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Rodney M. Jackson

Defending the snow leopard

Published in 1981clockTime to read: 50s
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In remote west Nepal, wildlife biologist Rodney Jackson mounted a complex programme to track the highly elusive snow leopard and united various groups worldwide in efforts to protect the endangered cat.

locationNepal

Rodney Jackson knew that a strategy to ensure the survival of the endangered snow leopard required a thorough understanding of its movements, home range, food habits, hunting behaviour and social organization. But how to obtain such information on this secretive, largely nocturnal animal that lives in inaccessible habitats?

Our work on snow leopards exemplifies how the myriad logistical, physical, political and other obstacles can be overcome through careful planning, teamwork, perseverance and a willingness to adapt to the rugged, remote terrain and local culture.

Jackson's solution was to capture five snow leopards, fit them with radio collars and return them to the wild to track their movements. Jackson and his team – including partner Darla Hillard, who described their adventures in Vanishing Tracks – Four Years Among the Snow Leopards of Nepal – battled extreme weather, a monotonous diet, back-breaking terrain, isolation and the snow leopard's famed reticence. But the field research, which began in 1981, funded by his Rolex Award and National Geographic Society sponsorship, enabled Jackson to build an extensive picture of the life and behaviour of the iconic snow leopard.

Jackson has written more than 40 scientific articles on snow leopard conservation, human-wildlife conflicts and ecosystem management across the species’ vast range. As director of the Snow Leopard Conservancy, he has played a pivotal role in developing regional and global conservation plans through major international organizations, including the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN). Jackson implements community-based stewardship initiatives, including experimenting with electronic deterrents. These prevent snow leopards and wolves from killing sheep or other livestock, which results in retributive killing of the leopard.

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