From Pennies for Wool to $1 Million for Snow Leopards

Pioneering handicraft-for-conservation program Snow Leopard Enterprises is close to reaching the milestone of $1 million in total sales in 10 years- and you can help get us there by shopping now!

Many of you are familiar with Snow Leopard Enterprises (SLE), our flagship community-based conservation program that helps snow leopards as well as the people who share the big cat’s habitat.

Participants felting

SLE participants working with their wool

It’s remarkably simple: We buy beautiful wool handicrafts from herder communities and market them internationally. In return, herders sign contracts designed to protect the snow leopard and other wildlife.

Many herders in rural areas of Mongolia, where SLE began in 1999, have to sell their raw sheep, goat, and camel wool for pennies per pound.

But when they join SLE herders are able to earn hundreds of dollars each year from producing handicrafts. That’s a significant sum in areas where people typically live on less than a dollar a day!

This income is a tremendous incentive for herders to protect snow leopards.


Thanks to all of you who have been buying these handicrafts we are very close to reaching $1 million US in sales for this unique program.

You can help us reach the $1 million mark in the next few weeks by purchasing our beautiful handmade products in our online shop


A financially self-sustaining program

“One of the amazing things about SLE is that the more products are sold the more cats are protected,” says Brad Rutherford, Executive Director of the Snow Leopard Trust.

Colorful baby booties are among our best-selling products

Colorful baby booties are among our best-selling products

Not only does the program have a direct linkage to conservation, but it’s also highly cost-effective”, Brad adds. “The beauty of the program is that in addition to helping herders and snow leopards, it also helps cover the costs to ship, market, and distribute the products.

Remarkable growth

When the first herders—about 50 women from Uvs and Gobi-Altay provinces in Mongolia —joined SLE, they quickly found that they could rely on regular income from their handicrafts, and were more able to tolerate livestock losses from snow leopards and wolves. 

From this handful of participants in Mongolia, SLE has grown to 250 active members in three countries, now including Kyrgyzstan and Pakistan. (We are also developing a pilot SLE program to begin soon in northern India.)

Over the past 10 years, the program has also grown in effectiveness. At first, sizing was inconsistent and some of our initial products were less popular with shoppers in the U.S. Over time though—and with the help of local handicraft trainers and international designers and marketers—we have been able to refine and expand our products, and sales have really grown – close to $1 million!

Tremendous impact on the cats

A million in sales is a nice achievement, but it only really matters if it helps snow leopards. We can confidently say that it does!

one of up to 250 snow leopards SLE is protecting in Mongolia

one of the snow leopards SLE is protecting in Mongolia

In Mongolia, where SLE has the largest reach with 27 participating communities covering over 25,000 square kilometers, researchers estimate that a quarter of the country’s snow leopard habitat could now be protected through SLE.

YOU can help us reach the Million!

A big thank you to all for your past support of SLE! Please help us hit the $1 million mark by taking a look at our shop to see the exciting products we have available – and be on the lookout for great deals on Facebook and in our emails (sign up here if you haven’t already!)

mice  napkins ornaments  yarn

With your continued support, we can continue to grow this successful program to help more herders and protect more cats.

Snow Leopard Enterprises Expands Into India

The handicraft-for-conservation program Snow Leopard Enterprises (SLE) has been a success in Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan, and Pakistan, generating a total of close to $1 million in sales to date. And still, there is room for growth.

Our team in India is busy bringing this venture to their country as well – with pilots underway in the villages of Kibber and Chichim in Spiti.

Like in the other program countries, SLE India’s main aim is to offset losses due to wildlife damage with the income generated through the sale of these handicrafts; and to improve people’s attitudes to wildlife and conservation efforts. SLE is a program specifically aimed at women, as research has shown them to be more skeptical of snow leopards and other predators than the men.

Access to alternative sources of income such as the sale of handicraft can change a community's attitude towards snow leopards

Access to alternative sources of income such as the sale of handicraft can change a community’s attitude towards snow leopards

Last November, an initial skill development workshop took place in Spiti, followed by a “training of trainers” workshop held in the South Indian city of Mysore, where our partner organization NCF India is headquartered. 17 women made the day-long trip from the Northern edge of India to Mysore – the first trip outside of their home region for many of them.

Colorful baby booties are among our best-selling SLE products

Colorful baby booties are among our best-selling SLE products

This summer, most of them took part in another, crocheting-focused workshop – albeit much closer to home, in Kibber. For pastoralists, this is the most labor-intense season of the year – and yet, a total of 49 women from the two pilot villages took time out of their busy schedules to come to Kibber  and attend this workshop. The main goal this time was to improve the skills of the women and the quality of the products they were making. In Novemberanother, even bigger workshop is planned – and the India team hopes to get the first products from Kibber and Chichim to market in 2015.

While you wait for the Indian products to be available, you can browse our beautiful selection of SLE products from Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia and Pakistan in our shop and help us reach the milestone of $1 million in sales!


A Million Bucks to Save Snow Leopards

The Snow Leopard Trust’s pioneering handicraft-for-conservation program Snow Leopard Enterprises is about to hit $1 million in sales.

Snow Leopard Enterprises is remarkably simple – and yet unique in the world of conservation: We buy beautiful wool handicrafts from herder communities and market them internationally, to customers like you. In return, herders sign contracts designed to protect the snow leopard and other wildlife.

Since 2004, this program has generated almost $1 million in sales – money that has flown straight into snow leopard communities, helping these endangered cats and the people who live with them.

Here’s how close we are:

Shop now for some of these amazing products and help us reach this milestone. Who knows, you might even end up being the customer that helps us over the hump!

All Snow Leopard Enterprises products feature this yellow cat icon in our shop, so you know exactly which items will count towards the icon

slippers  feltedcat

colorful Kyrgyz slippers                                                      unique, handmade felt snow leopards

napkins  mice

embroidered napkins from Pakistan                                  Felt toy mice for cats

ornaments  booties

Felted animal ornaments from Mongolia                          Cute donkey booties for babies

yarn  glasses-case

Mongolian camel wool yarn                                               Felted glasses and phone cases

and much much more!

Wild Snow Leopard Family From Kyrgyzstan Poses for Pics

Rare, endangered snow leopard mother and her two cubs captured by research camera in Kyrgyzstan!

Kuban Jumabai uulu, the Snow Leopard Trust’s Kyrgyz Country Director just returned from setting out research cameras in Sarychat-Ertash Nature Reserve – and he brought a flash drive full of photos with him.

These cameras were purchased last year thanks to the generous help of dozens of snow leopard supporters who chipped in to a campaign to fund them. Now, the snow leopards of Sarychat are doing their part to reward this generosity!

A snow leopard mom and her two cubs recently came across one of the cameras – and the family was kind enough to stop for a couple of photos. Unsurprisingly, the little ones couldn’t keep a straight face for long!


KG-family-2Wild cubs are powerful symbols of hope for the endangered snow leopard, so our team in Kyrgyzstan was particularly thrilled when they saw these photos.

“We had seen a lot of snow leopard signs in this area when we set up the camera”, recalls Kuban, “now we know why!”

These photos will help us get a clear picture of Sarychat-Ertash’s snow leopard population and will inform measures to protect these cats.

Thank you so much to everyone who helped make this possible!

Why It Matters What Your Neighbors Think

The future of the snow leopard depends in no small part on how the people who share the cat’s habitat view the predator in their midst. A new study by Snow Leopard Trust researchers reveals previously hidden, collective factors that shape these views.

Humans are imminently social beings; and a person’s values, attitudes – and actions – are shaped by their social environment as much as by any individual factors.  What your neighbors think matters, whether you like it or not.

This is why peer pressure works.

In the best case, this mechanism can stop an individual who may want to retaliate against a snow leopard that took some of his livestock, e.g. because the community would lose a conservation bonus if a cat were harmed.

wild snow leopard in India

the future of the snow leopard is in the hands of the people who share its habitat

In the worst case, the same dynamic can mute those voices in a community that are in favor of conservation and coexistence – for instance if a village loses too many animals.

First Multi-Scale Attitude Study

Previous studies on community attitudes toward predators have focused on individuals only – put simply, a number of people were asked questions, and their answers were analyzed.

Those studies have given us valuable insights, but they didn’t paint a complete picture.

Kullu Suryawanshi in Spiti, India

Kullu Suryawanshi in Spiti, India

Now, Snow Leopard Trust researcher Kulbhushansingh “Kullu” Suryawanshi has chosen a slightly different approach that might help fill in the blanks.

He also asked villagers questions about their views of snow leopards and wolves – but rather than just analyzing individual answers, he looked at aggregate data as well and probed how community-level factors such as village size, number of livestock held in a village or agricultural production can shape people’s attitudes – a multi-scale approach.

We already knew that age, gender, education and economic status are among the most important factors determining an individual’s attitude toward snow leopards.

Those factors were all confirmed by Kullu’s study. However, he also found other – previously hidden – factors that are at play. Many of those factors were revealed only when Kullu analyzed community members’ answers from a new perspective; focusing on collective factors rather than individual ones.

For instance, he found out that two things had a particularly strong influence on a community’s collective attitude toward snow leopards:

The number of large livestock held (such as horses and yaks, which are among the snow leopard’s preferred prey), and the overall agricultural production; a source of additional income.

Access to alternative sources of income such as the sale of handicraft can change a community's attitude towards snow leopards

Access to alternative sources of income such as the sale of handicraft can change a community’s attitude towards snow leopards


New Insights Could Lead To New Solutions

The more yaks and horses a community holds (rather than smaller livestock such as goats and sheep), the more skeptical it is of the cats – most likely because these large-bodied livestock are traditionally left free to roam the pastures around the village, without any protection from predators.

In the future, employing herders who watch over these animals could help improve attitudes.

(Village) size also matters: The larger a community, the more accepting it is of snow leopards and other predators – perhaps because it can more easily absorb livestock losses.

While we can’t influence village size, we can design programs across several villages, allowing communities to pool their resources, eg in a livestock insurance scheme.

Positive Influence of Conservation Programs

Kullu’s study was held across 25 villages across six study sites in India’s Spiti valley. The villages at one site, Kibber, have been participating in Snow Leopard Trust community conservation programs for 15 years.

While the study wasn’t designed to examine the effects of our existing community conservation programs, the results at least suggest that these programs are having a positive influence on people’s attitudes:

A village in Kibber, a community we've partnered with for 15 years in Spiti, India

A village in Kibber, a community we’ve partnered with for 15 years in Spiti, India

The neighboring sites of Kibber and Langza reported the highest rate of livestock depredation among all the communities in the study. Nevertheless, villages in Kibber had the most positive attitudes towards both snow leopards and wolves of all the six study sites.

Nearby Langza, which does not currently participate in conservation programs, had the most negative attitude.

Kullu’s study will help us – and other conservation organizations – to ensure that community conservation programs are designed to address an entire community’s concerns and needs, rather than just those of individuals.

In practice, this means a multi-pronged approach, including the generation of additional sources of income, the offsetting of financial losses due to predation, and education programs for both children and older people.