Kyrgyz team makes adventurous trip into the mountains to reward local communities for their role in keeping endangered snow leopards and prey species safe.
Snow leopard partner communities in Kyrgyzstan’s Tian Shan mountains have kept the cats and prey species in the their area safe throughout 2014, earning a conservation bonus for their efforts.
The remote Kyrgyz mountain communities of Ak Shyrak, Enilchek, and Uch Koshkon literally lay at the end of the road, just outside Sarychat Ertash Nature Reserve, the country’s prime snow leopard stronghold.
As civilization’s last outpost before the mountain wilderness, these villages could be prime spots for poachers and hunters to gather and restock supplies.
Instead, they have become crucial conservation partners!
All three communities have agreed to protect the cats as well as their wild prey species in the areas surrounding the villages, while earning a sustainable income through the sale of Snow Leopard Enterprises handicrafts they make from the wool of their livestock.
Each year, the communities are eligible for a bonus if no snow leopards or wild prey species are reported to have been hurt in their areas.
“In 2014, like in the 5 previous years, there was no reported poaching in the areas around our partner communities”, says Kuban Jumabai uluu, the Snow Leopard Trust’s Kyrgyzstan program director.
Past Incident Ends Up Strengthening Program
The last incident dates back to 2008, when a community member helped guide trophy hunters into nearby Sarychat-Ertash Nature Reserve, where they shot protected ungulates.
The entire community’s bonus was withheld after this incident. Community members then decided that the culpable party had to reimburse each family’s bonus instead. “This measure has certainly worked. Since then, cats and prey have been kept safe in these communities” Kuban says, “so we’re more than happy that we were able to pay these families their well-earned bonus once again in 2014!”
Paying a bonus may sound like an easy-enough transaction. But in this case, it entailed an adventurous trip into one of the remotest corners of the country.
“People in these communities don’t have bank accounts, so all payments are made in cash, in person” explains Cholpon Abasova, who coordinates Snow Leopard Enterprises in Kyrgyzstan.
Thus, in order to give these local conservation heroes their rewards, Cholpon and Kuban traveled to all 3 partner villages this February.
“Besides handing out bonuses, we also wanted to recognize a handful of longtime community conservation activists for their outstanding efforts”, Cholpon says. Six community members from the three villages were selected and given a special certificate the team had created for this purpose.
Roads are full of snow around this time of the year, but the team didn’t want to wait for spring to visit the communities.
The trip turned out to be quite an adventure: “At one point, I really thought we were stuck and would have to spend the night out in the cold”, Cholpon recalls.
“It was only thanks to Kuban’s experience driving these roads in harsh conditions that we got out”, she says.
“These people work hard all year long to help protect snow leopards”, said Kuban, after the team had safely made it back to the capital, Bishkek. “One such trip is nothing compared to what they do.”