The Gray Ghost of the Himalayas Rises Again

Snow leopards occupy a range that spans the high mountains of 12 countries across Asia, where the hostile weather and rugged terrain conspire to snuff out any sign of life. Few animals and fewer humans can survive in this liminal space. Yet, for millennia, this big cat species has managed to eke out a living in some of the harshest conditions on Earth.

The snow leopard’s long tail enables the balance and agility to scale steep slopes, its powerful hind legs allow the snow leopard to leap six times the length of its body and its thick silver coat, marbled by black rosettes, provides the ideal camouflage to disappear into the mist.

These adaptations make the snow leopard a formidable predator but also make this species a challenge to collect data on. Snow leopards reign over a territory that is inhospitable and often inaccessible to researchers. As a result, more than 70% of their habitat remains unexplored.

snow-leopard, young male,eyes viewer from its rock perch.

© Surya Ramachandran

A Haunted History

The snow leopard’s elusive nature has given rise to an air of mystique, which only grows thicker as the altitude climbs. Communities in these outer regions have come to know the snow leopard by its moniker, the “gray ghost” and the “ghost of the mountains.”

In Ladakh, a sparsely populated region in the Indian Himalayas where Tibetan Buddhist culture predominates, locals tell of a popular legend about a man and a god. It goes like this: “Once a yogi was meditating in a cave for several years. At the end of his meditation, the deity he was praying to manifested itself in the form of a snow leopard. He fed the animal as an act of kindness, not knowing that he was, in fact, offering food to the deity. The next day, the snow leopard rewarded his kindness by leaving a freshly killed ungulate at the entrance of his cave.”

While this mythic beast inspires awe in some cultures, it conjures fear in others. A recent paper by Dr. Saloni Bhatia and her colleagues at the Snow Leopard Trust examines animal folklore in the Himalayas to better understand the dynamics of human-carnivore interactions.

Her findings revealed that, much like wolves, positive associations with snow leopards are overshadowed by negative sentiments because of their tendency to prey on livestock. Dr. Bhatia found that the predominant values ascribed to the snow leopard were utilitarian. Most stories were about the use or trade of its body parts, followed by stories about trophy hunting and their use in traditional medicine and rituals.

Buddhist monks dancing Cham mystery in Lamayuru, India

Buddhist monks performing the “Cham Mystery” dance in Lamayuru, India.

Sentinels of Snow

In 2021, World Wildlife Fund released 100 Years of Snow Leopard Research, a report covering the current conservation efforts across the cat’s 12 home countries. Samundra Subba, a research officer with WWF-Nepal, shared his experiences in a story for our travel blog, Good Nature Travel. “I looked around myself, staring into the familiar dry, arid, and treeless Trans-Himalayan terrain, wondering how fast the treelines were shifting and wondered about the future. The climate crisis will inevitably shrink snow leopard habitats,” wrote Subba about one of his satellite telemetry expeditions.

“Would the species be able to adapt to the warmer temperatures? Would it be chased out of its own habitat, unable to compete with other big cats, such as the common leopard, which would also move higher into the mountains as temperatures warm? Would there be a future where this enigmatic species survived?” Subba agonized.

WWF scientists estimate that the effects of climate change could result in a loss of up to 30% of the snow leopard habitat in the Himalayas alone. Snow leopards not only play a key role in managing prey species populations, but they are also sentinels of snow — melting snow. They are important indicators of the impacts climate change and anthropogenic encroachment have on the overall health of high-altitude environs. If snow leopards thrive, so will countless other species, including the largest freshwater reservoirs on the planet.

snow leopard in the falling snow

“For most of my team, the telemetry expedition means never-ending logistics, but for a biologist, it also means hope,” Subba declared. “It means that humans acknowledge the role this predator plays in safeguarding the mountain ecosystem and that studies and research are being conducted to help it survive, perhaps even thrive.”

WWF reduces human-wildlife conflict in the Eastern Himalayas by empowering communities to coexist with snow leopards. Initiatives include installing predator-proof corrals for livestock, creating livelihood enterprises and developing local insurance plans to compensate for any losses incurred. WWF also pilots various community awareness and education programs to reduce the retaliatory killing of snow leopards. Together with TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, WWF works to eliminate the illegal trade of snow leopard fur, bones and other body parts.

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Snow Leopard Numbers on the Rise!

In a recent press release, WWF celebrated a “milestone achievement.” Bhutan announced a 39.5% increase in snow leopard numbers! After analyzing over 10,000 camera trap images, the National Snow Leopard Survey 2022-2023, supported by the Bhutan For Life project and WWF-Bhutan, confirmed the presence of 134 snow leopards.

This represents an impressive leap from the country’s first survey in 2016 when only 96 individuals were recorded. The finding serves as “continued inspiration for protection of this elusive species,” says Dechen Dorji, Senior Director, Asia Wildlife, WWF-US.

three snow leopards in the grass

See It To Believe It

Your chance to witness this elegant apex predator is growing as their numbers increase, and our snow leopard expedition in far-north India gives you excellent odds to see them in the wild.

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The Land of the Snow Leopard trip unfolds in Ladakh, where we’ll follow the Indus River through remote high valleys to reach our private Snow Leopard Lodge. From this cozy base, we set out each day in search of the “gray ghost.”

We partner with the best snow leopard trackers in the region, and our spotters’ ability to detect these masterfully camouflaged cats is second to none. The surrounding cliffs and alpine meadows provide habitat for the snow leopard’s prey — ibex, bharial and urial — as well as fox, hare, pika and Tibetan wolves.

Conan Dumenil, Naturalist Guide and Spotter, helps traveler photograph, Grand Himalaya Range, Ladakh, India.

Conan Dumenil, Naturalist Guide and Spotter © Ralph Lee Hopkins

The Ladakh community recognizes that protecting snow leopards from illegal hunting and poaching is beneficial as the cats are integral to maintaining ecological balance. As a traveler, your presence becomes a powerful incentive for locals to protect their natural resources, making wildlife worth more alive than dead and wild lands worth more intact than degraded. And you’ll return home not just moved by your experiences but as an informed and enlightened ambassador for conservation.

Catch a glimpse of your next adventure via this footage and watch our Daily Dose of Nature webinars “Journey to the Land of the Snow Leopard: Part 1” and “Part 2,” presented by Nat Hab Expedition Leader Conan Dumenil, to learn more!

Snow Leopard walking along the Indus bank grasses of the Ramganga river.

Snow Leopard walking along the Indus bank grasses of the Ramganga river © Surya Ramachandran

The post The Gray Ghost of the Himalayas Rises Again first appeared on Good Nature Travel Blog.

Moss, Pine Bark, and Roots Camouflage Tiny Refuges Among the Wild Swedish Forests and Farmland
a man peers out from the hole of a round moss covered hut

“Moss Hut.” All images © Ulf Mejergren, shared with permission

Artist and architect Ulf Mejergren (previously) continues his interest in cozy, outdoor constructions with a new series titled Farm Art. Collaborating with farmer Robert Pettersson, Mejergren built several site-specific structures from materials found around Pettersson’s property in Grödinge, Sweden.

For “Pine Bark Hut,” the pair layered thick, gnarly wood into a slender cabin camouflaged between two trees, a space first used for hunting and then storing tools. Similarly, “Root Hut” entwines gathered branches with the existing roots to create a small, sand pit enclosure nestled beneath the forest, while the circular “Moss Hut” stands 4.5 meters tall among the trees. The latter work “stems from the farmers’ hunting interest,” Mejergren writes. “For many years, he has put food at certain points in the forests so wild boars come to feed there. The problem is they are like bulldozers in the forests, looking for insects and roots in the soil, so they have dug up moss from the forest floor and left them scattered in big droves.” Cloaked in the remaining lichen, the structure is a disguised refuge among the wild landscape.

Other works in Farm Art are more aesthetically driven, like the vivid “Sunset.” Made of dandelion heads at full bloom, the spherical form appears to glow in a field of weeds and wildflowers. Find the full series on Mejergren’s site and Instagram.


a hut in between two trees made of bark. a person peers out from the center

“Pine Bark Hut”

a young girl sits underneath a large round circle made of bright yellow dandelions


a man peers out from the center of a mossy hut

Detail of “Moss Hut”

two girls sit in front of a bright yellow orb made of dandelions


a child sits under bank with a branch-constructed hut in front of him

“Root Hut”

dried hay envelops a home

“Hay House”

Do stories and artists like this matter to you? Become a Colossal Member today and support independent arts publishing for as little as $5 per month. The article Moss, Pine Bark, and Roots Camouflage Tiny Refuges Among the Wild Swedish Forests and Farmland appeared first on Colossal.

Species-Rich Places and the “Robin Hood” Conservation Strategy

Charles Darwin’s first trip to the Galapagos Islands caused ecologists to start wondering why some places have so many species and others have so few. ©Longjourneys/

Ever since the HMS Beagle arrived in the Galapagos Islands with a young Charles Darwin aboard—who was soon to meet a fateful family of finches—ecologists have struggled to understand a particularly perplexing question: Why is there such a ridiculous abundance of species in some places on Earth and a scarcity in others? In other words, what are the exact factors that drive animal diversity?

Scientists think that they have now found an answer to that fundamental ecological question. They’ve discovered that what an animal eats—and how that interacts with the climate—shapes the planet’s biodiversity.

And when it comes to biodiversity, we’re now losing it so rapidly that we’re no longer able to ask what’s going on with every species individually. So, researchers have developed a framework that can help scientists understand trends in biodiversity by using data from well-characterized species to provide insights on data-deficient species. It’s called the “Robin Hood approach.”

Africa has an abundance of meat-eating predators. Rain patterns and plant growth are responsible. ©Mogens Trolle/

Rain drives animal diversity

Have you ever noticed that certain locations—such as Africa or places in the far North like Greenland—have a plentitude of meat-eating predators? And that herbivores are more common in cooler areas, and omnivores tend to be more dominant in warm places?

It turns out that two key factors were crucial in shaping these patterns: precipitation and plant growth.

This conclusion comes from a Department of Watershed Sciences research team at Utah State University’s Quinney College of Natural Resources that had access to a mammoth set of global-scale climate data and a novel strategy.

Madagascar, where precipitation patterns have an equal, six-month split between a wet season and a dry season, had the ideal ecological mix for herbivores, such as lemurs. ©OHudecek/

Historically, say the researchers, studies looking at the distribution of species across the Earth’s latitudes have overlooked the role of trophic ecology, which means how what animals eat impacts where they are found. This new work, published in the science journal Ecology Letters in September 2023, shows that herbivores, omnivores and predators are not randomly scattered across the globe. There are patterns to where these groups of animals are found. And precipitation across time plays a huge role in determining where different groups of mammals thrive. Geographical areas where precipitation varies by season, without being too extreme, had the highest levels of mammal diversity.

However, the total amount of rain was not the determining factor. If you imagine ecosystems around the world on a scale of precipitation and season, certain places in Utah and the Amazon rain forest fall on one end with low variability; they have steady levels of precipitation throughout the year. Other regions, such as southern California, have high variability, getting about 75% of their annual precipitation between December and March. But the sweet spot for herbivores and predators fell in a middle zone between the two extremes.

For example, places such as Madagascar, where precipitation patterns had an equal split between a wet season and a dry season (six months each), had the ideal ecological cocktail for promoting conditions for herbivores and predators. Omnivore diversity tends to thrive in places with very stable climates.

It was surprising to find that plant growth was more important for predators than herbivores and omnivores. Why remains a mystery. ©Ondrej Prosicky/

The second important factor that was discovered to relate to mammal diversity was the amount of plant growth in an area, measured as “gross primary productivity.” While it makes intuitive sense for plant-eating animals (herbivores and omnivores) to benefit from plant growth, surprisingly this measure impacted carnivores the most, according to the research. Why remains a mystery. But the strong relationship between predators and plant growth highlights the importance of an abundance of plants on an entire food chain’s structural integrity.

Although evolutionary processes are ultimately responsible for spurring differences in species, climate conditions can affect related factors—such as animal dispersal, extinctions and rates of evolutionary change—influencing species and trait-based richness. Identifying the ecological mechanisms that help drive richness patterns, as this research has done, provides insight for better managing and predicting how diversity could change under future climate changes.

Robin Hood inspires biodiversity tracking

As the above research demonstrates, animal diversity can act as an alarm system for the stability of ecosystems. And now, to better understand and protect the world’s biodiversity, a research team at Michigan State University has developed a “Robin Hood” approach.

The IUCN lists orcas (killer whales) as “data deficient.” That means that they lack the data needed to inform their conservation status. ©Jeroen Mikkers/

That is to say that they’re using information from well-quantified animals to reveal insights about less common, harder-to-observe species. So, they’re taking insights from the data-rich and giving to the data-poor.

Currently, about one in seven species are classified as “data deficient” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). That means that these species lack the data needed to establish their conservation status, which, in turn, helps determine conservation strategies. We need more rapid and efficient assessments of those species if we want to figure out how to conserve and protect them.

To that end, the Michigan State University team has introduced a framework based on what are known as “integrated community models.” In their paper, published in the Journal of Animal Ecology in October 2023, the researchers show how they design and implement these models to utilize data from the best-characterized species in a community to assess other members of the group.

Unfortunately, the most popular animals to study aren’t necessarily the ones most in need of attention. After analyzing almost 16,500 papers published between 1900 and 2010, the big winner was bears (family “Ursidae”), averaging more than 250 papers per species. The closest runner-up was the walrus family (“Odobenidae”), with only 145 papers. By borrowing strength from the species that have the most information available, scientists can get species-level estimates for all members of a community. ©Ludmila Ruzickova/

By borrowing strength from the species that have the most information or are most common, scientists can get species-level estimates for all members of a community and a comprehensive understanding of what’s going on with the community as a whole.

This new report acts as a how-to guide for anyone who wants to draw insights from a variety of different data sources describing multiple species. In this guide, the scientists provided three case studies: forest birds in the northeastern United States, butterflies in the Midwest and a simulation scenario for 10 hypothetical species. The results show how integrated community models can be used to estimate species’ trends and demographic rates over space and time, even for rarer species.

The immediate goal for the report was to get these methods into the hands of more researchers. The next step will be working with partners in government and nongovernmental organizations who can use information from the models to develop conservation strategies that move from a species-by-species approach to one that’s more holistic.

According to World Wildlife Fund’s “Living Planet Report 2022,” freshwater animals, such as this Amazon pink river dolphin, have been hit the hardest: they have declined by an average of 83% since 1970. Habitat loss and barriers to migration routes account for about half of the threats to these populations. ©COULANGES/

The Living Planet Report provides context—and caution

World Wildlife Fund’s Living Planet Report 2022 held some alarming news: the world has seen an average 69% drop in amphibian, bird, fish, mammal and reptile populations since 1970. The dual crises of biodiversity loss and climate change are driven by the unsustainable use of our planet’s resources. Scientists are clear: unless we stop treating these emergencies as two separate issues, neither problem will be addressed effectively.

Both crises have negative consequences for all the world’s ecosystems. Forecasting how climate change will disrupt animal systems going forward is extremely important. The Utah State University research and the new “Robin Hood” framework could be the first steps in our better managing future conditions for wildlife—and, thus, for ourselves—around the globe.

Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,



The post Species-Rich Places and the “Robin Hood” Conservation Strategy first appeared on Good Nature Travel Blog.

Introspective Figures Navigate Surreal Worlds in Simón Prades’ Illustrations
An illustration of a silhouetted young figure sitting inside the outline of a human head.

All images © Simón Prades, shared with permission

Stories come to life on the page and introspective figures explore inner worlds in the dreamlike illustrations of Simón Prades (previously). His surreal scenes often feature silhouettes of people peering into the unknown, whether toward a distant memory, the wilderness, or the future. Rendered in deep hues with an emphasis on the effects of light and contrast, he draws attention to human nature and universal, emotional experiences of hope, nostalgia, and wonder.

Prades has worked as a freelance illustrator for more than ten years, finding visual language to express ideas in editorial and book publishing, film, music, and advertising. His clients have included The New York Times, Penguin Random House, Scientific American, and many more. “While I still love solving problems for clients, I must say that the urge to work on more personal projects has been growing and might manifest in a book or something like that soon,” he tells Colossal.

Prades is looking forward to a project next year that merges illustration with his other passion, cycling. During a 10-day tour through the Pyrenees, he plans to capture the experience in his sketchbook. Explore more of his work on his website and Behance, and follow updates on Instagram.


An illustration of a naval ship sailing across an open book.

An illustration of a glowing green capsule of forest, with a small silhouetted figure at the bottom.

A silhouetted figure sits among foliage in the evening with a book.

An illustration of a human skull with the cranium removed, and the brain is a bunch of flowers.

An illustration of a tree with its leaves falling, shaped like a human profile.

An illustration of two hands holding coral.

Do stories and artists like this matter to you? Become a Colossal Member today and support independent arts publishing for as little as $5 per month. The article Introspective Figures Navigate Surreal Worlds in Simón Prades’ Illustrations appeared first on Colossal.

Karma is a Cat

By Christina Armstrong, WWF’s Development Officer, Regional Philanthropy, East

Taylor Swift’s chart-topping song Karma off her Midnights album was on repeat in my head in Brazil’s Pantanal while on Natural Habitat’s Jaguars & Wildlife expedition in July 2023. Yes, the song is a current, popular release, and I love Taylor Swift, and music in general, but the reason the song was in my head was because our amazing Expedition Leader, Zapa, kept repeating to our group, “Karma!” Then, I would sing to myself, “Karma is a cat,” from Taylor’s song, as we searched for jaguars along the riverbeds in the heart of the Pantanal, Brazil.  

Guide and guests spotting a jaguar from the boat in the Pantanal, Brazil

© Christina Armstrong / WWF-US

“Why would Zapa say that?” you might be wondering. As one of the first Natural Habitat Pantanal groups in 2023, we estimated that we saw 146 species of birds and 177 species of animals in just six days. I couldn’t even name that many species in one sitting, let alone comprehend how inspiring it would be to experience one of the world’s most biodiverse areas. Did you know that the Pantanal is mostly privately owned? About 95%! 

We saw numerous threatened and near threatened species living their best lives, such as jaguars mating, giant anteaters carrying their young on their backs, giant otters chomping on fresh fish over a log alongside a riverbed of mangroves, marsh deer sniffing native, vibrant-colored flowers, and hyacinth macaws building a home in an innovative box with their lifelong mate.

A hyacinth macaw in the Pantanal

© Aaron Clausen / WWF

WWF has done great work with hyacinth macaws in this region, and it was interesting to learn about the importance of certain trees that macaws need to build their nest. They prefer soft trees called manduvi palm trees that have been cut down through the years – destroyed by deforestation, fires, clearing for cattle pastures, or logged for furniture and other products. The challenge is that even if these trees are replanted, the macaws will only make their nests in the ones that are 60-80 years old, so it takes an entire generation to regrow one manduvi tree.

As an alternate solution, WWF and other local programs created nesting boxes to encourage the macaws to build their nests. They also wrapped the trees in a metal strip so that predators could not make their way up the trees and destroy the nests. This has been a huge success in the return of hyacinth macaws, and it was rewarding to learn that WWF played a part in the return of the macaws.

WWF also has worked to protect jabiru storks, which we saw several times, and jaguars are a growing priority within WWF’s current wildlife strategy. It was fascinating to see jaguars up close (yet at a safe distance), swimming across the river, hopping from branch to branch, and snoozing in the sunshine, like my puppies do. “Karma!” 

In addition to fauna, we saw the flora of the Pantanal. The brilliant pink ipê tree bloomed across the region as we flew from the North Pantanal to the Southern region. This vibrant tree is only in bloom for about 7-10 days a year usually in August or September. It was the end of June and serendipitously, we were there to see it.

Ipe tree in bloom, Brazil

© Christina Armstrong / WWF-US

The good fortune continued as we saw the tail of a jaguarundi as it ran across our trail and capuchins played above our heads. That evening, a tapir ran by our tour vehicle as foxes danced in the spotlight. While the jaguars were readily seen, I didn’t expect to see the elusive puma during the day, but we did.

The researchers had jaguar traps set up through various areas in the Pantanal, and one morning, we quickly drank our coffee, scurried into the tour vehicle, and drove around the other side of the lake of where we were staying to see that one of the traps had safely captured a puma, and it’s currently the only puma in the world to be collared.  

Karma is a cat… 

Two jaguars (Panthera onca) doze on a tree in the Pantanal, Brazil.

© Kelvin Brown

About the Author

Christina Armstrong joined WWF in 2022 on the philanthropy team, working with supporters up and down the East Coast of the United States. She’s led fundraising teams on causes ranging from families experiencing homelessness to helping youth in Latin America through enrichment and nutrition programming. Christina has a passion for music, traveling, and hiking with her husband and two Frenchies 

The post Karma is a Cat first appeared on Good Nature Travel Blog.

2024 Climate-Focused Departures in Greenland, the Amazon and Canada

Did you catch this stunning statistic in the news last week? A major new report announced that the last 12 months were the hottest period Earth has experienced in the last 125,000 years. The numbers are sobering. And it’s imperative that we understand the impact on natural habitats and how we must respond.

travelers on zodiac ride through glaciers in Greenland

Nat Hab travelers explore Greenland’s icebergs by Zodiac © Expedition Leader Colby Brokvist

We have created a special trip series—Climate Change & the Wild World— to deepen your awareness of how a warming climate is affecting the natural world, and to inspire hope and action. Our experience has shown us that educating travelers about climate change through personal experience has a wide-reaching positive impact.

We have three 2024 departures planned:

Greenland: The Fate of the Arctic in a Warming World
Aug 2-11, 2024 

Amazon: Climate Change & the World’s Greatest Rain Forest
Oct 5-13, 2024 

Churchill: Polar Bears in a Changing Arctic
Nov 9-15, 2024 

The hyacinth macaw is a parrot native to the eastern Amazon Basin. It’s listed as vulnerable due to habitat loss caused by climate change, deforestation and the wildlife trade. © Expedition Leader Cassiano “Zapa” Zaparoli

Each trip features a special WWF climate expert who will discuss what is at stake in that destination. There’s no more powerful way to spark an incentive toward climate action than to personally experience places that are undergoing potent impacts. And when you book one of these trips, we will offset the entire CO2 output of your life for a full year.

Climate change departures

But we know offsets aren’t enough. Nat Hab, which became the world’s first carbon-neutral travel company in 2007, is upping the bar on climate action—increasing our efforts to decarbonize, launching our first electric safari vehicle, supporting the development of sustainable aviation fuel…and there’s much more we must do. 

We believe travel can be a net benefit for conservation when we visit wild places responsibly, providing economic support for local communities and creating incentives to protect natural resources and wildlife. Our travelers go home as advocates for the planet, influencing others.

The post 2024 Climate-Focused Departures in Greenland, the Amazon and Canada first appeared on Good Nature Travel Blog.