We like to call Helen Freeman the “Jane Goodall” of snow leopards, or the champion of snow leopards, in tribute to her tireless efforts toward protecting snow leopards and establishing the Snow Leopard Trust.

Read more about Helen's Story below.

About Helen Freeman

Helen’s interest in snow leopards began in the early 1970s as a volunteer docent at Woodland Park Zoo. She was one of the first people to see Nicholas and Alexandra, two snow leopard cubs brought to the zoo. Very few people had seen a snow leopard forty years ago, and Helen was thrilled to meet the pair. Her excitement quickly turned to distress, however, when she saw how terrified the little pair were and how much they had injured themselves in their fear. They were wild cats taken from the mountains of the Soviet Union and were completely unaccustomed to humans.

Helen and keeper, Gordon Swanberg, weighing two snow leopard cubs.

She began studying the zoo’s pair of snow leopards and discovered a new passion for the endangered cats. This ultimately led her back to school for a second degree in animal behavior at University of Washington. In an effort to better understand snow leopard social interactions, she conducted multiple behavioral studies of Nick and Alex for a number of years. The information was used to enhance breeding success in captive snow leopards. One of the most encouraging results is that even today, North American and European zoos no long have snow leopards that were trapped in the wild. Zoos today are completely repopulated by breeding captive snow leopards.

In the early 1980s, Helen became the zoo’s Curator of Education and, in 1981, she founded the Snow Leopard Trust. She embarked on a life-long quest to help these remarkable cats, and the Snow Leopard Trust was created to prevent the extinction of the endangered snow leopard in the wild.

As Curator of Education at the Woodland Park Zoo (WPZ) in Seattle, WA from 1979 to 1986, Helen Freeman worked to make zoo visitors more aware of the problems facing endangered species. She strongly believed that increasing the public understanding of an animal’s natural behavior and the importance of preserving its habitat would be essential to conservation efforts.

Helen sitting at a table with other women looking at documents
At the Snow Leopard Trust, under Helen’s guidance, the Trust pioneered new approaches to snow leopard conservation and its habitat in Asia, placing local peoples at the center of the movement. Helen ultimately became one of the world’s foremost experts on the behavior of snow leopards in captivity and a key figure in international snow leopard conservation.

Helen made a special connection with the snow leopards at the zoo and came to understand how these animals are conservation ambassadors for their cousins in the wild. Her drive to protect the species led her to build an organization that works with real communities to save these animals in their natural habitat. We miss Helen, but are proud to be part of helping her work and dream continue to succeed

—Former Woodland Park Zoo President and CEO Dr. Deborah Jensen.