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Freeman Family Award for Sumbe Tomorsukh

Mongolian snow leopard researcher Sumbe Tomorsukh has been posthumously awarded the Freeman Family Snow Leopard Conservation Award, one of the most prestigious honors in the field, for his outstanding efforts to save this endangered cat.


Snow Leopard Trust Executive Director Brad Rutherford presented the award to Sumbe’s family at a memorial ceremony held in Ulaanbaatar.

Sumbe's father accepted the Freeman Family Award on behalf of his late son.

Sumbe’s father accepted the Freeman Family Award on behalf of his late son.

Sumbe Tomorsukh tragically passed away in 2015 much before his time. He was only 27. His death is an irreparable loss to his family and friends, as well as to all of us personally and to the Snow Leopard Trust as an organization. It is also a huge loss for Mongolia, and for the international snow leopard conservation community.

We share Sumbe’s family’s grief, and together with our colleagues in Mongolia, we stand with them through this terrible time.  We are honoring their wishes and doing whatever possible to support them in this difficult time.

Sumbe’s death has raised many questions, and there have been reports in Mongolian media alleging that he was the victim of a crime, which may have been related to his work as a snow leopard conservationist fighting to protect the cats’ habitat in the Tost Mountains, in Mongolia’s South Gobi province. We are following those reports closely and are standing ready, doing what we can to help his family get answers.

We have high respect for the Mongolian government and authorities. We have requested them to conduct a fair, thorough and transparent investigation into his death, and to help realize Sumbe’s dream of saving the snow leopards of Tost.

Sumbe loved to share his passion for nature with local kids

Sumbe loved to share his passion for nature with local kids

 

When water holes in the South Gobi froze over during a harsh winter, Sumbe carried several hundred pounds of ice up the mountain, so the animals would have enough to drink

When water holes in the South Gobi froze over during a harsh winter, Sumbe carried several hundred pounds of ice up the mountain, so the animals would have enough to drink

 

P1120667-Sumbee-looking-for-a-collar

Sumbe was a key researcher in our long-term snow leopard study in Mongolia’s South Gobi

 

Sumbe's outstanding contributions to snow leopard conservation will not be forgotten

Sumbe’s outstanding contributions to snow leopard conservation will not be forgotten

 

From the Heart of Snow Leopard Country into your Home

We’re excited to introduce a new line of super-cute pet products to our Snow Leopard Enterprise product family. These beautiful handicraft items are “Handmade by Snow Leopard Communities” – and any purchase you make directly helps protect these endangered cats. But what does that really mean? And how does it help? Find out; as we take you on a journey that starts in Kyrgyzstan, and will perhaps end in your home!


There was lots of chatter, and more than just a little laughter, in the big house near beautiful lake Issyk-Kul, in Kyrgyzstan. 25 women and one man from three remote villages in the Tian-Shan Mountains had gathered there, in the summer of 2015, working on new product ideas for Snow Leopard Enterprises, the award-winning handicraft conservation program founded by the Snow Leopard Trust. As they were cutting, sewing, embroidering and needle felting, they were encouraged – and sometimes guided – by two Kyrgyz and one American trainers and designers.

An artisan adds the final stitches to a felt pet mat

An artisan adds the final stitches to a felt pet mat

Elza, a young artisan who had travelled to this workshop from Ak-Shyirak village, was particularly excited about learning to needle-felt, a technique which is much softer on the hands than traditional felting – and produces amazing results, such as the dog toy in the shape of a monkey she was working on. She and her colleagues had come to Issyk-Kul to learn how to make an entire line of new pet products - toys for cats and dogs, and adorable pet mats. Later, they’d take these new skills home to their villages, where they would begin working on an upcoming order of these products, and also teach the other artisans in their community.

A needle-felted dog toy is almost finished

A needle-felted dog toy is almost finished

Now, six months later, the products they’ve made are finally available for purchase!

Helping People and Cats

Wildlife conservation starts (and sometimes ends) with winning over the hearts and minds of the people who share the habitats of any species you want to protect. Many of the world’s hotspots for endangered species are home to under-served, economically struggling communities; and doing successful conservation work in such areas usually means finding ways to help both wildlife and people.

With Snow Leopard Enterprises, the Snow Leopard Trust has found a highly successful way of impacting both communities and ecosystems in a positive, sustainable way. Herder families in the endangered cat’s habitat produce high-quality handicrafts for us, using the natural resources at their disposal, such as e.g. wool from their camels, sheep, and goats.

The Snow Leopard Trust then sells these products globally, to retail customers as well as a growing number of wholesale buyers. As the market for Snow Leopard Enterprise products grows, so does the steady, secure income for the communities who make these products. On average, a family that participates in the program sees their household income increase by 40%. 

In return, each Snow Leopard Enterprise community pledges to protect the snow leopards and their natural prey species in and around their village and pastures. If they uphold their pledge and no cats are harmed, they all receive a bonus at the end of the year. If a snow leopard is harmed, on the other hand, the entire bonus is withheld – a system that creates incentives for conservation and peer pressure for every community member to uphold their pledge.

Every Snow Leopard Enterprise product is handmade, and the artisans we work with take pride in their craftsmanship – and their commitment to saving snow leopards!

Snow Leopard Enterprise participants take pride in their craftsmanship

Snow Leopard Enterprise participants take pride in their craftsmanship

In addition to being a Snow Leopard Enterprise artisan, Elza also works as a schoolteacher in Ak Shyirak – and she’s sharing her values with the kids! “Although the children have never seen a snow leopard,” she says, “they know all about snow leopards and are really proud to share their home with them.”

A Journey (Almost) Halfway Around the World

After the workshop on the shores of lake Issyk-Kul, Elza and the other women headed back into the mountains, to their villages in the heart of snow leopard country. There, they put their newly acquired skills to work, producing dozens of pet mats, and hundreds of needle-felted toys. A few months later, Kuban Jumabai uulu, our Kyrgyz Program Director, paid them a visit; picked up the product they’d made, and paid them their well-deserved salaries and bonuses.

A basket of needle-felted cat toys is ready to be shipped

A basket of needle-felted cat toys is ready to be shipped

From here, near the roof of the world, these handicrafts began their long journey. First, a bumpy drive to the capital, Bishkek, where they were counted, labelled, and packed up for shipment to Seattle – over 6000 miles away - where they arrived a few weeks later. Once cleared by customs, they were brought to the Snow Leopard Trust’s office, where the whole team helped unload them. A quick photo session later, all the new products were up on the website, where they can be purchased now!

What will the next stage in these products’ journey be? Will they make one last trip from our storage room into your home, and right into the heart of your pet? We certainly hope so, as do Elza and the other artisans from Kyrgyzstan – and the snow leopards they help protect!

Browse these fantastic new products now:

buy-now

 

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Thank you to Parco Zoo Punta Verde (Italy) and the Rufford Foundation (UK) for for their generous support that made the Kyrgyzstan SLE design workshop possible.

Transition at the Snow Leopard Trust

Dear Snow Leopard Trust supporters

Charles Kettering said, “Every time you tear a leaf off a calendar, you present a new place for new ideas and progress.” Here we are at the start of 2016, and I am tearing off a leaf. With excitement, hope, and some sadness I am writing to let you know that I am transitioning out of the position of Executive Director at the Snow Leopard Trust. 

Like all positive transitions, this change is both bitter and sweet. I have been at the Trust for almost 16 years. I had the privilege of working with the founder, Helen Freeman, and now have become the organization’s longest serving Executive Director. One of the things I’m most proud of at the Snow Leopard Trust is that our strength exists as an organization and is far more robust than any one person. Over the years we’ve transitioned many key positions and we’ve always come through stronger. I’m 100% certain that we will have the same experience transitioning the executive director position.

Brad Rutherford, representing the Snow Leopard Trust at the Global Snow Leopard Conservation Forum in Bishkek, Kyrgyz Republic

Brad Rutherford, representing the Snow Leopard Trust at the Global Snow Leopard Conservation Forum in Bishkek, Kyrgyz Republic

Several years ago we put in place a Succession Plan that laid plans for both my planned or unplanned departure (I’m very glad we are using the planned option!). The Board of directors is now implementing that plan and we will be undertaking an international search for a new executive director.

I will remain in my position until February 5th at which point Dr. Charu Mishra, our long-serving director of science and conservation will take on the acting executive director position. I’ve worked with Charu since 2001 and I have to say one of my greatest regrets will be no longer working with and learning from Charu on a day to day basis. He is an amazing conservationist, manager, and friend and he is more than up to serving as the acting director.

Charu-Mishra

Charu Mishra, the Trust’s longtime Science & Conservation Director, will serve as the acting ED during the transition period.

I am very happy to report that I will remain involved in the Snow Leopard Trust in my new position as a member of the Board of Directors. As a director I plan to stay involved in helping the new executive director on an as needed basis and helping with fundraising and organizational strategy.

I feel like I’m leaving my role as executive director while the Snow Leopard Trust is at its strongest. We are playing an active role in the 12 country Global Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Protection Program initiated by the President of Kyrgyzstan. Our 5 country programs and 50 plus field staff continue to expand their conservation, education, and research programs, and the Trust’s support of the Snow Leopard Network continues to pay dividends by helping researchers and conservationists around the world stay connected via the Network website and bibliography.

I am leaving on this high note to take the newly created position of Chief Operating Officer with the Seattle Aquarium, another incredible member of the Seattle wildlife and conservation community. For the past year or so I’ve wondered about the best timing for me to leave the Snow Leopard Trust. I’m too young to retire but staying another 10 plus years at the Trust did not sound like a good thing for the organization. Fortunately this great opportunity came up at the Aquarium at a time that is right for both the Snow Leopard Trust and me.

I thank you from the bottom of my heart for an amazing 16 years. Thank you for your support, guidance, and belief in the Snow Leopard Trust. Thank you for the projects and people you have invested in, and the concepts you have made a reality. I look forward to continuing to work with you on protecting these amazing cats in my new role as a member of the Board and will be counting on your full support in helping the new executive director feel as welcomed as I was.

Sincerely

Brad Rutherford, Executive Director

Cubs Are Growing Up

One of our research cameras in Kyrgyzstan’s Sarychat-Ertash Nature Reserve recently picked up this beautiful sequence of a wild snow leopard mother with three cubs. 

Analysis of spot patterns later revealed that these are the same cats we had seen the previous year, when the cubs were still tiny. “It’s great to see these cubs growing up. It gives me hope for the future of these cats in Kyrgyzstan“, says Kuban Jumabai uulu, the Country Director for our Kyrgyzstan program.

Overall, a preliminary analysis of the 2015 research camera data has shown that there are at least 19 individual snow leopards in Sarychat Ertash - along with other animals such as brown bears.

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This work has been supported by the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, the Chattanooga Zoo, and Fondation Segré / Whitley Fund for Nature.

 

Wild Brown Bear Family Filmed

The mountain wilderness of Sarychat Ertash, in Kyrgyzstan’s majestic Tian Shan mountains, is home to a rich and diverse fauna, which includes the endangered snow leopard, but also brown bears, lynx, and many other species.

One of our research cameras – deployed in the area to catch glimpses of the elusive snow leopard – recently captured amazing footage of a brown bear mother and her cubs. Enjoy!


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This work has been supported by the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, the Chattanooga Zoo, and Fondation Segré / Whitley Fund for Nature.