She travels tens of kilometers and climbs thousands of meters in a week. She lives on a high protein diet and fasts regularly. She sleeps sumptuously, but balances her aerobic and anaerobic schedules when on the move. She is energy and health conscious, and wouldn’t waste time and resources on trivialities. No, I am not talking about a fitness freak, but about a snow leopard! As the apex predator that lives in the Mountains of Central and South Asia, the snow leopard is the thermometer of the health of these mountains that provide water to nearly 60% of the world’s human population. As the big cat mostly lives away from the bustling cities and towns, few people know about this magnificent and important species. Due to poaching, habitat loss and illegal wildlife trade, only between 3,500 and 7,000 snow leopards currently survive in the wild, and few people are aware of the species’ plight for survival.
What could be a better way to raise publicity about a species that epitomizes health and fitness, than to have people run in its name! On September 15, 2019, the first international snow leopard half-marathon was held in Kyrgyzstan’s capital city of Bishkek, under the supervision of the office of the President of the Kyrgyz Republic. Organized by the Public Fund “Nomad Sport,” and the Global Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Protection Program, more than 4,500 people from 20 countries registered to run in this first of its kind half-marathon hosted by the city of Bishkek. Running past Bishkek’s statues and historic building athletes had the peaks of the snow-clad Ala-Too mountains in constant view.
More than 600 policemen ensured the safety of all athletes as the Government made all necessary arrangements to make the run a truly enjoyable and competitive experience for everyone. The International Association for Athletics Federation (IAAF) sent their officials for time-keeping and evaluating the organizational details for future endorsements. The half-marathon event was generously sponsored by Toyboss Meat producer, World Class Sport Club and Bakai Bank who also used their social media and public relations to spread the word about the snow leopard.
Ecosystem conservation is all about inclusivity and diversity. The snow leopard run in Bishkek made no exception to these values as people from multiple ethnicities, nationalities, gender, age group, and physical abilities ran in the half-marathon. People ran in different attires ranging from runners dressed in professional sports gear to those dressed like snow leopards. Some 1137 athletes ran long-distance (14 and 21.1km), nearly 2,200 people ran the short distance variant (1 and 5 km), a total of 442 children under 12 years ran half a kilometer. The runners included 24 physically disabled people. Among the many local high profile participants, were the Head of the Kyrgyz Parliament Mr. Dastan Djumabekov, several members of the Kyrgyz Parliament and the Mayor of Bishkek city.
The snow leopards in the Ala-Too range must have been delighted to see most athletes finish their run and be rewarded with bronze medals and sports t-shirts. The winner in the women’s category finished the half-marathon in 72 minutes and 57 seconds, closely matched by the men’s category winner who finished at 64 minutes and 45 seconds.
It is well known that the healthier the citizens of a country, the more effective its work force. And what better way to stay healthy than to run for a cause, and what better cause than that of conserving the snow leopard, an icon of the ecosystems and cultures that represent the Mountains of Central and South Asia.
We express our gratitude to the Administration of the President of the Kyrgyz Republic for overseeing the preparations and organization of the snow leopard run, to Nomad Sports for making the event a truly professional event, to Toyboss Meats, World Class Sports Club and Bakai Bank for sponsoring the run, and to the Mayor and citizens of the Bishkek City for making all necessary arrangements and encouraging the athletes so warmly.