By Chris Mackay, Crooked Trails Co-founder & Executive Director
I have been enamored with snow leopards since I first learned of their existence. Snow leopards are elusive, making them incredibly rare to see, but most travelers understand the importance of protecting them and their habitat.
When I learned of Bhutan Foundation’s Snow Leopard Conversation Program last year, I knew Crooked Trails should be a part of it. The program includes initiatives to encourage local yak herders to protect snow leopards, who often will prey on yaks and therefore can be seen as a threat, and their habitats through eco-tourism. One herder had a wonderful traditional farmhouse just up-valley from the Jomolhari Yaksa trekking route which needed refurbishing so the herder could turn it into a homestay. We saw this as an easy win-win-win for locals, snow leopards, and travelers! Crooked Trails sent the funds to Bhutan and the homestay is now ready for visitors.
Our first groups are heading to Bhutan this fall to make the challenging Jomolhari Yaksa Trek and maybe get lucky and see signs of the snow leopard, if not the big cat itself. This area has the highest concentration of snow leopards in Bhutan. Interestingly, this is the only country where tigers roam the same habitat as snow leopards, and 30% of all big cats live in Bhutan.
This is just another fantastic model of how tourism can benefit local conservation efforts. We are looking to partner up with community-based snow leopard conservation groups and local scientists for a group trek in Fall 2019 to learn more about one of the most beautiful animals on the planet.
Snow Leopard photo by Tambako The Jaguar – Creative Commons license
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