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Force of nature: Snow Leopard's Stephen Sparrow
Published:  19 June, 2015

A man called Sparrow is trying to save a cat from extinction. Christian Davis meets the Snow Leopard’s best friend

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YOU KNOW HOW SOME PEOPLE SEEM TO HAVE MORE HOURS IN THE DAY THAN THE REST OF US? Well Stephen Sparrow, the Snow Leopard man, seems to be one of them. A force of – and for – nature, he invented Snow Leopard vodka specifically to save the big cat from extinction.

Sparrow is a ‘can-do’ man. He studied modern history at Oxford then went to work for City of London law firm Cameron Markby, now CMS Cameron McKenna, doing commercial litigation as ‘PQE’ (post-qualification experience).

He says: “I realised city law was not for me. I used to cycle to work at a time when few people cycled to work.

“After I resigned a secretary rang me and said I had left some suits in the office. I told her I had no intention of wearing a suit for a few years so take them to an Oxfam shop.” 

This is a man on a mission who can talk for England. Forty-five years old and unmarried, he follows up briskly with: “I nearly married a ballerina.” One suspects that, with his workload and aspirations, he has never stood still long enough to form a meaningful relationship.

His mission now is to build Snow Leopard globally with Edrington, which now owns the brand. With 15% of profits going to the Snow Leopard Trust, the long-term goal is to raise US$1 million annually. The trust engages in conservation to try to secure the survival of the big cat while at the same time improving the livelihoods of the herder families who live in the mountain ranges of central Asia.

Serial fund raiser

Sparrow is convinced the endangered animal can be saved. “Whereas the future of the rhino is bleak with poachers being as sophisticated as terrorists in their hunt for the legendary horns, 80% of snow leopards are in five of 12 countries in Central Asia.”

Sparrow says the trust has staff in China, India, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia and Pakistan.

So how did all this start? Sparrow seems to be a serial fund raiser. He worked in South Africa at a boys’ boarding school which allowed black kids to attend. He set up a scholarship, the Harry Birrell Trust, in 1997 to advance the education of young people aged under 21 in Africa.

“I wanted to do something to say ‘thank you’ for my time in South Africa,” he says. With his legal background, setting up a charitable trust is easy for Sparrow.

He got involved with rugby and the British Lions tour of South Africa in 1997 and managed to raise £25,000 by organising a charity match. He then went to Surrey County Cricket Club and became commercial manager for some of the players. In those days there was no Indian Premier League, so cricket was quite parochial from a commercial point of view, relates Sparrow.

“I could see the sport in Europe was uncommercial compared to the US. I was then approached by racing driver Jackie Stewart to work in Formula One for Jaguar. I got involved with the likes of Nikki Lauder and sponsors included HSBC, Beck’s beer and Mumm champagne, which was then owned by Allied Domecq.