by Siri Okamoto, Development Director, Snow Leopard Trust
In 2011, I visited Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, FL (USA). I was in line for french fries in 90-degree weather along with a pressing throng of local and international tourists. They were all melting and trying to get through line as quickly as possible with screaming children. Not exactly a place that makes you think of snow leopards. But as every person approached the cashier, an intrepid Disney cast member asked them if they would like to donate to conservation. Over 375 degree deep fryers, amidst the sweat, tears and salt, they championed snow leopards and other wildlife! It was really impressive. I gave too.
What can we show for their efforts? Quite a lot! The Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund (where all those cash register donations end up) is supporting extensive snow leopard work in India. Thanks to their efforts, we have been able to establish the first snow leopard population baselines for a very important region in the Himalayas called Upper Spiti Valley. We set out cameras in 2011 and 2012, and our data show that between 15-25 cats use the region. Disney support is also helping raise awareness for snow leopard conservation, and engage local villagers in efforts to protect the cats. Our India team is currently working with children in local schools to put on a skit that will help spread awareness about the importance of snow leopards and their ecosystem.
And the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund has just awarded an additional one-year grant for snow leopard work in Mongolia! We will use this year’s support to help address critical threats to snow leopards by working with 26 herder communities in snow leopard habitat. This support will also make it possible for communities to better monitor threats to snow leopard populations, including training ‘community rangers.’
So thank you to all Disney cast members for their hard work, day in and day out! The next time you visit Disney World and are in line for fries, they’ll make sure you think of wildlife around the world – so we’d suggest you tip, and give, generously!