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Snow Leopard Experts

Read about the exciting and sometimes dangerous work of the world’s foremost snow leopard experts.

Rodney Jackson, Snow Leopard Conservancy

Dr Rodney Jackson, Founder and Director of the Snow Leopard Conservancy (SLC) and Mongolian biologist Munkhtsog and their sedated, satellite-collared cat in the Gobi Desert, Mongolia. (Photo SLC).


Rodney Jackson, Ph D.is one of the world’s foremost snow leopard experts. He has devoted 30 years of his life to researching and protecting the rare and endangered cats.

Born in South Africa, he received his bachelor’s degree and doctorate from the University of London and attended graduate school at the University of California, Berkeley in the 1970’s.

He was the first to radio-collar endangered snow leopards in the wild in Nepal in the early 1980’s during dangerous expeditions in high altitudes.  In 1981 he won the Rolex Award which enabled him to start his life work with snow leopard research which today is considered to be some of the most important work ever done on the cats. This seminal work was the cover story in a 1986 edition of National Geographic.

He founded the Snow Leopard Conservancy in 2000 to help villagers build snow leopard safe places for their livestock. If the cats no longer kill the livestock then the villagers will not kill the cats in retaliation. The Conservancy also runs school programs in the Himalayas and suports ways to boost local people’s income through ecotourism like Himalayan Homestays where western trekkers stay in local houses and provide income to owners.

Himalayan Homestays received Travel + Leisure magazine’s 2005 Global Vision Award for Community Outreach.

Rodney’s field work provided the research for the 2005 handbook on camera trapping techniques which is used by many snow leopard researchers today.

With his partner Darla Hillard, who has written books about their snow leopard work, Rodney continues his conservation work throughout 6 snow leopard habitat countries. “Good stewardship by locals — helping them to see the leopards, not as a threat, but as a valuable asset – is the key to any long-term sustainable conservation strategy for the leopards.”

In Rodney has been a three time finalist in the Indianapolis Prize, the most prestigious wildlife prize in the world. He has been nominated again for the 2014 Prize.


George Schaller with anaesthetised snow leopard. Photo G. Schaller.

George Beals Schaller (born 1933) is an American naturalist and conservationist. Born in Berlin, Schaller’s early years were spent in Germany but he moved to the US as a teenager.

Schaller has spent many years studying different animals including gorilla, the rare Tibetan antelope (chiru), jaguar, lion, panda and others. One of his key contributions is the first biologist to study the snow leopard in the wild in the early 1970’s at a time when he says “the snow leopard’s life remains unwritten.” (“Stones of Silence – Journeys into the Himalayas”. At this time Dr Schaller took the first known photograph of a snow leopard in the wild.

In the 1973, Schaller trekked in Dolpo, a remote Himalayan area of Nepal where he studied the Himalayan Bharal, (blue sheep), one of the key prey species of the rare snow leopard. Schaller is one of only two Westerners known to have seen a snow leopard in Nepal between 1950 and 1978. The Dolpo snow leopard research expedition became the focus of Peter Matthiessen’s famous book “The Snow Leopard”. During the early 70’s Schaller also spent many months in Chitral area of Pakistan collecting data on snow leopard.

Schaller’s work has contributed to the establishment of many parks and preserves including the Shey Phuksundo National Park in Nepal, home to a small population of snow leopards.

In 2008, Schaller was awarded the prestigious Indianapolis Prize for his work in animal conservation and he was also awarded National Geographic’s Lifetime Achievement Award. In June 2015 he was awarded the National Geographic Society’s Hubbard Medal for his lifetime commitment to conserving the world’s wildlife. The Hubbard Medal is the Society’s highest honour. Schaller is Vice President of Panthera and a senior conservationist at the Bronx Zoo based Wildlife Conservation Society.

Tom McCarthy and his team studying the map of snow leopard tracks in Mongolia. Photo Nic Bishop.

Dr Tom McCarthy, Panthera’s Director of Snow Leopard Programs, began his conservation career studying brown and black bears in Alaska in the early 1980s. In 1992, under the guidance of Dr George Schaller he worked in Mongolia managing a long-term snow leopard research project. With this research in the 1990’s Dr McCarthy is the first biologist to use satellite radio-collars to study snow leopards in their natural habitat.

Dr McCarthy became the Science and Conservation Director of the Snow Leopard Trust in 2000 where he led their science and community-based conservation programs across much of snow leopard habitat in Asia. Dr McCarthy has initiated snow leopard conservation projects in 7 snow leopard range countries – Afghanistan, Bhutan, China, India, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, and Pakistan.

From 2002-2009, Dr McCarthy served as Executive Director of the Snow Leopard Network, the global community of more than 300 snow leopard researchers and conservationists.

His most research explores genetic methods for monitoring wild snow leopard populations and the initiation of a new generation of snow leopard research in Pakistan using state-of-the-art satellite GPS collars.

Dr McCarthy joined Panthera in July 2008 as Director of Snow Leopard Programs and in addition to the GPS-collaring program in Pakistan, he now leads two new Panthera initiatives. The first is a range-wide assessment of snow leopard genetics that seeks to identify movement corridors which are critical to maintaining the health and genetic diversity of the species. The second is a revision of methods by which snow leopard populations can be monitored over time, including non-invasive techniques that do not require the cats to be caught and collared. These include faecal genetics, camera trapping and statistical modelling based on sign surveys.

Helen Freeman, founder of Snow Leopard Trust. Photo by SL Trust

Helen Freeman, founder of the Snow Leopard Trust
Helen Freeman (1932-2007) single-handedly set up the Snow Leopard Trust in 1981 after becoming fascinated with the endangered animals at Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo. As her early education had been in business she started as a Zoo volunteer and in 1972 fell in love with two snow leopards from the Soviet Union, named Nicholas and Alexandra.

She spent so many hours with both cats watching especially Alexandra who had been badly injured and was in pain and reacting (naturally) very aggressively to all humans near her cage. As Freeman admits, the Zoo staff knew next to nothing about snow leopards and assumed that they were just like other common leopards which they had more experience with over a long time.

Freeman became so engrossed and concerned about the snow leopards that later, with her adult children at university, she herself returned to study zoology and became curator of education at the Zoo in the early 1980s.
Her work lead to extensive behavioural analysis to help other Zoos understand snow leopards as well as to very successful zoo breeding programs. She was committed to breeding so that there would never ever again be justification for taking cats from the wild.

But as she herself says in her book “Life, laughter and the pursuit of snow leopards” “what I had expected to be a short term study of two snow leopards had turned into a lifetime commitment. I went from watching Nicholas and Alexandra in a zoo to searching what could be done to help the species in the wild.”