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Ensuring snow leopard survival and conserving mountain landscapes by expanding environmental awareness and sharing innovative practices through community stewardship and partnerships. Please join us to celebrate International Snow Leopard Day!    Watch this space for more information. The Conservancy has partnered with the “Snow Leopard team” of Nepal’s Global Primate Network (GPN) and the Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP). Disney Conservation Fund is honoring Tungalagtuya Khuukhenduu (above with students) with a 2015 Conservation Hero Award for her outstanding work in conservation education, and her dedication to engaging young people and fellow members of her community in environmental education programs. Snow leopards suffer from low natural density, large home ranges, dependence upon prey whose numbers are low or declining, and high vulnerability to poaching and other threats from humans.
Human density in snow leopard habitat is among the lowest in the world, but our impacts are pervasive. Poaching and illegal trading in the snow leopard’s exquisite fur and highly valued body parts (used in traditional Asian medicine) is a significant and increasing threat. Although officially protected in all of its range countries, the laws have been rarely enforced due to lack of awareness, insufficient political will to uphold regulations, or a shortage of funds and trained personnel.  You can learn more about steps being taken to help combat poaching on the page about our program in Russia. First listed as globally endangered in 1972, snow leopards have declined by 20 percent over the past two decades throughout most of the 12 Central Asian countries they inhabit, from Afghanistan in the west to Mongolia in the east. Yet the prospects for the so-called grey ghost of the Himalayas appear much brighter in Bhutan, the homeland of Tshewang Wangchuk, a biologist dedicated to keeping the elusive cat a permanent fixture on the landscape he knows so well. To gauge the health of snow leopard populations, biologists often survey the landscape for scat, tracks, scrapes and other potential signs of their distribution and abundance. That approach works well enough in the drier regions of the western Himalayas and Tibetan Plateau, Wangchuk says. Wangchuk thought genetics approaches might provide more reliable identifications, but wasn’t sure he could even get enough scat to run DNA tests. The team found evidence of “snow leopard hotbeds,” Wangchuk says, with multiple groups of three or four cats at a time. The team also discovered that it’s not practical to rely on tracks, scat and other signs to monitor the cats because the rich diversity of similar-bodied animals confounds identifications.
The research confirmed that the expense and logistical challenges of deploying camera traps and sign surveys in the rugged, inaccessible haunts of the snow leopard make these approaches impractical in Bhutan. Bhutan’s forbidding landscape may make tracking leopards tougher for biologists but it also protects the rare cat from mining, illegal logging and other habitat-destroying activities that threaten the species in northeast India, Mongolia and other regions.
Oftentimes, when herders lose a yak to a snow leopard, Wangchuk says, they consider it a sign that they have disappointed their protective deities.
His biggest fear is that these tolerant attitudes could shift – triggered, paradoxically, by groups trying to reduce conflict. He’s seen herders fed up with filling out forms then waiting endlessly to get $60 for animals valued at $200.
A better strategy would be to build on people’s tolerant attitudes and find ways to offset their losses.
After Wangchuk’s DNA analyses and further field investigations by the parks revealed that snow leopards are thriving in Bhutan, he turned his attention to the people who live among the furtive felines. One young yak herder asked Wangchuk to bring him a phone with a high-resolution camera so he could take better pictures of the leopards he sees when he’s grazing his herd. For Wangchuk, turning what could be seen as a liability into an asset depends on building community infrastructure, from keeping yaks disease-free to improving public health and education.
Wangchuk just returned from the second Jomolhari Mountain Festival, where community members celebrate their culture and traditions – all while paying tribute to the dappled grey ghosts of the high mountains.
Recent discoveries show that Bhutan is also a hotbed for tigers (Panthera tigris), the closest evolutionary relative of the snow leopard (Panthera uncia). Reading this article makes me so happy and also at the same moment sad, butan the land of snowleopards , i hope the local community start taking the step in conservation and protect this percious cats.. National Geographic has been showcasing the Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan for a hundred years. Gross National HappinessTravel to Bhutan with photographer Lynsey Addario and hear how the Buddhist kingdom is moving into a democratic future. Happy Talk in BhutanBhutan was first thrust into the world spotlight back in the 1970s when the king, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, announced that his country would abandon the materialistic metric of gross national product (GNP) as a measure of development success and replace it with its own model, Gross National Happiness (GNH). Trekking Bhutan’s Higher PlanesOn a 24-day expedition into the sacred heart of the Himalaya, Kira Salak logged some half million steps over 216 miles (328 kilometers)—and that was only half the journey. Research, Conservation, ExplorationA young yak herder, Wangchuk, captured this footage of snow leopards with camera traps provided by the Bhutan Foundation and biologist Tshewang Wangchuk, also a National Geographic Waitt grantee.

Considered by many to be one of the most beautiful cats, the snow leopard, or ounce, has a very soft and heavily spotted coat that is typically gray or yellowish gray marked with large, dark, mostly open gray rosettes.  This coloration makes them almost invisible in the rocky slopes.
Through most of their range, snow leopards are associated with steep rocky slopes with arid and semi-arid shrubland, grassland or steppe vegetation. Snow leopards have a large but extremely patchy and fragmented distribution, consisting of a mix of long narrow mountain systems and islands of montane habitat scattered throughout a vast region surrounded by central Asian deserts and plateaus. Snow leopards are opportunistic predators capable of killing prey up to three times their own weight. Initiated in 1984, AZA’s Snow Leopard Species Survival Plan (SSP) strives to maintain a population of 150 animals in over 60 managed locations within North America. The Snow Leopard SSP works closely with the Snow Leopard Trust (SLT), a tax-exempt non-profit organization dedicated to conserving snow leopards, their prey and habitat.
Three-year-old Sarani and her mate Sabu arrived at Brookfield Zoo in Chicago two years ago from Tautphaus Park Zoo in Idaho Falls and Cape May County Park Zoo in New Jersey, respectively.The pairing was part of a co-ordinated conservation program by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' (AZA) Snow Leopard Species Survival Plan (SSP).
Snow leopards are listed as an endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the world's oldest and largest global environmental organization.They are solitary animals, except for mating and when females are raising cubs. The views expressed in the contents above are those of our users and do not necessarily reflect the views of MailOnline.
GPN is dedicated to safeguarding the future of wildlife through scientific research and community outreach.
Herders are especially angered by events of surplus killing when a snow leopard enters a corral and kills up to 50 or more sheep and goats in a single instance.
Trade centers in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Mongolia all appear to be linked with the growing Chinese consumer market.
Yet its secretive nature and penchant for living among some of the steepest, remotest mountain ranges on the planet have not saved the cat from human intrusions throughout most of its range. Human activities – primarily habitat destruction, poaching and retaliatory killings to avenge livestock losses – present the biggest threats to the species’ survival.
But the monsoons that drench Bhutan also degrade scat and tracks, already hard enough to distinguish from those left by Bhutan’s diverse assemblage of native foxes, felines and wild dogs.
Thanks in part to funding from the National Geographic Waitt Grants Program, Wangchuk, who now directs the Bhutan Foundation, and his collaborators managed to collect hundreds of samples.
Since the species prefers a solitary lifestyle, Wangchuk thinks the groups were likely mothers with grown cubs. Even Wangchuk’s most experienced trackers would swear that a scat came from a snow leopard out in the field only to be proved wrong more than half of the time by DNA tests back at the lab. Likewise, poaching and retaliatory killing for livestock predation, serious threats in other countries, are largely absent here, Wangchuk says.
Conservation organizations have tried to implement livestock compensation programs used in Africa and other countries in Bhutan.
By spending time with the herders, Wangchuk and his colleagues have found a promising strategy to do just that.
Working with several partners, including JDNP, the Department of Livestock Services, the Nature Recreation and Ecotourism Division, and the Snow Leopard Conservancy, Wangchuk focused on building community relationships. The herders not only take pictures and videos of the leopards but also keep tabs on their favorite prey, the blue sheep. He promised to pay Wangchuk back, not just for the cost of the camera but with documentary evidence of the cat’s whereabouts. He’s even talked with herders who have come upon a group of snow leopards feeding on one of their yaks only to exclaim, ‘Oh, look! For Wangchuk and his collaborators, community building goes hand in hand with snow leopard conservation. Biologists are finding tigers at 2,500 to 4,000 meters in Bhutan’s mountains, Wangchuk says, offering new insights into the biology of one of Earth’s most endangered big cats. He is shown standing in the doorway of his residence, wearing the insignia of the Order of the Indian Empire, which was bestowed on him by the British Government before his elevation to the throne. Further adaptations for high-altitude life include long hair with dense, woolly underfur, an enlarged nasal cavity, shortened limbs (snow leopards stand only two feet tall at the shoulder) and well-developed chest muscles for climbing. In the mountains of Russia and parts of the Tien Shan, they visit open coniferous forest along the edge of the snow line, but generally avoid dense forest. Snow leopards range across 12 countries from central Russia, Mongolia, western China and Tibet, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Krgyzstan, and the Himalayan portions of India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bhutan and Nepal. Most active at dawn and dusk, they are able to jump up to 50 feet, which can be quite helpful leaping from rock to rock.

First of all, they are hunted for the illegal wildlife trade for their beautiful fur and for the demand of their bones in traditional Asian medicines. Fish and Wildlife Service and IUCN, and banned from international trade as an Appendix I species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
In order to maintain a stable captive population, recommended breedings produce an average of 14 cubs each year, an objective that has been enhanced by a declining incidence of neonatal mortality, especially by first-time mothers.
They do this through balanced programs that meet the needs of the local people and the environment, for example, partnering with local herders on the distribution of their handicrafts globally in exchange for keeping these cats protected. In the 1990’s snow leopards in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan declined three- or four-fold, with poachers taking up to 120 animals in a single year.
Credit Buddhist ethics that respect the predator’s place in the ecosystem, a healthy respect for laws that prohibit the killing of leopards and the enduring stories of an early king who treated snow leopards as a national treasure. But they’re based on notions about human-wildlife conflict that are totally foreign to the communities, Wangchuk says. Many supplement their income with sales of cordyceps, a fungal folk remedy that fetches thousands of dollars a kilogram. Herders lose far more yaks to disease than to snow leopards, they discovered, mostly from the “gid” parasite.
Bhutan offers contiguous habitat from the Indian foothills all the way up to the glaciers, which may explain why one national park with an area of only 1730 square kilometers harbors more than 25 tigers. The long tail is thought to aid in balance, and they often wrap their tails around themselves when resting for added warmth. Snow leopards are generally found at elevations of 9,800 to 15,000 ft but occasionally go above 18,000 ft in the Himalayas.
Hidden among the rocks, a snow leopard moves in close to prey, often perching above it, before launching an attack. Secondly, depletion of its natural prey by hunting or overgrazing forces them to increase their feeding on domestic animals. Estimates of the wild population are difficult to compile because of the remoteness of the snow leopard’s range but most scientists agree that 3,500 to 7,000 animals remain in the wild.
As part of a zoo-based research program, the first cub conceived by artificial insemination has moved the SSP closer to genome banking. In-situ conservation programs are implemented through SLT’s in-country Snow Leopard Conservationists (SLC) in China, India, Mongolia and Pakistan, who focus on alleviating people-wildlife conflict due to livestock depredation, improving management of protected areas, offering local communities with incentives and building local capacity.
They reach sexual maturity between two to three years of age.A leading snow leopard conservation organization, The Snow Leopard Trust, estimates population numbers in the wild are 3,500 and 7,000.
The fur trade in Afghanistan re-emerged after the fall of the Taliban and the influx of international aid workers and soldiers – until conservationists launched an awareness campaign. Offering paltry fees as compensation is insulting, and worse, does nothing to reduce yak mortality, he says.
Conservationists from the Jigme Dorji National Park (JDNP) have been working with veterinarians in Bhutan’s Department of Livestock to treat infected yaks as well as dogs, both strays and the Tibetan mastiffs that guard the herds, which serve as reservoirs for the Coenurosis parasite. Finding so many tigers in Bhutan puts a different face on the diversity of cats in Bhutan, Wangchuk says. Females become mature at just under three years of age, and after a gestation of 93 to 104 days, bear two to three young every other year. Obviously, the herders do not want the leopards preying upon their livestock and will often kill snow leopards even if there is no proof that the leopard killed the livestock.
The largest populations are in China, which compromises about 60% of the potential range, followed by Mongolia and India. According to the International Studbook, there are approximately 478 snow leopards in zoos worldwide. Through its Natural Partnerships Program, local persons will be recruited to serve as SLCs in other countries as funds become available. The young become independent after 18 to 22 months, although sibling groups may remain together briefly following independence. Thirdly, there is habitat loss and defragmentation as the land is being converted for agricultural uses. In captivity, snow leopards live for about 19 years, but in the wild, few are likely to reach 16 years.

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