Can ecotourism help save snow leopards?
It is sad but true that local people sharing snow leopard habitat (often out of necessity) can value a dead snow leopard more than a live one. As they struggle to earn enough to feed and clothe a family, villagers and herders may illegally kill and sell snow leopards for fur and body parts, or more common, kill the cats when they have attacked precious livestock.
Through a snow leopard ecotourism project you are leading by example and providing real support. You are financially helping local communities by using accommodation and local labor, giving project donations and supporting job creation. You are helping scientists learn more about snow leopards and their habitats. And you are ultimately helping communities to value live snow leopards, and help provide a future for these beautiful animals.
What will my living conditions be like?
You’ll probably be in a tent although in some snow leopard range countries there are villages with homes that take part in Homestay programs and offer accommodation and food for a fee. With your group there’ll be cooks that provide food and most expeditions I’ve been on and others I’ve heard about, the quality of the food is excellent and you get really spoilt with quality and amount. You’ll be told before hand what to bring so you have all the right clothing and gear, it may get very cold, even extremely cold (snow leopards love it like that) depending on time of year you go.
What will I be doing?
Most likely you’ll be walking or driving to observation points and survey points to search for snow leopards, argali, ibex, marmots and other animals. This means looking for tracks, kills, scats and spray markings. All of these things will be explained to you before hand, as will the animals you are on the lookout for.
You may interview villagers and herders for information about snow leopard and prey species sightings (with translators as appropriate). You may interview other tourists travelling through the area on their sightings of snow leopard and other animals as well as as about their general knowledge of these animals and their conservation. And you may be asked to help with some camp and kitchen work – don’t worry, it’ll be fun.
Flexibility is everything. Remember you will be in a place where the weather may be unpredictable, where the local infrastructure may be challenging and so your willingness to be flexible and ‘go with the flow’ will have a direct impact on your enjoyment and the level of your contribution.