You've heard it before: a species endangered by habitat destruction, trophy hunters, or natives defending their flocks or crops. George Schaller, Diane Fossey, Jane Goodall come to mind. Now add to that list Hillard and her colleagues Rodney Jackson and Gary Ahlborn, for here is yet another remarkable tale of extraordinary dedication, perseverance, and accomplishment. The setting is western Nepal, high in the Himalayas. South African-born Rodney Jackson was the prime mover in a project sparked by a lecture he had heard as a graduate student in zoology at UC Berkeley, when John Tyson had described the Langu Gorge in Nepal as a remote vastness that was likely terrain for the snow leopard—so elusive a creature that no one was sure it was not extinct. What followed were years of planning and fund-seeking climaxed by four years' study in the area. Jackson was the leader, joined by now-wife Darla Hillard, self-described as a secretary "with no scientific background, whose only credentials were a love of camping and the outdoors." Gary Ahlborn was the other American, a biologist with rare talents at fixing whatever got broken. They were joined by a Nepalese scientist designated to study the prey animals—sheep and goats —and by a colorful and changing band of Nepalese and Bhote (Tibetan) guides and cooks. The sure-footed, height-loving, solitary snow leopard is so well camouflaged that just spotting one on a cliff edge is spectacular. (Peter Matthiessen never did; George Schaller did just once, fleetingly.) Jackson's team was able to collar not one but Five snow leopards, attaching telemetry equipment that enabled tracking, adding enormously to the literature (gracefully summarized in Jackson's epilogue). Hillard's tale encompasses the people and personal adventure—the daunting climbs, ferocious snowstorms, and equally ferocious flies, bedbugs, and thorny plants encountered at different times and places. Adventure, ecology, politics, heroes and villains. . .something for everyone here—even those afraid of heights.
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