08 Apr

A Tribute to Peter Matthiessen – Friend, Naturalist and Novelist of ‘The Snow Leopard’


We were deeply saddened to learn of the passing of the incredible naturalist and novelist, Peter Matthiessen, over the weekend. Matthiessen was known for a rich volume of works, including the groundbreaking book, The Snow Leopard, which recounted his two-month expedition in 1973 with Panthera’s Dr. George Schaller into the remote mountains of Nepal to study the Himalayan blue sheep, and possibly glimpse the elusive snow leopard. This book launched the species into common day lexicon, making this never-heard of cat known to the world, even though Matthiessen himself never saw one.

Below, Panthera’s Snow Leopard Program Executive Director, Dr. Tom McCarthy, describes the profound impact Matthiessen had on the field of conservation and the inspiration he provided for admirers of the snow leopard and wildlife around the world.

The world lost a gifted and inspirational writer this past Saturday with the passing of Peter Matthiessen. But for those of us in the snow leopard world, we lost the man who understood the elusive nature of the cat we strive to save, and shared that with millions around the world in a way few of us mere scientists ever could. Peter never saw one, but his name is synonymous with the snow leopard. Over the past 20 years, whenever I tell someone what I do for a living they say, “I read a book called The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen,” and often go on to discuss Peter’s account of his time in Nepal searching in vain for the near mythical cat of Asia’s high peaks.

I only met Peter once briefly, and never got to thank him for the fabulous conversation starter that his book was. Or more importantly, for so eloquently sharing a glimpse into the world of the snow leopard with people who will never have a chance to be there. Towards the end of the journey his book chronicles, Peter realizes he will not see the cat, but says he is content to simply know it exists. Perhaps the best tribute to the man who inspired so many of us would be to see that snow leopards continue to exist.

- Dr. Tom McCarthy, Snow Leopard Program Executive Director for Panthera

Learn about Panthera’s Snow Leopard Conservation Program.