In 2015, we decided to partner with the Kyrgyz government to turn the former hunting concession of Shamshy into a wildlife sanctuary. Now, a first small research camera survey has revealed just how diverse the area’s wildlife is.
“We’ve only been able to survey the lower parts of the reserve because there was so much snow, but we’ve already seen lynx, ibex, red fox, marmots, badgers, wild pigs and many birds”, says Kuban Jumabai uulu, SLT’s Kyrgyzstan Country Director.
On his most recent trip to Shamshy, Kuban also saw snow leopard tracks, and one of the local wildlife rangers living and working in the area actually encountered the cat just a few weeks ago.
To do a more complete survey of Shamshy’s wildlife, Kuban and the rangers will install cameras in the reserve’s higher areas next. “Some of these ridge lines look light ideal snow leopard habitat. Hopefully, we’ll have our first pics of the cat soon”, Kuban says.
They’ll have help from a group of volunteers who have just arrived from India and have been trained to assist with the camera setup. “The volunteer support we’ve received since we started to work in Shamshy has been incredible”, says Koustubh Sharma, a Senior Regional Ecologist for the Snow Leopard Trust who’s based in Kyrgyzstan. “In addition to the four volunteers from India, we’ve had two volunteers, one from France and another from Canada help with the first camera survey in winter, and there’s another volunteer from Switzerland currently helping us collect data on the area’s avian fauna and general biodiversity”.
A management plan for the area is in the works as well, and the team has created detailed habitat maps. “We’ll soon have a three-dimensional model of the area where we can give supporters virtual tours”, Koustubh says.
Take a virtual tour of Shamshy!
Real-world trips to Shamshy might also be possible in the future. The local administration is fixing the access road to Shamshy, a key step in bringing sustainable eco-tourism and conservation education programs to the area.
Meanwhile, Kuban Jumabai uulu and the Shamshy rangers are upgrading the reserve’s infrastructure this summer. “There’s an old log cabin that we’re fixing up so it can be the reserve’s office”, Kuban says. “We’ll also bring up a trailer for the rangers to stay and control area visitors, and install signage boards that inform visitors about the protected area and its wildlife.”
Shamshy is a picturesque valley on the northernmost edge of Kyrgyzstan’s snow leopard habitat. It’s only a 3 hours’ drive from the capital, Bishkek, which has long made it a prime spot for trophy hunters coming in from the city looking to hunt ibex. For several years, the area was managed directly by the President’s office as a hunting concession, before falling under the domain of the Department of Rational Use of Natural Resources (formerly known as the Hunting Department) in 2013. It has since been left untouched to allow the ibex population to begin recovering.
In 2015, the Snow Leopard Foundation Kyrgyzstan and the Snow Leopard Trust partnered with the Department of Rational Use of Natural Resources to turn this potential wildlife hotspot into a co-managed sanctuary, where no hunting will be permitted, but instead other conservation measures will be implemented in partnership with local communities and the government.
“Shamshy is home to ibex, wolves and lynx. It lies within a large snow leopard landscape, and has the potential to become a key part of the home ranges of several of these endangered cats if its wild ungulate population recovers”, says SLT Science & Conservation Director Charu Mishra.
While hunting is no longer allowed in the Shamshy, local communities who have grazed their livestock in the area for decades continue to have the right to do so. “Local communities can be our best allies for conservation”, Kuban says. “Our goal is for them to be proud of this reserve, and feel that it’s theirs as much as ours.”
The management of Shamshy Wildlife Sanctuary is generously supported by David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation; Partnership Funding by Fondation Segre, managed by Whitley Fund for Nature; Woodland Park Zoo; and Chattanooga Zoo, and by many individual donors and supporters. Thank you very much.