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Zoo blogger researching snow leopards in Nepal – interview with Jonny Hanson

Jonny Hanson in the mountains of Nepal. (Photo J. Hanson).

Jonny Hanson in the mountains of Nepal. (Photo by Maurice Schutgens.

This month’s snow leopard conservation guest interview is with Jonny Hanson who is doing a Ph D at the University of Cambridge, looking at conflict between the cats and the local people in Nepal. Jonny is breaking new ground in that as he is doing his research he is also using social media to share the story of the work with zoo patrons in Ireland. This new approach is hoping to see how zoo visitors engage with conservation of some of the animals they see in the zoo collection.

Welcome Jonny to “Saving Snow Leopards” website and blog.

“Thanks Sibylle. In the way of introduction I’d like to say I’m doing my research in partnership with Dublin Zoo (home to the only Irish snow leopards) and I think I’m the only Irish snow leopard researcher. I’ll be regularly blogging and tweeting my work as I try to engage members of the public (mainly Dublin Zoo Facebook and Twitter followers.)

Building on existing research and the Snow Leopard Survival Strategy, my study seeks to build the most comprehensive picture so far of people’s conflicts with and attitudes to snow leopards, and how these are affected by factors like poverty, gender and religion.  The study also looks at whether families who are less dependent on livestock for their income, and who are included, rather than excluded, from managing local conservation issues, are more likely to have better relations with snow leopards.

Mountains of Nepal, snow leopard habitat.

Mountains of Nepal, key snow leopard habitat in Annapurna range. Photo Sibylle Noras.

I chose Annapurna / Everest for my study for a number of reasons. From the inception of the idea I sought the advice of Dr Rodney Jackson from the Snow Leopard Conservancy and Dr Som Ale in order to design a study that would be useful and fill information gaps. As well as having Annapurna and Everest recommended to me by them, there is a mixture of different livelihoods (ie tourism and pastoralism) at both sites, the impact of which on relationships with snow leopards I wanted to examine.  They also have contrasting conservation management approaches and I also wanted to look at how this affected things.

So how did I become interested in snow leopard research? Well, I’ve had a lifelong passion for animals, especially the cat family.  As I grew older a focus on animals morphed into a focus on biodiversity conservation and then onto sustainability, as I began to realise the interconnection of social, economic and environmental issues.  Besides
that, I love mountains and farming so my research on conflict between herders and snow leopards brings all of that together.  I’ve also had the privilege to work with quite a few cat species in captivity, which only cemented that original childhood fascination.

Snow leopards at Dublin Zoo in Ireland. Photo Dublin Zoo.

Snow leopards at Dublin Zoo in Ireland. Photo Dublin Zoo.

As to the role zoos can play in snow leopard conservation? Zoos have an incredible ability to inspire.  Having worked in living collections and as a museum educator, I’ve realised the power of nature to enthral young and old alike.  By maintaining genetically diverse and healthy populations of snow leopards, and other species, zoos can reach a very broad audience with the sheer wonder of the natural world, as well our need to respect and conserve it.  They can also provide funding, communications and technical assistance to support snow leopard conservation professionals, especially from range countries.

I’m not actually a biologist by training but a historian and social scientist.  I wondered at the time if that would prove detrimental to my plans to be a conservationist but, in hindsight, it’s given me a different, more holistic, perspective. That sort of interdisciplinary focus is really important for 21st century snow leopard conservation.”

Thanks Jonny and good luck with the study.Readers can follow Jonny’s work as he blogs regularly from the field http://snowleopardresearchnepal.wordpress.com/

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