SNOW LEOPARD TRUST
A Project of Woodland Park Zoo's Partners for Wildlife
Snow leopard, Aztai, in Mongolia. Outfitted with a GPS collar, Aztai has helped researchers collect essential data on snow leopard movement and behavior.
About the Project
The Snow Leopard Trust’s mission is to protect the endangered snow leopard and its mountain habitat through a comprehensive systems approach that addresses the needs of local people and the environment. The Trust was founded in 1981 by the late Woodland Park Zoo staff member Helen Freeman, as a direct response to the threats that faced the cats in the wild. The Trust, which started with a budget of just under $2,000 and a few dedicated volunteers, now boasts more than 50 staff worldwide and an annual budget of over $1.5 million, all focused on preserving and protecting the endangered cat.
The Trust was one of the first conservation organizations to pioneer community-based conservation, in which the economic and social needs of the communities are addressed as part of conservation solutions. The flagship community-based conservation program, Snow Leopard Enterprises, was founded in 1998 and has since grown to become the largest snow leopard conservation initiative in Mongolia. The program has a direct link to biodiversity conservation, directly addressing threats to snow leopards by alleviating poaching, increasing livelihoods of local communities living in snow leopard habitat, incorporating regional land-use planning and developing sustainable partnerships with local governments. The Trust currently supports field offices in China, India, Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan, and Pakistan, accounting for more than 80% of the world’s snow leopards and snow leopard habitat.
International Snow Leopard Survival Strategy
The Snow Leopard Trust is guided by the long-term priority goals of the Snow Leopard Survival Strategy. The purpose is to identify and focus on model landscapes in each of the five core countries and, within those landscapes, develop comprehensive conservation systems that are effective and resilient. The ultimate goal is to support healthy and growing populations of snow leopards and prey species in some of the richest, most important habitats within the range.
Keeping Track of the Big Cats
As of February 2013, seven snow leopards are currently wearing GPS collars—three males and four females. Since the research program began in 2008, GPS collars have been placed on 19 snow leopards. In 2012, Snow Leopard Trust field researchers successfully collared four new snow leopards: one male and three females. Each of the cats were fitted with GPS collars that uplink locations approximately every five hours, and are scheduled to drop off 24 months after the initial collaring.
About Snow Leopards
Snow leopards belong to the family Felidae, which includes 36 cat species. Researchers estimate between 3,500 and 7,000 snow leopards in the wild, exact numbers not known because the cats are elusive and inhabit harsh, remote habitat. They are distributed throughout the high mountains of Central Asia. In summer, they range in high alpine meadows and rocky areas at elevations of 8,900 – 19,700 feet, usually sleeping in rocky caves or crevices, their long tail (almost as long as their body) serving as a muffler protecting their noses and lungs in the intense cold.
In the Field
Snow Leopard Trust’s innovative Snow Leopard Enterprises program is a cooperative handicraft-based community partnership in several Asian countries, helping herders make and sell fine wool handicrafts to increase their income. In 2012, 257 families in snow leopard habitat in Mongolia made products for SLE. On average, each household was able to earn roughly $157 in extra income during the year, an increase of approximately 66%. This income helps families offset the losses they faced to livestock living alongside snow leopards. Handicrafts were sold in over 150 retail outlets in the US and internationally.
At the Zoo
In 2012, Woodland Park Zoo was once again the beneficiary of the birth of three snow leopard cubs. Unfortunately one cub succumbed to health issues early on, but the remaining two cubs, Asha and Shanti, have done well as part of the zoo collection and the Species Survival Plan. The cubs, although diagnosed with congenital eyelid defects known as colobomas, get around the exhibit well after multiple surgical procedures. The keepers and exhibits crews worked hard to make sure the exhibit was safe for our vision impaired cubs, allowing them the freedom and mobility that any growing cub would need.
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