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.
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.
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!
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.
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:
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.