by Siri Okamoto, Development Director, Snow Leopard Trust
In 2011, I visited Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, FL (USA). I was in line for french fries in 90-degree weather along with a pressing throng of local and international tourists. They were all melting and trying to get through line as quickly as possible with screaming children. Not exactly a place that makes you think of snow leopards. But as every person approached the cashier, an intrepid Disney cast member asked them if they would like to donate to conservation. Over 375 degree deep fryers, amidst the sweat, tears and salt, they championed snow leopards and other wildlife! It was really impressive. I gave too.
What can we show for their efforts? Quite a lot! The Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund (where all those cash register donations end up) is supporting extensive snow leopard work in India. Thanks to their efforts, we have been able to establish the first snow leopard population baselines for a very important region in the Himalayas called Upper Spiti Valley. We set out cameras in 2011 and 2012, and our data show that between 15-25 cats use the region. Disney support is also helping raise awareness for snow leopard conservation, and engage local villagers in efforts to protect the cats. Our India team is currently working with children in local schools to put on a skit that will help spread awareness about the importance of snow leopards and their ecosystem.
And the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund has just awarded an additional one-year grant for snow leopard work in Mongolia! We will use this year’s support to help address critical threats to snow leopards by working with 26 herder communities in snow leopard habitat. This support will also make it possible for communities to better monitor threats to snow leopard populations, including training ‘community rangers.’
So thank you to all Disney cast members for their hard work, day in and day out! The next time you visit Disney World and are in line for fries, they’ll make sure you think of wildlife around the world – so we’d suggest you tip, and give, generously!
Empowering Women, Protecting Cats: Impressions from the Snow Leopard Enterprises Design Summit in Mongolia
This July, members of our team traveled to Western Mongolia to work with participating herder communities on new designs and product ideas for Snow Leopard Enterprises (SLE), our successful conservation program that creates economic opportunities for herder families in snow leopard habitat in return for a commitment to protect the cats they live with. The “Design Summit” provided new ideas and motivating encounters.
“Our goal was to get our participants’ perspectives on how the program has evolved over the last years; improve the quality of our products and to refresh our product line to keep our customers interested in buying our products, as well as keeping up with the increasing competition of hand-made products that are emerging faster than ever in the fair trade market”, says Gina Robertson, the Snow Leopard Trust’s Product Development and Sales Coordinator.
Participating herder communities use the wool from their livestock to create beautiful, unique handicrafts, such as ornaments, baby booties, or rugs. They sell them to the Snow Leopard Trust for a mutually agreed-upon price. In return, they commit to protecting snow leopards in their area, and they are awarded a bonus payment if no cats are killed there during the year. The products these communities create are sold all over the world through our online shop, giving customers the opportunity to help save snow leopards while they shop for authentic, natural artisan products.
This past month, accompanied by her colleague Jennifer Snell Rullman (the Trust’s Assistant Director of Conservation), as well as felting expert Sharon Costello, Woodland Park Zoo gift shop manager Terry Blumer and photographer John Arrighi, Gina traveled to Uvs Province in Western Mongolia, where they met with Mongolia’s SLE Product and Design Manager, Unurzul Dashzeveg (“Unuruu”), local trainers and Snow Leopard Enterprise participants from various communities to work on new product ideas and exchange experiences.
“We talked about everything from pricing to designs”, Gina says. “It was impressive to see how many of the participating women have really become empowered through this program. They’re turning into strong, independent businesswomen.”
Still, saving snow leopards remains the driving force behind Snow Leopard Enterprises. “Most of our participants are part of this program in order to make a living. However, beyond creating economic opportunities, what makes Snow Leopard Enterprises unique is that it ties these opportunities to the conservation of snow leopards. Our participants are learning how to make and sell products, but they’re also learning more about the cats and why they, too, need a place to live and food to eat”, Unuruu, who had organized the summit, explains.
One young participant, Munkhtugs Lojdoo, gave Gina a particular jolt of inspiration: “Munkhtugs had only joined Snow Leopard Enterprises just over year ago; and she had heard of the program as a way to help snow leopards, whom she had always loved, and as an economic opportunity. Now, she can use her passion for the cats to make a sustainable income and help to provide schooling for her four children.”
New Pet Products
Working together for a week, our team, the trainers and the participants came up with several new product ideas. To tap further into the growing natural pet product market, they decided to start producing additional cat toys. “We already have our felted mice. Now, we’ll also start making fish and snakes for cats to play with”, Gina says. “The cool thing about those new toys is that they are designed to be made with felt scraps that are left over from the creation of other products. Up to now, participants threw those scraps away, but with these new toys that Sharon designed, they have a use for them!”
Besides the toys, pet beds are also going to be added to the product line, giving cats (as well as small dogs and other furry friends) a comfortable and stylish resting place that helps their wild cousins survive!
We will share more stories, photos and videos from this Snow Leopard Enterprise “Design Summit” in the coming weeks. While the new products may need a while to become available, you can browse a wide range of existing products from Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan and Pakistan right now. A fresh shipment arrived just a few weeks ago, so almost everything is back in stock!