One of our donor-funded remote-sensor research cameras in Mongolia’s Tost mountains has captured stunning, rare footage of a snow leopard mother with three small cubs.
The footage was taken last October, and the cubs appear to have been about 5-6 months old at the time. Snow leopard mothers care for their cubs for about 18 months, teaching them all they need to know to be able to survive on their own once they disperse.
During this time, they need a lot of food – it takes about 40 prey animals every year for a snow leopard mom to feed herself and her cubs. We know these cats prefer wild prey over domestic livestock, but they’ll take what they can get.
For us, this means we need to work harder than ever to secure abundant wild prey, so that snow leopard moms don’t come into conflict with herders over livestock losses— one of the biggest threats to snow leopards across their range.
The wild cubs are not only immensely cute, they’re also a powerful sign of hope for this endangered cat! If you would like to help snow leopard mothers raise their cubs safely, please consider making a symbolic snow leopard adoption. Your gift will be used to fund research and conservation programs that allow us determine the cats’ most pressing needs and help reduce conflicts between the cats and the people who live alongside them.
We’re excited to announce a new partnership with up and coming US Ski Team racer Lila Lapanja! Lila will serve as an ambassador for the endangered snow leopard and the conservation work we’re doing to save it in this upcoming season and beyond!
Lila is among the most promising young ski racers in America. A member of US Ski Team since 2011, her star has risen steadily in the last years. In 2014, she won the NorAm slalom title and grabbed a bronze medal in the same discipline at the National Championships. A back injury forced her to sit out most of last season, but now Lila has big plans for her comeback this coming winter.
As Lila attacks the slopes, she’ll be representing the Snow Leopard Trust and the magnificent cat our work is dedicated to - wearing a Team Snow Leopard patch, and sharing stories about the cats with her fans around the world.
Before she heads off to some distant glacier to train, we wanted to take the opportunity to introduce our new ambassador to you!
Q: Lila, how did you first find out about the snow leopard?
I became fascinated with big cats at a young age. I believe people have a spirit animal that finds them, and the snow leopard found me. I was twelve years old when I discovered the Snow Leopard Trust – they were selling a painting of a snow leopard and they sold me the final print! The picture became my shrine.
Q: What would you like to achieve as an ambassador for this cat and the Snow Leopard Trust?
I want to show people how magnificent this animal is: snow leopards are a very powerful symbol of beauty and strength. Protecting snow leopards is protecting the culture of our planet. The more our awareness expands, the more we can see the affect nature has in our world and why sharing resources equally is important.
Q: What about the snow leopard inspires you particularly?
Movement. I love the grace, beauty and suppleness in the movement of snow leopards. They move effortlessly over extreme terrain, using instinct to achieve perfect balance. I am a skier who goes as fast as possible down a hill with the ultimate goal of moving like a snow leopard. I think as humans we all have this capability to trust ourselves and move with grace.
Q: Give us a sense of what goes into being a professional skier… what does a year in the life of Lila Lapanja look like?
I will spend a month of active rest in the spring to recharge after a full season. The summer is my preparation season: I work on optimizing my strength training for next race season (which begins in October/November) and will have at least two on-snow camps so I can continue to improve my skills. When racing season begins, my focus turns toward the goals I have set. I finalize my training and equipment and race with the intention of having fun, going fast and doing my best from moment-to-moment.
Q: Who are your role models in the world of skiing and elsewhere?
Many athletes who ski race have something specific that I admire - Bode Miller (USA), Tina Maze (SLO), Marlies Schild (AUT) and Felix Neureuther (GER) are a few of my favorite athletes. Elsewhere I look up to individuals who inspire me and make me happy. Role models come in many different forms.
Q: As a skier, you travel the world – have you had a chance to go to the snow leopard’s habitat yet?
Not yet! The next Olympics will be in South Korea in 2018 – still very far from the remote regions in central Asia. I am hoping that through my partnership with SLT I will have the opportunity to visit snow leopard habitat and meet the local communities that help keep them protected.
Q: Where can we cheer you on? What are some good races to experience in person or watch on TV?
This upcoming year will be a comeback year for me because I had a small back injury last season, so my plan is to race in the North American Cups and then transition to bigger races in Europe, including the World Cup! A full schedule can be seen on the FIS website, but races have not been posted yet for the 2015-16 season. The professional ski racing circuit happens mostly in Europe. However Aspen and Beaver Creek, Colorado host the American World Cups at the end of November and beginning of December. These are very exciting races to watch! If you are new to ski racing, Universal Sports Network airs World Cup races on T.V. and online. If you happen to be in Colorado in November, I will be racing too!
Q: What are your big career goals?
My big career goals have been the same since I began racing at age six: Win World Cups and medal at the World Championships and Olympics. However my ultimate career goal is to play at the highest level of ski racing: to master my skiing, achieve personal excellence and inspire people to do the same. I believe this is where I will find the most happiness and success.
Good luck, and may the snow leopard’s spirit guide you to lots of victories!
Prepared by Cheng Chen, Snow Leopard Project Program Officer & Scientist, Shan Shui Conservation Center/Panthera. Cheng has a Doctorate in Ecology, and joined Snow Leopard Team on September 1, 2014
In the last half of the month, snow leopards have frequently been seen near human settlements in the Sanjiangyuan region of Qinghai Province, China.
At dusk of April 9th, in the county town of Zaduo, three snow leopards showed up on a mountain ridge only about 100 meters away from the road. Zaduo County, which located in the source of Lancang-Mekong River, south of Sanjiangyuan, possibly holds the largest snow leopard population in China, and has the biggest continuous feasible habitat for this species, according to the camera trapping done by Shan Shui Snow Leopard Team and Peking University.
Even so, it is rare that snow leopards would come and stay so close to where crowds of people are. The scene attracted more than 300 people who stopped to see the cats. The snow leopards showed no fear towards people and left into the darkness after half an hour.
The very next morning, in the neighbor county of Buwei Village, a herder, Nangqian, found a juvenile snow leopard lying in her barn. Nangqian had seen it wandering around the neighboring barns for days.
The villagers were able to lure the snow leopard into an enclosure and informed the town government. A general check by government officers showed that the animal was weak and thin, but had no trauma.
The unexpected guest was then released into the nearby sacred mountain Zaji. In fact, since the Tibetan New Year of 2015 (Feb. 19th), snow leopards have been seen three more times in the two counties.
The reason for the increase in frequency of snow leopard sightings in human settlements is not known with certainty yet. It could be the result of population increase or lack of wild prey.
A Sign of Conservation Progress?
Optimistically, in both events, people and snow leopards showed little fear towards each other, indicating the progress of conservation in this area. The local people thought it was a blessing to have seen this sacred animal according to their traditional culture, which is also a good base of conservation.
There were also accounts of the three snow leopards in Zaduo County being attacked and chased by several wild dogs, which reminds us that the influx of wild dogs is a new problem in conservation.
We already have interviews and video evidence from herders and monks that suggest wild dogs prey on wild ungulates and rob snow leopards’ kills. The dogs are also a potential carrier for trans-species infectious diseases such as canine distemper.
Further studies on the interactions between snow leopards and wild dogs, as well as developing a plan for the management of the wild dog population are crucial.
giveBIG 2015 is over – and what a day it was for snow leopards!
It all began with a challenge:
The Seattle Foundation had pledged to match the first $5,000 in giveBIG donations if we managed to raise that much in one day. In less than 7 hours, you helped us meet this challenge and land this amazing gift for these endangered cats!
Around noon, we reached another milestone: $10,000!
Shortly after that, the Seattle Foundation informed us that we had also won a “Platinum Global Ticket”, randomly awarded to a handful of organizations participating in the giveBIG event, worth another $5,000!
Building on this momentum, we managed to raise another $8,000 to help protect the “Ghost of the Mountain” before the day was over!
With donations, the match and the Platinum Global Ticket, our total tally for the day is $28.135!
Here’s our total for the day (11:59 pmPST):
The money we raised on giveBIG will be used to fund conservation programs that help snow leopard moms raise their newborn cubs safely.
Thank you very much to everyone who donated!
Snow Leopard Vodka founder Stephen Sparrow is the kind of guy who can inspire others even through an email. His contagious passion and energy leap up from his lines. It’s almost as if you were sitting with him in a bar, sipping on a drink – a Snow Leopard Vodka Conservation Martini perhaps – and hearing him personally tell the story of how he came face to face with a wild snow leopard.
“I was with Koustubh and Orjan, two SLT researchers. We were about 100 yards from a fresh ibex carcass, on top of a high ridge, thinking the snow leopard that must have killed the ibex might still be near.
“Orjan started to climb down the ledge, and I had my camera trained on the area where the carcass was, hoping the cat might be hiding there… and then, to our total surprise, a snow leopard came out of a small cave a mere two metres below us! He attempted to live up to his moniker of “the ghost of the mountains” by disappearing over the ledge; but in the process, he literally almost bumped into Koustubh.
“The cat turned and then “lolloped” rather than sprinted up the valley and out of sight. Having rather hastily readjusted my camera’s focus to 4 metres rather than 100 metres I had the super privilege of taking a photo of “Aztai”, one of the cats we had historically monitored, with a hand held camera. I know it’s an old cliché, but words don’t really do justice to the experience, it was a combination of great exhilaration but also wonderful calm and peacefulness.”
Long before his meeting with Aztai, Stephen Sparrow had resolved to invest his boundless energy into saving these endangered cats.
Pairing his entrepreneurial talent with his passion for wildlife, he founded Snow Leopard Vodka, a premium spirit whose proceeds would go to conservation projects. Riding his bicycle from door to door, Stephen tirelessly sold bottle after bottle of his boutique vodka to bars and restaurants, slowly growing its reputation.
The next step: growing the brand
9 years and over $185,000 in donations later, he’s ready for Snow Leopard Vodka to take the next step and become a global brand – thanks to a new partnership with the Edrington Group, one of the world’s leading drinks companies. “Edrington is really invested in Snow Leopard Vodka, from the very top down”, Stephen says. “Equally important, they have philanthropy and good causes flowing through their veins.”
In fact, Edrington is owned by a charitable trust and is the largest contributor to charities in its homeland, Scotland, and also donates to charities around the world.
“They’re the kind of partner we need to massively grow the business from where we are now to reach our conservation goals”, Stephen says. His own commitment to snow leopards and their namesake spirit will continue as well:
“I have a lifelong commitment to snow leopard conservation. I hope we’ll have reached a tipping point in the brand’s growth in five years or so. Once we’ve secured the long term business success of Snow Leopard Vodka, I’d like to devote more time to being involved in the snow leopard conservation work itself – just continuing to help.”
Helping however he can
It was this desire to help that brought Stephen to Mongolia – and face to face with Aztai – this spring.
A couple of months earlier, Stephen had heard that Mongolia had been hit by the “Dzud”, an exceptionally cold winter that occurs once every decade or so. He found out that many families in the Snow Leopard Trust partner communities in Tost had lost most of their livestock, and decided to help. “I put on a fundraiser in London and managed to raise $15,000 for a disaster relief fund”, Stephen recalls.
The affected families, who had been able to replace their livestock thanks to Stephen’s help, wanted to say thank you, so they invited him to visit them in Tost. Stephen decided to travel to Mongolia at his own expense and honor the invitation – and also spend some time volunteering in the field with Orjan and Koustubh.
There, he had his encounter with Aztai – ”a huge privilege”, as he calls it. A well-deserved reward, one might add.
A cold drink when the work is done
As much as Stephen enjoyed working in the field, one thing was missing: “Chilled glasses and ice don’t really feature out in the field with the scientists, so we all looked forward to enjoying a delicious Snow Leopard cocktail back in the city once the field work was done”, he admits.
“Personally, I love drinking Snow Leopard Vodka in a dry martini, garnished with rosemary; what we call a ‘Conservation Martini’. Another favorite of mine – and of Prince Harry’s, too – is the Bagheera.
Take a tall glass, add a muddled slice of lemon, a spoonful of crushed ice, a teaspoon of Pastis, a good dash of chilled Snow Leopard Vodka and a layer of basil leaves, then top that off with Ginger Beer.”
Sounds like a royal pleasure indeed.
Learn more about Snow Leopard Vodka