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Rodney Jackson hikes high into the Himalayas to help snow leopards

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Despite the difficulties of dealing with multiple bureaucracies – including the governments of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and China – Jackson says that overall conditions are improving for the mountain-dwelling cat. "I think snow leopards are better off now than they were 20 years ago," he says.

Jackson, who conducted the first radio-collar tracking study of snow leopards, started with a grant from an insurance company that first brought him to Nepal to photograph the leopards, followed by funding from Rolex for him and Ms. Hillard to conduct the tracking study, which had been considered impossible. In the 1980s, they used pressure pads and hidden cameras to take photos of the snow leopards.

Changes in technology have helped not only with reducing the sense of isolation but in capturing new data about snow leopards. Working with a PBS crew on the 2005 "Nature" documentary "Silent Roar," Jackson used infrared motion- and heat-sensing equipment to get never-before-seen footage of the cats hunting, marking their territory, and mating, as well as footage of a mother with her cubs.

With his glasses and quiet voice, Jackson may not look much like an action hero, but "tough" is the adjective most frequently applied to him by those who have worked with the South African-born conservationist.

"Unassuming" is a close second.

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