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Rodney Jackson hikes high into the Himalayas to help snow leopards

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"He's a huge asset – very important for the conservation of snow leopards in Asia," Dr. Janecka says. "He's a real leader in working with locals on conservation.... He's a really unassuming guy; he's really considerate of the people who live there – very humble. He's really good at getting people to understand the importance of the wildlife communities that are there."

Snow leopards, like wolves in the American West, traditionally have been viewed as dangerous pests by sheepherding families in the Himalayas, most of whom live a subsistence existence. Their sheep are essentially four-footed bank accounts, Jackson explains, ones that look quite tasty to a leopard.

Disease, hypothermia, and insufficient winter forage, however, cause more livestock loss than the predators.

"It is a challenge when you're dealing with families living on $250 to $400 a year," Jackson says.

To help these families, and thus help the snow leopards, Jackson has come up with a range of solutions. Leopard-proof sheepfolds with wire-mesh roofs can eliminate 80 to 90 percent of livestock losses. Vaccinating livestock helps, too.

In the Ladakh region, bed-and-breakfast initiatives put money in the pockets of local women; in Nepal, savings and loans allow communities to pool their savings and take out microloans at less-ruinous interest rates than local moneylenders charge.

There are even snow leopard scouts: middle-school-age children who help set up leopard-watching cameras in the field. (No matter how remote the place – if you need technologically savvy help, go find a 10-year-old.)

"It really helps them connect with the animals," Janecka says.

Jackson's ability to engage locals in his work was one of the things that impressed the Indianapolis Prize jury, Crowther says, as well as his ability to come up with pragmatic solutions.

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