Press Release. Seattle, November 4, 2014.
Snow Leopard Enterprises creates a market for handicrafts made by herders who live in the endangered cat’s habitat. In return, the herders help save snow leopards. In the past 10 years, this program, which today helps protect 17% of Mongolia’s snow leopard habitat, has generated a total of $1 million in sales.
What once was a small handicrafts program with just a few women participating has just reached a major milestone! Founded in 1998 by two conservationists, Bayara Agvantseeren from Mongolia and Priscilla Allen from the USA, Snow Leopard Enterprises has grown into one of the most impactful conservation programs anywhere in the world.
In the last 10 years, this simple idea has generated a million dollars in total sales for snow leopard conservation – money that directly benefits endangered cats and poor communities alike.
Photos of Snow Leopard Enterprise participants can be downloaded here
Click here for research camera photos of wild snow leopards
Many of the people who share the endangered snow leopard’s habitat in Central Asia depend on livestock for their livelihood. Often, they live on less than $2 a day. For these people, losing livestock to a predator like the snow leopard is a devastating blow. Too often, they see no other choice but to retaliate against the cat.
Conservationists intent on saving the elusive snow leopard are working with herder communities to break this vicious circle of poverty and conflict. One simple, but powerful idea has been particularly successful: Snow Leopard Enterprises.
In this unique program, the Snow Leopard Trust, a Seattle-based conservation organization, teams up with Mongolia’s Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation to provide poor herder women in snow leopard habitat with the training and equipment they need to make rugs, baby booties, felted cat toys and other handicrafts from the wool of their livestock.
The Snow Leopard Trust then buys the finished products from these women and markets them internationally under the label “Snow Leopard Enterprises”. The additional income they gain from the sale of these products helps hundreds of families improve their lives. In return, participating communities sign agreements to protect the snow leopards living in their area from poaching and retaliation killings. If no cats are hurt throughout a year, the communities receive an additional bonus.
A Difference Maker for Cats and People Alike
In these program communities, Snow Leopard Enterprises has changed the fortunes of both the cats and the people who live with them. “Today, our community conservation programs help protect more than 17% of Mongolia’s snow leopard habitat”, says Bayara Agvantsereen, the program’s co-founder, who heads the Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation. “Snow Leopard Enterprises is the centerpiece of our work in the area, our flagship program and our main point of contact for many families in the region.”
For the participating families, Snow Leopard Enterprises is making a huge difference, too. Many herders in rural areas of Mongolia sell their raw sheep, goat, and camel wool for pennies per pound. The average per capita income in the region is around $2 per day.
Families who participate in Snow Leopard Enterprises, on the other hand, boosted their regular income by an average of more than $150 last year by producing and selling handicrafts.
“This extra income is a tremendous incentive for these communities to protect snow leopards”, Bayara Agvantseeren says.
For Snow Leopard Trust Executive Director Brad Rutherford, the program’s transformative power is a key to its success. “Snow Leopard Enterprises is not an aid program, but a conservation and economic development initiative”, he says. “It changes lives and empowers local communities to become stewards of the ecosystem they live in.”
A Joint Effort
Thanks to the support of many partners and donors, Snow Leopard Enterprises has grown from a handful of communities to including over 1000 families in 3 countries. “Among the many amazing contributors, the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation is a partner that stands out to me”, Brad Rutherford says. “They have been there from the beginning and have supported the program generously every single year since then.”
“It is thanks to this kind of long-term partnership and support that we’ve been able to establish Snow Leopard Enterprises in Kyrgyzstan and Pakistan as well”, he adds.
With an India program slated to launch in 2015, the Snow Leopard Enterprise story keeps evolving. “We hope our customer base will expand with us, so we can reach even more cats and communities in the future”, Brad Rutherford says.
Traditional felt rugs and colorful baby booties are among the products herder women make for Snow Leopard Enterprises
The Snow Leopard: Elusive and Endangered
There are as few as 3920 – 6390 snow leopards left in the wild — and due to their elusive nature, encounters are so rare that the cats are often referred to as “ghosts of the mountain.” The snow leopard has been listed as endangered by the IUCN since 1971. The cat is protected worldwide, but remains threatened by poaching and retaliation killings as well as a loss of suitable habitat.
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.
Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation
Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation is the Snow Leopard Trust’s partner organization based in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia; working together on the conservation of the endangered snow leopard since 1998.
We owe thanks to so many people – too many to list here. Special acknowledgement goes out to the following for support of major program growth:
Cat Life Foundation
Cheyenne Mountain Zoo
David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation
Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund
Edrington Group & Edrington Americas
Edrington Asia Travel Retail
Regina Bauer Frankenberg Foundation
Keidanren Nature Conservation Fund
Moore Family Foundation
Mark and Vickie Fund of the Nysether Family Foundation
Partnership Funding by Fondation Segré, managed by the Whitley Fund for Nature
People’s Trust for Endangered SpeciesThe Rufford Foundation
Snow Leopard Trust, UK
Snow Leopard Vodka
Woodland Park Zoo