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Ex-Dixie pupils tend to think of the snow leopard, when used as a badge, as being exclusively “theirs”. How wrong they are!

It is an ancient heraldic device, Aq-Bars, or “white leopard”, which dates back to before the ninth century in Asian and Eastern European art.

The snow leopard symbol probably comes from the totems of one of the Bulgar tribes - the Barsil. According to legend, the Barsils founded Bilär in Volga Bulgaria. The Barsils were a semi-nomadic Eurasian tribe.

They are included in the list of steppe-people mentioned in documents from the second half of the 6th century AD. The snow leopard crops up again in 1555 with its incorporation in the Seal of the Muscovy Company,  a trading device set up with a monopoly in the fur trade with Russia, and of course, having Sir Wolstan Dixie as one of its directors.

Both the Latinised genus name, Uncia, and the occasional English name "ounce" are derived from the Old French once, originally used for the European lynx. "Once" itself is believed to have arisen by back-formation from an earlier word "lonce" – the "L" of "lonce" was construed as an abbreviated "le" ("the"), leaving "once" to be perceived as the animal's name. This, like the English version "ounce", became used for other lynx-sized cats, and eventually for the snow leopard.

The Snow Leopard award is a Soviet mountaineering award, given to very experienced climbers. It is still recognised in the Commonwealth of Independent States. To receive this award, a climber must summit all 5 peaks of 7000m and above located in the former Soviet Union.

In Tajikistan's Pamir Mountains there are 3 Snow Leopard peaks, Ismail Samani Peak (formerly Communism Peak) 7,495 m (24,590 ft), Peak Korzhenevskaya 7,105 m (23,310 ft), and Ibn Sina Peak (formerly Lenin Peak) 7,134 m (23,406 ft) on the Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan border. In the Tian Shan there are 2 Snow Leopard peaks, Jengish Chokusu (formerly Peak Pobeda) 7,439 metres (24,406 ft) in Kyrgyzstan (divided by the border with China), and Khan Tengri 7,010 m (22,998 ft) on the Kyrgyzstan-Kazakhstan border.

In order of difficulty, Peak Pobeda is by far the most difficult and dangerous, followed by Khan Tengri, Ismail Samani Peak, Peak Korzhenevskaya, and Lenin (Ibn Sina) Peak.

There are more than 600 climbers, including 31 women, who have received this award since 1961 up until 2012.

Click here for other
examples of Snow
Leopard badges.
Snow leopard badges
The Snow Leopard