Kyrgyzstan: Major Win for Snow Leopards!

Kyrgyzstan’s snow leopards get a bigger, safer home! The country’s Prime Minister, Jantoro Satybaldiev, has signed a decree expanding the Sarychat-Ertash State Nature Reserve, Kyrgyzstan’s most important snow leopard habitat, by 150 square kilometers. That’s roughly twice the size of Manhattan – an expansion of 12%!

a wild snow leopard in Kyrgyzstan
a bigger, safer home! Photo by Kyle McCarthy

The protected State Nature Reserve of Sarychat-Ertash is Kyrgyzstan’s prime snow leopard habitat. However, with the Reserve’s borders being somewhat undefined, mining and hunting interests had increasingly posed a threat to the cat’s safety in recent years.

Recently, the Snow Leopard Trust collaborated with the Snow Leopard Network (SLN), World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the Human Development Center “Tree of Life” and other local NGOs to actively express their concern about geological explorations that were being initiated in the Koyondu Valley, inside the Sarychat-Ertash Reserve’s buffer zone. Our joint efforts helped us to reach out to the Kyrgyz Parliament to demonstrate the importance of this area for snow leopard conservation.

Kubam Jumabaev
Kuban Jumabaev, our man in Kyrgyzstan

Following our presentations and a visit to the Koyondu Valley led by experts, including the Snow Leopard Trust’s Kyrgyzstan Program Coordinator, Kuban Jumabaev; the Kyrgyz Parliament had cancelled all previously issued mining exploration licenses inside the park, thus effectively enlarging the protected area by 150 square kilometers. Geological explorations inside the reserve have since been stopped.

The government has now officially approved the new, larger protected area: By the decision of the Kyrgyz Government № 48 from February 1, 2013, “About approval of the new borders of the Sarychat-Ertash State Nature Reserve”, the border of the reserve has been officially established. The last missing signature on the official document was placed this week by the Prime Minister of the Kyrgyz Republic, Jantoro Satybaldiev.

Water treatment facility
A nearby gold mine's water treatment facility. Photo by Mirjam Leuze

According to the new document, the size of the Sarychat-Ertash State Nature Reserve is now 149,117.9 hectares (ca. 1500 km2). Previous documents had listed the size of the reserve at 134,140 hectares. A State Certificate of the Reserve will be issued soon, showing the protected area’s exact borders. Neither mining nor hunting will be allowed within those borders.

The news comes at a great time: In partnership with Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo, the Snow Leopard Trust will be developing a comprehensive conservation strategy for Kyrgyzstan’s snow leopards in the coming months.

Petrov Lake in Sarychat-Ertah
Petrov Lake, in Sarychat-Ertash. Photo by Mirjam Leuze

As the country’s largest protected area, the Sarychat-Ertash State Nature Reserve is crucial part of the cat’s long-term future in Kyrgyzstan. Located in the Central Tien-Shan, it protects habitats of the snow leopard and its prey species, such as argali (Ovis ammon), ibex (Capra ibex), marmot (Marmota baibacina) and other rare species. The new expansion covers an important migration and breeding area for the argali, one of the snow leopards’ primary prey species in Kyrgyzstan.

See a map of Sarychat-Ertash on


  1. How wonderful to see a government responding and behaving in such a responible and definite fashion to the exigencies of this breed. It’s refreshing and inspiring and they should be thanked on behalf of these beautiful animals we all admire so much. Well done to all at the Snow Leopard Trust too. I support severalWildlife protection groups and have to admit, it can get pretty depressing recently so this really lifts my spirit!

  2. I am so in love with these animals. I gave canvas bags for Christmas 2011 to all the women in the family and they were thrilled. Just sent this article to my brother in MT at the university and sent it marked Important. He sent back Great News!!!! When there is a new birth and it is featured, I always have to cry. I do not get so emotional over “human” children and the twin snow leopards have my heart. Thank you so much and Mongolia, Nepal, Tibet, Kyrgystan, and the Pakistani mts. that have the cats are my favorite parts of the world. The Pakistani national who tracked them was amazing on YouTube…..B.Bracey

  3. Nice to have some good news for a change! It is lovely to know that these breathtakingly beautiful animals have more space. It is great news that their needs have taken priority over ours (mining) and that we still have wild places left on earth. I just hope that the local human population can benefit from this too.

  4. Kuban Jumabaev, I salute you , Now we have to find a way to save our Rhinos in South African an Africa. We are fighting a losing battle here.
    Celeste Johannesburg South Africa

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