To celebrate International Snow Leopard Day, today, October 23, National Geographic Cat Watch is publishing two images from camera traps set up to document the elusive and seldom-seen big cat on Mount Everest.
The Everest Snow Leopard Conservation Center is a partnership initiative of Vanke Foundation and Qomolangma (Mt. Everest) National Nature Reserve. The 34,000-square-kilometer (13,000-square-mile) sanctuary protects the highly unique and diverse ecosystem found along the border of China and Nepal, centered around the world’s highest mountain.
“It is home to many endangered species including the snow leopard. But very little is known about the distribution and population status of snow leopards in this area,” according to a statement released with these photos by the Everest Snow Leopard Conservation Center.
The statement added that in the early 1990s, snow leopard expert Rodney Jackson did a brief field study on the species in this area. “He estimated that there may possibly be in excess of 100 snow leopards within the reserve. Since then, no research or conservation projects on snow leopards have been carried out in this area.”
In May 2014, Vanke Foundation, a Chinese private foundation founded by China Vanke Co., Ltd, joined the Qomolangma Nature Reserve to establish the Everest Snow Leopard Conservation Center. The Center aims to promote human-snow leopard coexistence through science, conservation action, public engagement and fostering future conservation leaders. The focus of the center’s work includes studying and monitoring snow leopard status, reducing threats to snow leopards through science-led, problem-oriented, community-based actions and securing greater financial and policy support for snow leopard conservation by increasing public awareness and participation.
An expedition in May and June this year by the Everest Snow Leopard Conservation Center with scientists from the Wildlife Institute of Beijing Forestry University, South China Research Institute of Endangered Species, and Image for Biodiversity Expedition, found 293 snow leopard signs such as scrapes, pugmarks, and feces. They also installed 44 motion-sensor cameras at 4 sites in the Qomolangma area, photographing snow leopards 27 times. This is the first time that wild snow leopard was photographed in this region along the northern slopes of the Great Himalaya Range, the Center said.
“In the next step, we will conduct in-depth studies of snow leopards, their habitat and prey, as well as their interactions with local residents.” said GAO Yufang, executive director of the Everest Snow Leopard Conservation Center.
David Braun is director of outreach with the digital and social media team illuminating the National Geographic Society’s explorer, science, and education programs.
He edits National Geographic Voices, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society’s mission and major initiatives. Contributors include grantees and Society partners, as well as universities, foundations, interest groups, and individuals dedicated to a sustainable world. More than 50,000 readers have participated in 10,000 conversations.
Braun also directs the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship.