authorities in snow leopard habitat to protect the cat. www.snowleopard.org

Contact:

Brad Rutherford, Executive Director, Snow Leopard Trust. brad@snowleopard.org / office: +1 206 632 2421, cell: +1 206 713 6446

Snow Leopard Catches Marmot (Photos & Video)

One of our research cameras in Kyrgyzstan has captured amazing photos of a snow leopard carrying a freshly killed marmot. See the pictures and video below!

[scroll down to see the video]

Like the author of a good suspense novel, this Kyrgyz snow leopard spares us the gruesome details of what’s to come.

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Instead, after catching sight – or perhaps scent – of its prey, the cats walks away… leaving us waiting for the outcome.

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A few minutes later, the predator is on its way back…

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And we finally find out what it had spotted earlier…

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Lunch! And dinner. For a couple of days!

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Devekh: A Home Range the Size of Seattle

Devekh, the snow leopard we’re tracking in Mongolia, is living large: over the last couple of weeks, he’s used an area of 400 km2!

Devekh, back in 2010

Devekh, our cat on the air, back in 2010

Devekh’s home are two neighboring mountain ranges named Tost and Tosonbumba.

Last year, we had observed Devekh migrating from his “old” home into an area that had previously been occupied by Ariun, another big male cat who had disappeared (and who we believe has sadly died).

A homebody with sudden bouts of the travel bug?

Throughout early spring of 2014, Devekh mostly remained in his new home range – an area he shared with at least two female cats, Ariunbeleg and Dagina, who might have been the reason for his takeover of Ariun’s old range in the first place. He took occasional trips to other parts of the mountains, but always returned “home” after a short while.

the Tost mountains, Devekh's hom

the Tost mountains, Devekh’s home

In May and June, however, Devekh suddenly turned into something of a nomad, venturing to the fringes of two Tost and Tosonbumba; areas he had previously avoided. Then, just when we got ready to label Devekh a restless wanderer, he started to confine his movements again in the summer, returning to his previous core range – only to resume his extensive excursions again in the fall.

We don’t know at this stage what causes Devekh’s occasional wanderlust. It could just be the travel bug, suddenly befalling this cat overnight. His movements might be entirely random. Or he might venture out every now and then to look for new female companions at the fringes of his home range. Further studies – including comparisons to other cats – will hopefully reveal if there are seasonal patterns to these wanderings.

In any case, Devekh does show us once again how important it is for these cats to have sizable, connected and secure habitats that allow them to roam according to their needs. Over the last couple of weeks, Devekh has been using an area of around 400 km2 – that’s the entire size of Seattle, for instance.

We’ll continue to track Devekh until his collar drops off in the spring of 2015.

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As part of our ongoing long term snow leopard study in Mongolia’s South Gobi region, we’re currently tracking one male snow leopard, a cat named Devekh, with a GPS collar. The goal of this study is to learn more about the way snow leopards use space, how they move around and interact with other cats, and what they need to survive. We’ve tracked a total of 19 cats over the last years.

The GPS collar, which will drop off automatically next spring, send Devekh’s location to a satellite, from where it’s transmitted to our computers.

The long-term study is a joint project of the Snow Leopard Trust and Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation in cooperation with the Mongolia Ministry of Nature, Environment and Tourism, and the Mongolia Academy of Sciences.

It’s made possible through the support of:

Cat Life Foundation
Columbus Zoo and Aquarium
Kolmarden Zoo
Nordens Ark
Swedish University of Agricultural Science
Whitley Fund for Nature
David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation
South Lakes Wild Animal Park
Phoenix Zoo
Helsinki Zoo
Safari Club International Foundation
Dakota Zoo
Snow Leopard Trust UK
Edrington Group & Edrington Americas
Tulsa Zoo

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The Great Research Camera Expedition

Relive our Indian team’s epic research camera study in Spiti valley.

Led by the Snow Leopard Trust’s own Senior Regional Ecologist, Koustubh Sharma, 20 people braced the extreme cold to cover an area of more than 1500 square kilometers with remote-sensor research cameras in an effort to monitor the area’s snow leopard population.

This is their story, as told in tweets by our friends at Project Snow Leopard India.

“It’s a huge plus that the program helps both animals and humans”

Snow Leopard Enterprises, our handicraft-and-conservation program that benefits cats and communities, has been a success story; generating almost $1 million in total sales, providing dozens of herder communities with a sustainable income and protecting hundreds of snow leopards in the program areas.

Carol

Carol Wolfson on the inside cover of her first book

Of course, the herders who make the products and agree to protect snow leopards deserve most of the credit. But Snow Leopard Enterprises could not have succeeded either without the support of passionate people who believed in this idea and helped it grow.

One such supporter is Carol Wolfson, an American-born, Asia-based businesswoman, author and philanthropist. She came to SLE and snow leopard conservation as a customer and donor, but when she founded an animal welfare and rescue charity, Second Chance Animal Aid, in Shanghai, she also began reselling SLE products at her own fundraising events.

Today, Carol is both a customer and a donor – and the perfect person to share her insights on Snow Leopard Enterprises with us.

Carol, how did you get involved with snow leopard conservation?

I believe it must have been about 1991 as I was working in Hong Kong with a New York diamond company as their marketing director – and although I love diamonds, I didn’t find it very fulfilling for the soul. I volunteered and joined the local fundraising board of an international conservation organization. I learned about snow leopards through this work and was immediately enthralled. After some more research I found the Snow Leopard Trust, and I started donating yearly. As soon as they started to sell Snow Leopard Enterprises products, I began to purchase. In 2005, I stared my own charity in Shanghai, SCAA, committed to protecting and improving the health and welfare of companion animals. I attended all kinds of sales events and fundraisers; and along with my own fundraising, I also raised awareness for snow leopards and eventually started selling SLE products whenever possible.

I also have various contacts in retail stores/spas throughout Asia that often agree to put SLE products in their stores. I buy them first – along with a donation usually – then put them on commission in stores. The stores make a small profit, and I use the funds I generate either to buy more products and/or increase the donations to the Snow Leopard Trust each year.

What are some of your bestsellers and personal favorites among the SLE products?

pharo snow leopard one

Carol’s cat, Pharo, with his Snow Leopard Enterprises goodies

Bestsellers have always been the adult slippers, hats, hot pads, snow leopard ornaments and baby products such as booties/bibs/onesies. My personal favorites are the snow leopard finger puppet, the slippers, the large hot pads and the napkins. I also love the rugs! Pets go crazy over them which is why I’ve begged Gina, the SLE sales and marketing manager, to create actual pet pads for years now. I’ve often sold the larger hot pads to people for their pets to lie on. But now, as I’ve just found out, my lobbying appears to have been successful and there are pet mats available from SLE!

What has your customer’s feedback been like?

Always fantastic… everyone I know always prefers to buy gifts that have meaning. It’s excellent how the SLE products are labeled, as it’s a way of telling the gift recipient that they are not only getting a fabulous gift, but the sale of it in turn is helping an extremely worthwhile organization. Everyone adores their slippers, baby gifts, the hot pads, etc. Always well received and appreciated.

napkins

Embroidered napkins are among Carol’s favorites!

Colorful rugs, for people and pets

Colorful rugs, for people and pets

What about your own feedback as a customer and donor?

Excellent! I’ve been living/working in Asia for over three decades so I know what sells in Asia, mostly to expats. The Snow Leopard Trust is great at providing point of sales tools and materials which is essential to providing positive incentives for people to buy these products over other retail gift products, etc. It’s utterly important to be able to show that buying SLE products makes a difference and that the products are not only useful and aesthetic, but are providing funds for amazing conservation projects. Having the postcards and labels on each product is extremely effective. I’ve also found that having someone available to explain and push the products at the retail location helps a great deal.

What makes you personally want to support this particular program and organization?

I have been involved with literally hundreds of organizations and fundraising projects over the years, and what makes me continue to support some and completely drop others is their effectiveness in terms of reaching goals, making a substantive difference, the rate of project investments vs. administrative costs, the dedication and commitment of the people involved and indeed, human interaction with me directly. Knowing that I am appreciated and that I am helping make a difference is important, too…I know from my own organization that those little thank you notes go a looong way in keeping donors loyal and involved. That little yearly gift of a magnet or a few greeting cards is so easy to do – but so many organizations take your money and you get a generic thank you or no thank you at all.

I think that it doesn’t take much to keep people donating but the more appreciation you’re shown, the more loyal you are as a donor. The Snow Leopard Trust is such an amazing organization and does such good work. For SLE specifically, it’s a huge plus that the program helps both animals and humans! Some people love animals and others love the way the program benefits humans, so one can direct the appeal for funds accordingly to donor preferences… And of course, who can resist a snow leopard?!!

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Carol’s wish has come true – with brand-new pet mats!

What’s your dream for the future of the snow leopard?

I’d like to see sustainable growth of populations of the cats and all the other animals in their ecosystem, more protection of their habitat and a complete stop of trade in their pelts.

What products would you like to see added to the SLE collection?

Now that the pet mats are here, I would love to see a felted computer or tablet cover. Many people have asked me about it, and I think it would be a great product to sell, and fairly easy to make as well. It could be very simple, or intricately designed.