Saving the Ghost of the Mountain: An Expedition Among Snow Leopards in Mongolia


School Library Journal Best Book of 2009

A NSTA/CBS Outstanding Science Trade Book for 2010

2009 Booklists's editors' list of the Top 10 Environmental Titles for Youth

With a dazzling as-it-happens narrative and spectacular photographs, readers, young and old, will be fascinated as they discover why these mysterious cats are called ghosts of the mountain. Readers ...

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School Library Journal Best Book of 2009

A NSTA/CBS Outstanding Science Trade Book for 2010

2009 Booklists's editors' list of the Top 10 Environmental Titles for Youth

With a dazzling as-it-happens narrative and spectacular photographs, readers, young and old, will be fascinated as they discover why these mysterious cats are called ghosts of the mountain. Readers will also be stunned by how much perseverance it takes to research and protect this endangered, little-understood species.


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Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Susan Treadway M.Ed
An immense journey has been documented with personal stories, exquisite photography and superb respect for the subject, the ever-present but elusive snow leopard of Mongolia. Found primarily in the high mountainous areas where its most precious food source lives, snow leopards are highly skilled hunters who seem invisible to mankind. Killing an ibex (a wild type of sheep that has long, curved horns) only once or twice a month might seem incredible in this harsh region where extremes in weather conditions are the norm. However, even when feasting for days on its main meal (which could make it easier to study), the snow leopard will not linger or delay. Thus, it is known as "the ghost of the mountain," a pale, spotted cat whose tail is as long as its body for balance. The snow leopard has tremendous jumping agility and can bring down an animal three times its own size. The book describes one particular journey in an attempt to photograph, tag and examine them by Tom McCarthy and his excellent team of the Seattle-based Snow Leopard Trust. Across continents and time zones, travel to the stark region between Russia and China called Mongolia is quite daunting. In addition, the team spends an exhausting three-week expedition trekking through the Gobi Desert and Altai Mountains of Central Asia in determined pursuit of any snow leopard evidence. They collect multiple specimens while following radio signals from transmitters that were attached to collars the previous year to a very few snow leopards. It was not the intent of the mission to capture one, but to find a better way to estimate their number in order to protect the species. Roughly one third of the population lives in Mongolia.However, much more was accomplished by the author and illustrator as they documented events, living conditions and more about the region. Spending meaningful time within the Mongolian culture is finely exhibited in this account of their hazardous trip. There are marvelous accounts describing the nomadic herders, their way of life, traditions, and most of all, keys to survival. Mr. McCarthy's reputation definitely precedes him as one Pakistani guide once told him, "You, sir, are Danger Man!" They did not actually see a snow leopard on this expedition, but they did gather valuable data to further the study of the "ghost of the mountain." Despite the rugged terrain and the keen instincts of the leopard the Snow Leopard Trust will return for more exhilarating opportunities to examine and protect this elusive, mighty animal of Central Asia. Helpful Factoids are provided on most pages about these leopards. Students, educators and families will deeply appreciate the team's significant contributions after sharing their experiences through this superb book in the series, "Scientist in the Field." Reviewer: Susan Treadway, M.Ed
School Library Journal
Gr 4–8—Reading this book is an extraordinary experience. It has an elegant layout featuring ornamental lettering, watermarks, and gorgeous photos; were it not for the delightfully exuberant text, it would be a stately coffee table book. But kids will giggle about the central role of scat or, as Montgomery often writes, "poo," in the research of snow leopards' habits. Children will be swept up in the buoyant account of the journey through Mongolia led by Tom McCarthy, conservation director of the Snow Leopard Trust, in search of the elusive cat known as the "ghost of the mountain." He has devoted much of his life to studying these animals and persuading their human neighbors of the importance of their survival. Montgomery's enthusiasm translates well to the page and will have readers cheering for the entourage as they attempt to spot a snow leopard. This slender book abounds with information, including stories of McCarthy's rare, powerful past encounters with the cat, as well as zoological and cultural sidebars. Bishop's trademark stunning photography fills out the book with breathtaking views of the extreme environs of Central Asia and warm portraits of the charming people who live there. Author's and photographer's notes aren't typically as engaging as the main text, but the reflections of Montgomery and Bishop on their experiences with McCarthy's crew are eloquent, integral parts of the book. A great way to learn about a spectacular animal and its habitat.—Alyson Low, Fayetteville Public Library, AR
Kirkus Reviews
It's no easy feat to write a book about one of the most charismatic yet notoriously elusive creatures on the planet without a single sighting, but Montgomery pulls it off with style. This latest in the superlative Scientists in the Field series focuses on wildlife biologist Tom McCarthy and his efforts to study and preserve the snow leopard. The author and photographer accompanied him on an expedition to Mongolia, and they put themselves right into the narrative, introducing the other members of the group and describing their relationships with local herders, the exhausting hikes, the excitement of scat discoveries ("As if he's savoring some special cheese or fine wine, Tom picks up the poop and sniffs it") and the progress made in conservation efforts. The lively narrative is interspersed with accounts of leopard encounters from McCarthy's previous expeditions as well as supplemental facts about Mongolia and its people. The ample backmatter includes a Mongolian phrase glossary, information on the Snow Leopard Trust, McCarthy's advice to budding scientists, author's and photographer's notes and an index. A bibliography of sources used is available online. (Nonfiction. 10-14)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780547727349
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 9/4/2012
  • Series: Scientists in the Field Series
  • Pages: 80
  • Sales rank: 286,726
  • Age range: 10 - 14 Years
  • Lexile: 840L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 8.80 (w) x 10.86 (h) x 0.26 (d)

Meet the Author

Sy Montgomery

Sy Montgomery is an author, naturalist, newspaper columnist, scriptwriter, and radio commentator who writes award-winning books for children as well as adults. She lives in Hancock, New Hampshire. Visit her website at

Sy Montgomery and photographer Nic Bishop won the Sibert Medal in 2011 for their collaborative work on Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World's Strangest Parrot , another Scientist in the Field title.

Good To Know

In our exclusive interview with Montgomery, she revealed a few fun anecdotes:

"My companion pig, Christopher Hogwood, age 12, lost 60 pounds on his new diet and now weighs in at a trim 690 pounds."

"My first known act of Eco-Conscience: I was sent home from kindergarten for biting a little boy who had pulled the legs off a daddy longlegs. I would do it again today."

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    1. Hometown:
      Hancock, New Hampshire
    1. Date of Birth:
      February 7, 1958
    2. Place of Birth:
      Frankfurt, Germany
    1. Education:
      Syracuse University: B.A., Newhouse School of Public Communications, 1979; B.A., College of Arts and Sciences, 1979

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 12, 2010

    All about those gorgeous, elusive, mountain cats. What's not to love?

    Very interesting book.

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