Press release. Bishkek / Seattle, 3/3/2015.
Government agencies, INTERPOL, and NGOs join forces with rangers and community members to confront illegal hunting of endangered species.
Less than a year after launching a pilot program to fight poaching of endangered snow leopards and their prey in Kyrgyzstan, the Snow Leopard Trust and its partners are ‘going national’ to cover all 19 of the country’s state parks and nature reserves – thanks to a grant from the UK government’s Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund.
The project, known as the Citizen-Ranger Wildlife Protection Program (CRWPP), trains, publicly honors, and financially rewards park rangers and local community members who successfully apprehend illegal hunters.
It addresses one of the most persistent threats to snow leopards and their prey species in the Central Asian countries: poaching by outsiders.
The Snow Leopard Trust has been working in Kyrgyzstan since 2002 with a dominant focus on community-based conservation, and more recently, with the Kyrgyz President for catalyzing range-wide governmental action for snow leopard conservation.
The organization’s longest-running program in Kyrgyzstan, Snow Leopard Enterprises, has helped address the problem of hunting of snow leopards and wild ungulates by local community members. However, for many years, community members and rangers have expressed frustration at preventing poaching by outsiders.
“Our existing community-based conservation programs are not as effective against this outside threat,” says Brad Rutherford, Executive Director of the Snow Leopard Trust.
A Porous System Exploited by Illegal Hunters
Due to entrenched problems such as an under-resourced and underfunded wildlife conservation sector, lack of trained personnel and equipment, and low salaries for park staff, rangers and local people often feel socially and economically disenfranchised to control poaching in and around protected areas. In the past, this has supported a porous system easily exploited by illegal hunters.
In response, the Snow Leopard Trust, local NGO partner Snow Leopard Foundation in Kyrgyzstan (SLFK), and the Government of Kyrgyzstan developed CRWPP.
When cases of illegal hunting are recorded and filed by citizens, rangers, or teams of community members and rangers, CRWPP honors them in a public ceremony with certificates and a small cash reward.
CRWPP cash rewards provide incentive to rangers to apprehend poachers and follow-through filing cases. National recognition raises social profile and respect for rangers while publicly celebrating and positively reinforcing community collaboration and best practices.
“Although it involves a cash reward, recognizing the rangers’ and community members’ effort is an even more important aspect of the program,” says Whitley Award winner Dr. Charudutt Mishra, Science and Conservation Director for the Snow Leopard Trust.
Arrests and filling cause hassles and costs for poachers as an added deterrent, and placing cases on record is a critical first step towards stronger law enforcement.
In 2014, the Snow Leopard Trust signed a 10-year, three-way agreement with SLFK, and the Government of Kyrgyzstan to help manage this program into the future, and later that same year, inaugural awards were conferred on a ranger-community member team that had apprehended a hunter with a gun in Sarychat-Ertash Nature Reserve .
Major Expansion Thanks to UK Grant
Now, a new grant received in 2015 from the Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund through the UK Government will enable us to begin massive nationwide expansion starting this spring. The grant will help provide for an endowment to support the program’s financial awards into the future, including a roughly $250 US reward for cases involving endangered species.
“Park rangers are working hard under difficult circumstances to protect endangered wildlife in Kyrgyzstan. I’m very pleased that we’ll now be able to assist and empower them in their efforts across all 19 Protected Areas of the country”, says Kubanych Jumabai uulu, director of the Snow Leopard Foundation Kyrgyzstan.
Britain’s Animal Welfare Minister Lord de Mauley says:
“Poaching threatens the very existence of globally endangered species like snow leopards and damages the communities in which it takes place.
“Through this fund we are working with Kyrgyzstan to stamp it out by building up a national network of state rangers and supporting local communities to fight against the trade. This approach has already shown itself to be successful at reducing poaching in and around protected areas.”
One of the most exciting outcomes of the grant will be to enable a partnership with INTERPOL, the international police organization, to deliver quality training for rangers in law enforcement and investigative techniques.
“Despite their limited resources, park rangers in protected areas as well as our partner communities work hard to stop these outside poachers – but their efforts too often go unrecognized,” says Dr. Mishra. ‘This project therefore will be a huge enabler. We’re excited to grow this program and start a new chapter in conservation in Kyrgyzstan.
Snow Leopard Foundation in Kyrgyzstan
Leading the fight for the future of the endangered snow leopard in Kyrgyzstan, the Snow Leopard Foundation partners with international organizations such as the Snow Leopard Trust to better understand and protect this cat in this key range country.
Snow Leopard Trust
The Snow Leopard Trust, based in Seattle, WA, is a world leader in conservation of the endangered snow leopard, conducting pioneering research and partnering with communities as well as authorities in snow leopard habitat to protect the cat.
The Snow Leopard Trust’s work in Kyrgyzstan is in collaboration with Woodland Park Zoo, Seattle, with special support from Partnership Funding by Fondation Segré, managed by the Whitley Fund for Nature.
Nothing touches us quite like a good story. Get ready for a roller coaster ride of heartbreak and hope then; brought to us by 13-year old Aisha Jamal from Chennai, India
Shadows – a story by Aisha Jamal
I heard pitiful whines from behind the rock. Creeping up, I peeked over. Two snow leopard cubs were curled up together, mewling softly. Gazing at them I remembered……`
I was born on a cold, misty April morning. My mother, my siblings and I lived in a large cave. We played or slept, but on no account did we leave the cave. My mother had warned us about the dangers of the Outside.
At five months, we emerged from the cave for the first time and saw snow; a wonderful, feathery, powder covering the ground and wetting our paws when we stepped on it. Mother caught a pika and let us sniff and bat it around before eating. “When you are hunting,” she said, “make sure you’re approaching downwind. Creep up quietly,” she demonstrated, “Then jump quickly. Land on it and bite down on its neck.”
She smiled at our puzzled faces and said, “Don’t worry, I’ll teach you.”
She never did.
A few weeks later, while I was sleeping, my mother and siblings disappeared, with only the scent of Humans, fear, pain and death left behind. I searched blindly for them, behind rocks, in crevices, even in the snow where their smell was strongest. But I searched in vain; the only sign were a few clumps of fur and still wet spots of blood.
Dragging myself back to the cave, defeated and exhausted, I waited two days for them, growing weaker from hunger, before accepting the hard truth. Hunger taught me to hunt. After a thousand attempts, I caught a fat marmot. Hunger taught me to hunt. After a thousand foiled attempts, I caught a marmot. It was busy stuffing its mouth when I crept up behind it, a few more steps, a quick leap, and I was on it. Though the marmot was plump, my ravenous hunger was more than a match for it. In a few minutes all that was left was a pile of cracked bones, blood, a little fur and one full snow leopard cub.
Time passed – years of hunting, running, and stalking.
In my sixth winter I met another snow leopard, a handsome, adventurous male. We had a pair of cubs and I took care of them in my mother’s den; where she had her first and last litter. A few days after the cubs were born, my mate left as is the custom. He had stayed far too long already.
I cared well for my cubs: fed them; kept them warm; taught them; and when they grew I brought them well-softened meat. I doted on them, far more, perhaps, than I would have if my siblings had survived. We went exploring everyday. I took them on territory patrols, hunting expeditions, night-time walks, and taught them running, jumping and stalking.
One day, I chanced upon a herd of goats and captured one. Shouts mingled with rocks followed me. Humans! Narrowly escaping, I made my way to the den, where we had a good feast.
But the Humans had not given up and they hit back with unimaginable cruelty.
I had had a good hunt that day, the bharal hadn’t noticed me until it was too late. Trotting home happily I thought how my cubs would bound out of the cave, nuzzling me with pleasure, how we would sit down together for a feast, and retire purring to our den afterwards. Nearing the cave, I called out to my cubs, but they didn’t answer. Then I smelled it: the dreaded scent of Humans, combined with my cubs’ fear and terror.
I raced into the den. It was desolate, abandoned, empty. I stared wildly around, the nightmare of my cubhood wasn’t happening again? I called to my cubs. No answer. Slowly, methodically I started searching. Every rock, every crevice, gaps in the snow, everywhere possible I searched, with each step, each sniff, my hope died a little.
The scent trail led to the Humans’ colony. Suppressing my hatred and fear, I followed the trail as far as I could, but the hundreds of Humans’ scents covered up my cubs’ trail as effectively as snow covers the ground. I kept searching, until I had to flee from a Human.
How I survived the next few days I do not know. At times my spirits were so low that there seemed no point in existence. I had lost everything. Humans had taken my only litter of cubs and I hadn’t stopped them. However my optimistic side reasoned with me: I had survived as a cub; I had become self-sufficient; there would be more litters.
But it took me a long time to get over my misery. Often, while hunting, I would turn to warn my cubs, before realising they were no longer there, sometimes I would see a faint shadow in the distance, trotting towards me, but it was a mere dream. I never had more cubs; there weren’t any snow leopards in my territory anymore, though I searched.
Now, for the first time in uncountable years, I was seeing cubs. Where was their mother? Gone like mine? Were the cubs hungry? Did they need me to care for them? I felt a new feeling well up in me: Hope.
By Aisha Jamal, 13, Grade VIII, Al Qamar Academy, Chennai, India.
Aisha is a 13-year old cat lover from Chennai, India. “Snow Leopards caught my attention especially; their lives in the mountains,their beauty, their plight,their amazing abilities”, she says. “They live in an extremely dangerous and harsh habitat, yet they are perfectly built to cope with all their trials -except humans.”
Aisha’s mom, Aneesa, had first contacted us through our Facebook page to share this wonderful story. We immediately knew it deserved as large an audience as possible – and if you agree, please share Aisha’s story and help raise awareness for all the snow leopard cubs left in the wild!
Buy a limited edition snow leopard t-shirt from FLOAT until February 22 – and $8 will go directly to conservation projects for these endangered cats!
We’re excited to present the brand-new “King of the Mountain” t-shirt! Available for ONE WEEK ONLY!
Designed exclusively for the Snow Leopard Trust by conservationist apparel company FLOAT, this unique t-shirt is available now at www.float.org/snowleopard - but for one week only!
$8 will be donated to snow leopard conservation projects for every “King of the Mountain” t-shirt that’s purchased through Sunday, February 22 – so when you buy one, you won’t just look; you’ll DO good!
The “King of the Mountain” is available in men’s and women’s cuts as well as a women’s tanktop in a variety of colors.
Order your t-shirt now and wear the rare “King of the Mountain” as soon as the sun comes out this spring!
Rare footage of wild snow leopards taken in the Tost mountain range in Mongolia’s South Gobi province shows a vibrant population of these endangered cats – including a mother with three cubs.
The Tost mountains are home to more than a dozen snow leopards. These cats are part of what may be the most studied snow leopard population in the world. The area has been the focal point of the Snow Leopard Trust’s pioneering long-term ecological study since 2008.
Thanks to research tools such as GPS collars and remote-sensor research cameras, Trust scientists have been able to observe Tost’s snow leopard population in unprecedented ways. They’ve found wild cubs in their dens. They’ve tracked and photographed cats as they migrated to neighboring mountain ranges across the steppe, and they’ve revealed fascinating population dynamics.
This research has helped convince Mongolian authorities to grant parts of Tost “Local Protected Area” status – a first step to saving this important snow leopard habitat for future generations.
Despite these efforts, led by the local community and our Mongolia team, Tost remains under threat: Various mining licenses had already been issued for the area before it was granted a minimum level of protection – and some of those have yet to expire.
This new snow leopard footage, taken in 2014, is further proof of the urgent need for better protection for Tost! Our Mongolia team currently helps lead an effort to upgrade the protection status of the area to “Nature Reserve”, a designation that would prevent any future mining activities
a map of the Tost mountain range in Mongolia’s South Gobi province
In a major step forward for snow leopard conservation in Pakistan, our local partner, the Snow Leopard Foundation, is expanding its research activities into to the tribal belt (District Diamer) of Gilgit-Baltistan province.
Diamer District is one of the seven districts of Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) and is bounded by Astore District in the east, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the southwest, Neelum District of Azad Kashmir in the south, the Ghizer District in the north & north-west, and the Gilgit District in the north & northeast.
Diamer is spread across 6500 km² and constitutes mostly arid mountainous area and connects GB to the rest of the country. It has historically been a strongly patriarchal society with prevalent tribal mores and a heavy influence of orthodox clergy. The literacy rate is negligible as compared to other districts. The majority of the people lead a semi-nomadic lifestyle – going to the high altitude pastures during summers and coming to the lower elevations during winters.
A challenge for conservationists
The district encompasses 77% of the total natural forest cover of the Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) and is owned by the community. Because of its unique culture, Diamer has historically been a challenge for the Conservation and Development Practitioner.
After many negotiations, the Snow Leopard Foundation (SLF) successfully completed human-carnivore conflict surveys followed by an extensive camera-trapping study in the Diamer district. These were the first-ever of such endeavors in the district in the conservation history of the GB.
a map of Pakistan’s Diamer District, in Gilgit Baltistan
Surveys reveal presence of snow leopards, bears, and wolves
The conflict surveys revealed the occurrence of major large carnivores including snow leopard, wolf, lynx, black bear and brown bear. Wolf and black bear were found to be particularly abundant in the district.
Losses of livestock due to predators are prevailing in the area with 1.1 animals lost per household per year, though the magnitude was found to be much less as compared to the losses of livestock due to diseases (3.8 animals per household per year).
Having evaluated the results of the conflict surveys, our Pakistani team selected Khanbari valley for a research camera survey. The team divided the valley (810km²) into 20 watersheds and set 48 camera stations, each of which was up for 30 days. The cameras captured wolf, lynx, leopard cat, fox, cape hare and stone marten. A pack of four wolves with an alpha male was captured for the first time.
Snow leopard family on film
The rugged mountains of Gilgit-Baltistan are strongholds of several ungulate species. However, little is known about their ecology and abundance because of remoteness and lack of resources to conduct robust scientific studies.
Poaching/hunting, habitat degradation, increasing livestock, and disease transmission by livestock are the major threats. Proper ungulate monitoring is a prerequisite to identify population dynamics for effective conservation.
Khunjerab National Park (KNP), to the north of Diamer, covers 4455km² and supports a diverse array of wildlife species including: Himalayan ibex, snow leopard, blue sheep, brown bear, wolf, fox, stone marten, weasel, golden eagle, snow cock, cape hare and Marco Polo sheep. The Park is also providing forage to approximately 3000 livestock.
During a recent ungulate survey in the park, our team was in for a special treat! They came across a snow leopard family – a mother with three cubs! With their mobile phones and pocket cameras, the team managed to take some footage of the cats, before moving on to count ibex. You can watch the video below!
The surveys yielded 420 ibex counts in the park. Park staff and university students were trained in the ‘Double Observer Survey’ method as well as GPS handling, map reading, data format filling, spotting scope and binocular handling.