Saving the Snow Leopard, by Learning to Love It
Conservationists call the plight of Central Asia’s apex predator a matter of global concern. Impoverished farmers call it a threat to their livelihood. Can an inventive initiative satisfy everyone—and keep this majestic animal alive?
Photos by Felix Gaedtke
On a bright and sunny summer Thursday, Tsewang Namgail drives his run-down white Jeep through the rough desert terrain of the Indian Himalayas. The Buddhist hymn, “Om Mani Padme Hum…” plays on loop from the CD player as he speeds through the winding, dusty roads. A stuffed toy, with a snow leopard’s head and a long, snake-like body, dangles from Namgail’s rear-view mirror.
“This is my serpent snow leopard,” Namgail jokes, stepping on the gas to steer the car over a steep slope. Namgail, who has a PhD in wildlife ecology, heads the Snow Leopard Conservancy – India Trust, an NGO. He and his staff are based in Leh, the capital of Ladakh – a mountain desert region in northern India. Ladakh, with its arid, high-altitude terrain, is home to 60 percent of India’s snow leopard population. One of nine big cat species found in the world, snow leopard numbers have decreased by twenty percent o…