The Reality of Living with Snow Leopards

Our colleague in Mongolia shared a moving story about the challenges of living with snow leopards. While it’s easy to understand how its mythical nature and wild beauty inspire such awe and wonder, it can be difficult to reconcile that with the other dimension of this apex predator. Yes, it’s a carnivore that kills wild prey but it also sometimes kills domestic livestock. Many of the people living in snow leopard habitat depend on their herds of sheep, goats, camels, cattle or yaks for their livelihood. Losing even one animal to snow leopard predation can be devastating, as detailed in the story below.

Story narrated by Enkhburen (Buren) Nyam, field assistant and local coordinator for our partner organization Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation. 

“Recently, a herder found one of her camels dead and suspected that a snow leopard, known to us as M15, had killed it. M15 was sitting near the top of a rock near the dead camel. The herder is part of my livestock insurance community and she called me. That evening I went to that place and set up a trap camera at 6:00 pm. I knew M15 was still around.  The camera photographed him on the kill over the next few days.”  (M15 is the largest snow leopard we have ever collared, weighing 52 kg.)

“It appeared that the snow leopard had killed the camel. The camel was very big, a ten-year-old male weighing more than 400 kg. I talked to the herder, who is part of the community-managed livestock insurance program we run. She expressed how upset she was that the camel was dead. She said, “Maybe I will kill this snow leopard! If I knew this would have happened, I would have sold the camel.” She said that the camel was worth 2 million tugrik.” (about $620 USD)

“I explained that the insurance program would cover 150,000 tugrik (about $45 USD) for the loss. She was disappointed with the compensation level as it was such a big camel but was glad there was at least some compensation.” (150,000 tugrik is the agreed-upon compensation amount set by all community members for large-bodied, free-ranging animals. This amount is not set by any governing body. The herder can bring up compensation rates at the next community meeting in December, and if all agree, they may adjust rates for future incidents.

“I have noticed that snow leopards often attack camels. Last year, this same herder lost at least two, maybe three small camels (calfs and subadults that were not included in the insurance program) to snow leopards. The herder followed protocol and left the dead camel. She did not collect the parts to sell. It was best to just leave the camel to the snow leopard.” (If livestock is killed in the pastures, it’s recommended not to disturb the carcass or collect meat from it. This is to reduce the risk of the snow leopard killing another livestock in quick succession, and also to avoid contracting serious zoonotic diseases carried by snow leopards, or their parasites.) 

“I will try to help her insure the rest of her camels in the insurance protocol this year and continue to work with SLCF to strengthen conservation in the area to help people live peacefully with snow leopards.”

Buren’s powerful story illustrates why our community-based conservation initiatives are critical to promoting human/carnivore coexistence. Our livestock insurance programs are just one component in a multi-pronged strategy that aims to build resilience within communities so they can withstand numerous threats – from depredation to disease outbreaks to the impacts of climate change. Education and outreach, better livestock management techniques and an increase in wild prey density are key counterparts to a well-designed community-managed insurance program. Snow Leopard Trust has partnered with more than 150 communities who maintain predator-proof corrals, livestock insurance programs and a host of other co-created community initiatives that benefit both people and wildlife. 

While our programs can assist affected herder communities in securing their livelihoods, we are mindful that the cost of livestock losses, or even the opportunity costs of such conflicts are not the only difficulties communities have to face. People may also undergo emotional distress when they lose a domestic animal they might be attached to or experience fear and a sense of invasion when snow leopards enter their livestock corrals. We salute our partner communities for doing so much for snow leopards despite the hardships of living with them.  

If you are moved by this story and want to make a difference, please consider helping us strengthen our community conservation efforts to promote tolerance and coexistence with snow leopards.

Special thanks to Buren and the SLCF team for their ongoing work with the insurance program and other community conservation work in the Gobi. 


  1. Thanks to Enkhburen for sharing this story, and especially for trying to understand the herder’s loss in its financial and emotional aspects! If the evaluation is correct, 7.5 % does seem rather meagre, and I can imagine that there will be a demand for a higher percentage in future, especially for people like this lady who had already suffered loss before. Could the insurance policy take that factor into account? I wish much wisdom to those on the ground who have to battle with all these delicate questions!

  2. Hello and thank you for this story and your ongoing efforts. This insurance program appears to be completely inadequate to inspire local residents to help protect snow leopards. If I could afford to pay for her camel, I would. Can you possibly set up a targeted donation campaign to reimburse her?
    Thank You,
    Sandra Kammann

    1. Thank you for your concern, Sandra. Please note that the insurance program is something the herding communities run themselves, supported by us. They are quite proud of it. In fact, some of our partner communities have been running their insurance programs for nearly 25 years. If they thought it inadequate, it wouldn’t be sustained long-term. It may be tempting to help this one depredation event, but it is unlikely to have a long-term effect on the community as a whole. In reality, they are looking for more sustainable and long-term empowerment to live with wildlife. The insurance program is just one tool, part of a larger multi-pronged effort that addresses different risks. Also, the threat to larger animals is typically considered lower. Therefore, people tend to decide on lower premium and compensation amounts (which are usually relatively higher for smaller-bodied animals as they are more at risk). This program is flexible, so if the risk level is changing, they can decide to revise the rates.
      We thank you for your comments and concern and hope you will continue to engage and support our community-based conservation efforts.

      1. I appreciate this herder’s dedication to helping Snow Leopards, despite hardships. And I’m glad the field assistant and others are communicating with the herder and continuing to build the programs that are clearly making a difference!

  3. Very good to know the scope of the project developed by the Snow Leopard Trust and its multifaceted approach. The compensation system is an indicator of partnership sharing responsibilities, where the low object value in this specific case, as explained, represents the small percentage of risk and it is a free-living animal.

    The leopard, the author of the unthinkable slaughter, was even more unscathed from the predation. An excellent case to be followed, since the success of this onslaught should be repeated. Those who live with them already knew about this predation capacity, we were totally surprised by this onslaught and the success achieved.

    Congratulations to the leopard, the Project and communities involved!

    All committed in establishing resilience with their permanence in this arid landscape.

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