Spring Forward: New Leadership, New Products for Kyrgyz Conservation Program

The Kyrgyz branch of our handicraft-for-conservation program, Snow Leopard Enterprises, is up and running again this spring! Three years after the last shipment, a new selection of beautiful and unique products has arrived in Seattle. At the same time, the community Snow Leopard Enterprises is based in has elected a new local coordinator, Raiysa Sultangazievna, to lead the program in the coming years.

Raiysa and member of her community
Raiysa Sultangazievna (second from right) and members of her community

Snow Leopard Enterprises is a conservation program that works directly with the people who share snow leopard habitat in various range countries to create sustainable economic opportunities that to offset any losses they have to livestock from snow leopards and reduce the motivation behind poaching.  The program provides training and equipment that enables participants to make beautiful handmade items from wool. We purchases these items at mutually agreed upon prices and sell them through our online store. In return, participants agree to protect snow leopards and wild prey species in their area from poaching.


community members sorting handmade slippers
Participants in Snow Leopard Enterprises in Enilchek

Raiysa Sultangazievna has been a participant in Snow Leopard Enterprises since the program got its start in Kyrgyzstan in 2002. As our new local coordinator, she will use her vast experience and her unique local perspective to help lead the future development of Snow Leopard Enterprises in Enilchek, a community of around 25 families located close to the Sarychat-Ertash Reserve, Kyrgyzstan’s prime snow leopard habitat.

scene from Enilchek

“This program is very important for us; because of the income it brings, but also because it has made us more aware of the value of wildlife around us”, Raiysa says. “And it has strengthened relationships in our community. All the participants enjoy working together; and these days, we all get together to celebrate holidays and birthdays as well.”

New Experiences in Bishkek

New jobs bring new experiences. Last week, Raiysa travelled to Bishkek, the Kyrgyz capital, for the first time – and had the very first Skype meeting of her life shortly after. Accompanied by the Snow Leopard Trust’s Kyrgyzstan Country Director, Kuban Jumabaev, Raiysa visited Bishkek’s bazaar, one of the largest markets in Asia. She collected product ideas, samples, and information on prices and materials. Back in the Snow Leopard Trust office, after an exhausting day, another new experience lay ahead: Her first ever Skype call. Half a world away, in Seattle, Jennifer Snell Rullman, the Trust’s Assistant Director of Conservation, had gotten up at 4:30 am in order to have a chance to talk to Raiysa, who would board an overnight bus back to remote Enilchek later that day. “Now that Snow Leopard Enterprises is back up and running in Kyrgyzstan, I wanted to hear Raiysa’s perspective on the program and what ideas she has to make it even better for the cats and the community”, Jennifer says.

a wild snow leopard on the prowl
Kyrgyz Snow leopard on the prowl. Photo: Kyle McCarthy

“Snow Leopard Enterprises in Kyrgyzstan had been temporarily suspended in 2009. Our team conducted an 18-month assessment of threats to snow leopards in the country, including an evaluation of the effectiveness of Snow Leopard Enterprises as a positive conservation solution”, Jennifer explains.  As the evaluation showed that the program did indeed contribute to keeping Kyrgyzstan’s cats safe, Snow Leopard Enterprises Kyrgyzstan was re-initiated in the communities of Enilchek and Ak-Shyirak in 2011.


colorful Donkey Booties
colorful Donkey Booties from Enilchek

An order was placed soon after, but getting it to Seattle has posed a logistical problem. “Due to extremely harsh weather in 2012 that kept mountain passes closed for many months, we could only return to these villages recently”, Jennifer recalls. “Now, we are particularly excited to be able to visit the community again, offer the income to the participants after a long winter of making products, and to see at the long-awaited shipment of products that has finally arrived in Seattle from Kyrgyzstan.”

The unique handicrafts from Snow Leopard Enterprises, including beautifully embroidered felt booties for children in a variety of vivid colors, are exclusively available in our online store.


Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo has been a partner of the Snow Leopard Trust and a leader in snow leopard conservation and research for many years.,We’re currently teaming up with Woodland Park Zoo to develop a comprehensive conservation strategy for snow leopards in Kyrgyzstan.


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