Successful conservation often starts at the grassroots level, with the ideas and initiatives of local community members.
“The herder families we partner with here Mongolia often come to us with suggestions for small, local conservation projects”, says Bayara Agvaantseren, the Snow Leopard Trust’s Program Director in Mongolia. “Their livelihoods are very directly tied to nature, so they feel and understand the pressures on the environment and the area’s wildlife intimately.”
But while they have ideas and energy, most herders lack the funds to invest into their projects and make them real. That’s where Bayara and her team come in
“Thanks to Snow Leopard Trust supporters who are willing to invest in local communities, we are able to help fund four or five such local conservation projects each year”, Bayara says.
In 2018, four promising project ideas could be funded:
The Gegeetiin Borgio community in the Bulaan Bodg mountains, an area rich in wildlife, suggested setting aside some prime mountain pastures for wildlife like the argali and ibex. Thanks to a small project grant, they could fix the road leading out of the mountains and allow local families to move their herds to another pasture with less wildlife value.
Another community in Tsogt came up with an idea to reduce the use of Saxual, a local tree-like brush, as fuel to cook heat gets in the winter.
Saxual is one of the few naturally available sources of firewood in this area, but it also plays a critical role in controlling erosion and stopping desertification – so it’s important for the entire ecosystem to limit its harvest.
Bayara and her team were able to help the community purchase equipment to produce compressed fuel bars made of dung and mud, so they could drastically decrease their use of Saxual.
In Gurvantes, the small town next to Tost Nature Reserve, the team helped a kindergarten set up an “ecology corner”, a playful learning environment for kids and their parents where they can find information about local wildlife and its conservation.
Finally, the community of Erdeniin Chuulu approached Bayara to help fund a drawing and storytelling contest for International Snow Leopard Day at the local school. The contest was a huge success: a total of 240 drawings and stories were submitted, and on October 23rd, the school celebrated Snow Leopard Day with a conservation awarenesses event featuring local ranger Mr. Naranbat. More than 280 students and 80 teachers took part!
“These projects not only have a positive impact on the environment, they also rally community members and bring them together for a common goal”, Bayara says. The small pool of community funds we’ve been able to put together really helps foster the enormous potential and motivation among the herders.”
In the Tost Mountains, the potential of an empowered, conservation-minded grassroots movement became apparent in 2016. Local activists led a successful campaign to officially protect this prime snow leopard habitat – and vital pastureland – from the threat of mining. Bayara and her team supported the herders every step of the way, providing scientific input, legal guidance and technical expertise. “The parliament finally declared Tost to be a State Nature Reserve”, Bayara recalls. “It was an enormous victory for snow leopards and for the local herder community and their way of life.”