Snow leopards should not disappear. We don't know what we do when we remove an animal from the land. What does the land become, without the spirit and actions of its highest predator? What unpredictable cascades of change follow the demise of the leopard? And what loss of meaning? Without the snow leopard, and the knitted systems of life that support it, what are the Altai mountains but silent rocks?

Land expresses itself with life. At its innermost core, land is mineral; rocks formed at the dawn of our planets coalescence, or created by various processes since then, volcanic, metamorphic, sedimentary. The rocks may be ground into powder, formed into dunes, plains, and eroded hoodoos, or they may still stand as buttes, tors, cliffs, and ridges. Somewhere within all this rocky dust is bacterial and fungal life, sufficient upon its decay to give foothold to simple plant life. These in turn give rise to more complex plant life, which inevitably offers fodder to some type of animal life, which then modifies the plant cover by consuming or spreading it, and so on. The modified landscape in turn affects the climate, increasing or decreasing rain and wind erosion which in turn grind rock into soil. This chain of transformation unites the inert silicate granules in the soil with the very weather that passes overhead, through the living bodies of animals.  Animals are the part of the land that is alive and mobile, the part of the land that interacts. Through various modifications, digging, hunting, eating, destruction and construction, through the remains they leave behind, animals make the land what it is. The mineral, meteorological, botanical and zoological facets of any place on earth are really one thing, one life made of interwoven movements. Animals are to land what bubbles are to champagne. Without them, it's something else. 

That is what animals are, not a resident of the place, but a quality of the place. The quality of movement. The quality of intelligence and intent. The quality of connection to other places through migration. The quality of emotion, of feeling alive, wanting to live, of living, and dying. Without life, land is not "land," but an alien space, something cold and terrifying.

That's why it's not okay to tear entire hunks out of the landscape, for profit or for glory, with no regard for the consquences. It's not just legally wrong, not just morally wrong, but perversely wrong...not right with the world. We should try to right what is wrong. Not all of us can be secret agents and investigative reporters, following the bloody tracks of the wildlife trade to the penthouses of East Asia, or be politicians enacting conservation laws with enough teeth to be enforcible, or be field workers developing a community's harmonious relationship with nature. We do what we can. 
I'm an artist. So, I'll paint for the wild. This time, for snow leopards, because they still have a shot. According to data from the Snow Leopard Conservancy, there's a fair number of them in the Altai mountains of Mongolia. If that Mongolian population of snow leopards could be preserved, perhaps depleted areas in other areas might one day be replenished, one day when it's safe for the elusive, tragic creatures to return. Until then, let's just keep'em alive.

photo credit: click here 

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