The endangered snow leopard is the mascot of the Sochi Olympic Games. Find out more about this magnificent, mysterious cat and how you can help it survive.
- the snow leopard is endangered, with only 4000 to 6500 cats remaining in the wild
- range country governments and conservationists are joining forces to protect the snow leopard
- local communities who share the cat’s habitat are a key ally in this fight
- animal lovers across the world can help snow leopards by symbolically adopting a cat, purchasing handicrafts made by local herders, or making a gift for conservation
The XXII Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, will be all about athletic excellence in cold, snowy conditions – and no animal could better represent this idea than the snow leopard, the Olympic Games’ official mascot. Indeed, this cat would dominate many disciplines in Sochi!
With its short but powerful front limbs, and its longer, equally strong hind limbs, the snow leopard can leap up to 30 feet in the air – not even halfpipe star Shaun White and ski jumper Sarah Hendrickson will be able to match that! Its extra-long tail gives the snow leopard superb balance when jumping from rock to rock – a skill the world’s best freestyle skiers would love to have. With its giant paws, the snow leopard can walk on any type of snow without sinking in, while cross-country skiers need skis and poles – and when a snow leopard hunts a mountain goat down a steep slope, snow leopard fans and alpine skiing superstars Lindsey Vonn and Maria Riesch would have a hard time keeping up with the cat going for gold! We don’t know how a snow leopard would fare at hockey or figure skating, but we wouldn’t be surprised if it excelled, too.
An Endangered Mascot
Despite its remarkable physical prowess, the snow leopard is officially listed as an endangered species. Decades of poaching, habitat destruction and conflicts with herders who share the cat’s home range in Central Asia have reduced the global snow leopard population to a few thousand animals. Russia, the host of these Olympic Games, may only have as few as 100 wild snow leopards left, mostly in the Altay mountains – far from the Black Sea resort town of Sochi.
Together with all the 11 other snow leopard range countries, the Russian government has agreed to an ambitious plan to save these endangered cats in October 2012, signing the Bishkek Declaration on the Conservation of the Snow Leopard.
The plan’s goal is to ensure the survival of the snow leopard. As a first milestone, it calls for the countries to identify and secure 20 secure 20 snow leopard landscapes across the big cat’s range by 2020, or, in shorthand— “Secure 20 by 2020“.
The Snow Leopard Trust is helping the range countries reach this ambitious – and crucial – goal by conducting pioneering research on this most elusive of the big cats; studying its behavior, interaction and needs through GPS tracking and remote sensor cameras.
Local Communities Are Key Allies
Another pillar of our conservation strategy is to work with communities who share snow leopard habitat. These people, often impoverished herders who rely on their livestock for their livelihood, can be at odds with the predator who shares their pastures. Retaliation killings by herders trying to protect their livestock have been a threat to the snow leopard for decades – but through innovative approaches, we’re turning these herders from a threat to an asset for the cats!
Livestock insurance and vaccination schemes have made it easier for herders to tolerate the occasional loss of a goat or a sheep, increasing their tolerance for snow leopards. And our handicraft program, Snow Leopard Enterprises, has even helped many of them make a living not just despite, but thanks to peacefully coexisting with the cats!
In Snow Leopard Enterprises, herders produce handmade items from the wool of their livestock. We purchase the handicrafts from them and sell them through our webshop – providing these families with a sustainable income. In return, they pledge to protect the snow leopards in their area; receiving a bonus if no cats are killed near their community at the end of each year.
Help Save Cats
These programs have changed attitudes about snow leopards significantly. You can help us bring them to even more families, and help them protect even more snow leopards.
Support Snow Leopard Enterprises by purchasing colorful baby felted booties, beautiful embroidered cotton napkins, or unique camel wool yarn in vibrant colors. Or help fund our research and conservation programs by symbolically adopting a snow leopard or by making a donation on our website. And, last but not least, help spread the word! Share this article with your friends and family, so they can learn more about the awesome cat behind the Sochi mascot too!