Dear Snow Leopard Trust supporters,
The lone snow leopard walked into an ice cave as we watched from a distance. This incredible sight was captured for posterity by National Geographic photographer Prasenjeet Yadav, who was by my side.
I was back in Spiti Valley in February 2022 after a pandemic-related gap of three years. Earlier that week, another snow leopard had walked directly toward us at a distance of fewer than 5 meters before turning and walking calmly away.
As I look back at the year, I am filled with gratitude for so many different moments, big and small. The ability to travel to the mountains and breathe the crisp winter air again, to meet and even hug friends, colleagues, community partners and our supporters.
At any other time, one of those amazing snow leopard sightings would have easily been my favorite memory of 2022. But my most treasured memory of 2022 is the brief time I spent with Dolma and Choldon at Dolma’s house in Spiti Valley.
I had the privilege of showing a never-before-seen film to Dolma and Choldon on my laptop. It was an unusual film premiere as these two women are its main protagonists. I hadn’t laughed so much in a long time as I did with the two of them, watching their overjoyed and amused expressions.
Living in the harsh and high Himalayan mountains, these women are true heroes. Day after day, they look after their children, their livestock, cooking and caring for their families. Throughout summer, they tend to their crops. When there’s some respite from the fields during winter, they make handicrafts. They do all this with joy and pride and make it look easy. They also protect snow leopards.
Not long ago, Spiti Valley used to stay cut off from the rest of the world during winter. Today, hundreds of photographers and tourists flock here to try and see snow leopards. Many of them are rewarded with nature’s ultimate prize. Yet, few are aware of the role of people like Dolma and Choldon in helping their dream of seeing a wild snow leopard come true.
Dolma, Choldon and their people used to live in fear and contempt of snow leopards. Though they rarely ever saw the predator, they suffered all the time. Losing their favorite yak to a hungry snow leopard, feeling angry, fearful, and violated as the cat would enter their corral and kill their prized animals. Snow leopards would be killed in retaliation when there was a chance.
Today, the same people are the snow leopard’s greatest protectors. They set aside part of their land to enable populations of wild blue sheep and ibex to recover. They run community-managed insurance programs to help families when they lose livestock to snow leopards and wolves. They predator-proofed their corrals. If outsiders go to the area to hunt, they are turned away. If tourists make noise, Dolma, Choldon, and their friends educate them about the importance of not disturbing snow leopards. They record all their conservation actions in a shared diary. Such can be the transformative power when local and indigenous communities are allowed and empowered to lead conservation efforts.
The world is taking notice of the leadership that communities such as Dolma and Choldon’s have shown in protecting wildlife. In the first half of the year, we were privileged to receive global recognition for our approach to community-led conservation. This approach, called PARTNERS Principles, was accorded this year’s Whitley Gold Award (known as the Green Oscars).
In the autumn of 2022, the Snow Leopard Trust was once again privileged to receive the BBVA Foundation’s Worldwide Award for Biodiversity Conservation in Madrid for our role in helping create and manage an intergovernmental alliance represented by Environment Ministers of all 12 snow leopard range countries.
We end 2022 even more inspired by the recognition accorded to local and indigenous peoples in the new Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework agreement signed by nearly 200 countries.
I sincerely thank you for your support and for believing in the power of ethical, community-led conservation to protect snow leopards and the planet’s biodiversity. As we welcome the new year, I hope you will reflect on and celebrate your role in enabling ethical and effective conservation efforts. You are creating hope for the earth’s magnificent diversity of life.
P.S. You help make this kind of ethical community-led conservation possible.
Nearly 2,0000 supporters from more than 45 countries recently helped us surpass our year-end revenue goal, raising over $739,000 (and still counting!) to ensure a future for snow leopards. There is hope for this endangered cat because of you. Thank you!
P.P.S. The film, Living with Snow Leopards premiered in Seattle in 2022. We’re working on a global premiere in 2023.