Bayara – the Goldman Environmental Prize and the resulting media coverage has recognized your role in protecting the Tost Mountains, but you’ve always pointed out how the campaign for the Protected Area was a team effort. Can you tell us what roles the members of your team at the Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation (SLCF) in Mongolia played in this process?
Bayara Agvaantseren: It was definitely a team effort from start to finish. During the first half of the process, my team at SLCF worked to raise awareness of the importance of Tost and the need to protect it. They went through every level of governmental procedures, which required us to find new allies such as the media to keep the public alert. We also wanted to get other stakeholders such the local government, local communities, legal entities, human right groups, governmental officials and decision makers on board. The SLCF team led and facilitated that whole process from the beginning until the final decision.
You’ve given a lot of credit to the local community of Tost for their leadership in this issue.What was their specific role?
Yes, this success would not have been possible without local people’s involvement and leadership. The local community members had a real desire to protect their land and its wildlife and really made their voices heard. They played a particularly important role in lobbying and campaigning; creating letter petitions, often traveling from the Gobi all the way to Ulaanbaatar to attend press conferences, and meeting with their regional Parliament members about the issue. The fact that we have had 20 years of collaboration through our conservation programs made it a lot easier for our team to gain their trust and rally their support.
When things almost seemed lost, a group of parliamentarians had a decisive role in taking the proposal for Tost forward. What brought about this critical collaboration with them?
Yes. At one point, the Cabinet refused to put our proposal for the protection of forward for a vote in Parliament. So we decided to try a different approach, and looked for likeminded lawmakers to take up the issue and bring it to Parliament directly. help us. We reach out to women parliamentarians in particular, and finally found a couple who agreed to champion the cause: Oyungerel Tsedevdamba and Erdenechimeg Luvsan. They were very approachable and efficient speedy in their activities, which gave us great hope.
The public campaign for Tost involved many groups and individuals. Who were some of the other key people that helped lead this campaign?
Apart from our team, the two female parliament members I mentioned, Oyungerel Tsedevdamba and Erdenechimeg Luvsan, had a key role! They rallied support from fellow lawmakers and finally got the proposal approved by more than 80% of the vote. Two local governors, Gangamaa Gelegbandi and Dejid Batbayar, were crucial players as well. They both championed the cause early on and helped it get national attention. I also want to mention the independent lawyer, Mr Dashdemberel Ganbold, whose legal guidance was invaluable. And finally, journalists with the team of Green Journalism, an independent media group called Environment and leading journalist Shagdarsuren Damba were great allies.
You’ve previously mentioned the Snow Leopard Trust and its donors and partners as other key allies. Can you talk a bit about how their support helped achieve this goal?
Protecting Tost would not have been possible without the help of Snow Leopard Trust and its supporters. The SLT Science team provided crucial scientific information to prove the importance of Tost as a snow leopard habitat, and the Communications team helped underline the international importance of the issue. This certainly helped influence decision makers in our favor. And of course the work of the SLT Development and Admin teams to help fund more than six years of effort was crucial. In the end. But most of all I would like to thank the many individual and institutional donors who believed in our work and supported it through the Snow Leopard Trust.
Now that Tost is under protection, you and your team are working closely with local and national government agencies on managing the Nature Reserve. What does that collaboration look like?
According to the Protected Area law of Mongolia, Nature Reserves of the type Tost was designated as are under the responsibility of local government and people. No state funding is allocated to their management. Because of this, there could be an immediate risk for Tost to become a “paper park” if we can’t raise sufficient funds to manage it well. But it’s also an opportunity, because this structure makes it possible for the interests of local people and other stakeholders such as conservation groups to truly be represented in the management of the reserve. To ensure this, our team is providing advice to local and national government agencies on developing management guidelines for the newly established park, and we’re in the process of signing Management Agreements with all interested stakeholders. These agreements outline the roles of each party in the management of Tost Nature Reserve. A Collaborative Management Committee (CMC), consisting of representatives of local communities, SLCF, local government and the local environmental agency will oversee the entire process.
If you would like to support Bayara and her team in their efforts to keep the snow leopards of Tost safe in the future, please make a donation today! All gifts up to $20,000 will be matched by the Edrington Group and Snow Leopard Trust UK, so you can have twice the impact for these cats today!