Matterless Community Donates To Snow Leopard Trust To Protect Endangered Wildlife

Three cubs and their mum Dagina in the wild. Photo: SLT/Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation.

Snow leopards are threatened by illegal killing and habitat loss. Social action is one of the pillars of Matterless, and with our community’s interest in wildlife preservation and research, we were honored to be able to make our second donation to the Snow Leopard Trust in January 2022.

The natural world is full of wonders, and here in Matterless, it’s one of our guiding principles to re-create that feeling of amazement in AR. Diverse habitats and wildlife around the globe are what inspired us in the first place, along with reimagining what companionship is, and how social relationships are changing.

One of the ways we see Matterless affecting the future is through spreading the story of real efforts by committed scientists and ecologists, trying to bring awareness of the accelerated loss of biodiversity and environment conservation happening everywhere.

We keep asking ourselves what kind of leverage our users and fans have, and — our Discord has already proven itself as a fantastic way to engage. Our Patreon backers, a group of community members that has access to our closed beta is now consistently helping us donate to wildlife organizations worldwide. After last month when we made our first donation to the Snow Leopard Trust, they opted to do it again.

AMA#2 With The Snow Leopard Trust

As a thank you, we organized a new AMA with two of SLT’s scientists. Justine Shanti Alexander, an ecologist with a Ph.D. in wildlife conservation, who joined us for the second time, and Koustubh Sharma, the assistant director for conservation policy and partnerships at the Snow Leopard Trust. Both Justine and Koustubh were glad to connect with everyone again and gave their thoughts on conservation efforts and future developments.

Justine and Koustubh have worked in some of the toughest, most remote terrains in the world, where their work is contributing to a greater understanding of snow leopard ecology. Once Matterless community members (MCM) had a chance to talk to Justine and Koustubh, they asked a series of questions we thought were intriguing enough to share with you today.

MCM: What are some of the hunting habits of snow leopards? Where do they hunt, and how?

SLT: Their elusive appearance not only fools their prey but us researchers too. We are only just beginning to understand the mysterious cat’s behavior in the wild. The Snow Leopard Trust has a long-term study that has been going on for 12 years in Mongolia. Through this study, we are increasing our understanding of the species. It is a solitary and ambush species — snow leopards do not hunt in packs, therefore making hunting primarily a solitary experience. Their favorite prey across their range is wild sheep and goats such as the ibex and the blue sheep. They however also hunt other ungulates, and even in some cases livestock- such as yaks and sheep. (more about how they hunt in the next paragraph — Ed.)

Snow leopards jumping in Mongolia. Photo: SLT/Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation

MCM: We’ve seen terrifying videos of snow leopards jumping/falling hundreds of feet trying to catch ibexes, goats, or blue sheep and they seem fine. Does that happen often and have you found any injured from doing this?

SLT: Our research suggests that a snow leopard kills a wild ungulate every 7 to 10 days. Once it is ready to make the kill, it attacks from above. They have huge front paws, and use gravity to pounce on the prey that is often much, much larger than they are! Sometimes they go for a pregnant argali or ibex. They use gravitational force to hunt because they are quite small. A male snow leopard is no more than 50 kilograms, and it hunts prey several times larger than itself. We do not know how often the snow leopards get injured in these hunts but it must happen now and then. We have found one adult male dead below a steep cliff wall, most likely he fell during a hunt and died from the crash. It is likely very rare that they get injured though as they would have changed hunting strategy then. They are resilient and well suited for the rugged terrain in the mountains!

Ibex are among the snow leopard’s main prey species. Photo: SLT

MCM: What about their cubs? How do snow leopards treat their young?

SLT: The Snow Leopard Trust has some cutting-edge research on cub rearing habits. After over a decade, we know that the cubs stay with their mom for 20–22 months, the longest of any wild big cat. We know this through our annual camera trapping efforts where we follow individuals over time. If we photograph 2–3 similar-sized cats together, it is often a mother and her subadult cubs. We can identify which cat it is based on its unique spot patterns. After around 2 years, the cubs disperse and leave their mother’s territory. Young females have however been found to eventually settle close to their mother’s range.

MCM: What are the biggest challenges conservation work currently faces? Can you categorize them and describe them for us?

SLT: A big challenge to snow leopard conservation is — climate change. We expect that existing threats will be amplified by climate change. We, therefore, refer to it as the mother of all threats! Climate change is going to have both direct and indirect effects. In terms of indirect effects, whatever happens to the snow leopard habitat- the grasslands- and their main prey (blue sheep and ibex)- as a result of climate change, matters hugely to the snow leopard’s future. But most importantly is how we humans will respond to climate change. The snow leopard range is shared with people- primarily agro-pastoral communities live in these landscapes and have been there for thousands of years. The risk is that with climate change the footprint of human activities and unregulated development becomes much larger and puts the snow leopard’s fragile ecosystem under unsustainable pressure. We need to be ready and support long-term and locally relevant strategies for snow leopard and human coexistence. The Snow Leopard Trust works to build community resilience to climate change in partnership with communities and range country governments.

MCM: Since you have GPS tracking collars on snow leopards, have you perhaps considered running expensive photography tours? Of course, at respectful distances and being assured the snow leopards are not disturbed. This could boost the local economy more than some of the destructive types of economic development. Also, how can we avoid disturbing snow leopards in their habitat?

SLT: Tourism in snow leopard landscapes is growing across different countries of its range. While tourism activities can bring valuable resources and livelihood for local communities, and support conservation — tourism can also pose a risk to wildlife and sensitive habitats through heavy use that results in disturbance to wildlife, wear on sensitive habitats, littering, and also potentially result in negative infrastructure development. Wildlife is likely to be increasingly approached and photographed. Carried out thoughtfully and with due awareness little harm can come to these species. However as tourists get closer to wildlife — whether through the use of new technologies such as drones or through unacceptable practices such as baiting — new risks to these species are emerging.

There is something you can ask yourself as a tourist: “Is the snow leopard doing something it wouldn’t normally do because of this event?” If the answer is yes, then you can ask yourself what can be done to avoid disturbing the cat and its habitat. There are many ways in which we can incorporate tourism into conservation or regional development without it being destructive. Our teams work with partner communities, regional governments, and other stakeholders to promote responsible and net-positive tourism throughout the snow leopard range. (You can read more about SLT’s recommendations in this policy recommendation here — Ed.)

MCM: If you had a LOT more funding which conservation programs or research studies would you prioritize for scaling up or what kinds of new pilot programs or studies would you start?

SLT: Snow leopards roam the rugged mountains of 12 countries in Asia, from Afghanistan and Kazakhstan to the west, Russia and Mongolia in the north, China to the central parts of its range, and India, Nepal, and Bhutan in the South. A suite of solutions is always better than one — there is no single answer! A huge amount of funding could be divided into four areas:

1. Science: building a better understanding of the species and its ecology along with evidence-based conservation.

2. Partnering and investing in local communities that share the snow leopard’s range.

3. Investing in education programs for the world’s next-generation- children.

4. Working with governments to leverage policy for conservation.

The Snow Leopard Trust currently works at all these pillars; with the goal of better understanding the endangered snow leopard, and protecting the cat in partnership with the communities that share its habitat.

MCM: You’ve just mentioned education programs for children. What are some examples of your work with local children to encourage a deep fascination and wonder towards snow leopards?

SLT: Part of our work focuses on scaling up good conservation models to truly benefit snow leopards as well as mountain communities that share living space with them. We have a program in Kyrgyzstan that brings local kids into the mountains and teaches them about nature through experiential, hands-on learning. They set up camera traps to photograph animals in the wild. They learn how to spot and identify species like vultures and ibex because protecting snow leopards requires learning about the entire ecosystem. They even spend nights in a yurt, watching nature films and sharing local folklore about snow leopards. For many of these kids, it’s their first time staying in the wilderness. These eco-camps give kids an opportunity to learn about the flora and fauna in their backyards and teach the importance of protecting the land around them. Later, they can stay connected online and are encouraged to take part in learning more about their environment. We have similar programs in India, Mongolia, and Pakistan.

The Animal World Is Changing

Preserving wildlife is a huge challenge, and sometimes it is hard to know what the right thing to do is — but SLT suggested a question to be the compass in navigating our actions:

Is a wild animal doing something it wouldn’t normally do because of me seeing it?

If the answer is yes, take action. The first step is one click away. Visit the Snow Leopard Trust site, join their socials, become more involved in your local community. Our Discord and Patreon story shows that if people have an easy way to help the environment, they will not hesitate to do it.

Matterless is creating a space where the love for animals and nature inspires hope and becomes an essential part of a greener metaverse, and a more environmentally aware mixed reality experience.

Our cougar, Calliope, listening in on the daily standup meeting at Matterless.

We want to inspire a positive vision of the future, grounded in our existing world, emphasizing the need for sustainability, self-governance, and social justice. We are building with a solarpunk future in mind.

Matterless Studios will continue to donate and partner up with institutions like the SLT.

There are so many chances to act, and we would love for you to join us on this journey!

-Damir First, CCO, Matterless

About Matterless Studios

Digital life. Real connections. True Affection.

Matterless Studios is an augmented reality studio building the future of digital relationships, creating outlets for human love, nurture, and creativity. For more information visit www.matterless.com, join the Discord, or follow us on Twitter or right here on Medium.

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