"I think he's got to be one of the toughest guys in the world," says Michael Crowther, president and chief executive officer of the Indianapolis Zoo. The zoo administers the Indianapolis Prize, which has sometimes been called the Nobel Prize of animal conservation. Nominees must prove that, thanks to their work, a species has a better chance of survival. Jackson has been a finalist three times, most recently in 2012.
Jackson spends several months out of every year climbing in the Himalayas. The high altitude, spare living conditions, and grueling regimen would be tough on anybody. But, added to all that, Jackson doesn't like heights, Mr. Crowther says.
"He's a tough, tough guy," agrees Jan Janecka, research assistant professor at the Veterinary Integrative BioSciences department at Texas A&M University, who has worked in the field with Jackson since 2005. "It's definitely one of the most challenging places to work – also very beautiful.
"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.