Pujii and the Rangers
Pujii has been climbing mountains and studying snow leopards in remote South Gobi of Mongolia for over a decade, but she says when she went to host trainings for protected area rangers, the men were skeptical at first of being taught by a woman. “They had this belief that women weren’t capable of hiking in the mountains,” says Pujii, “They doubted I could teach them to set up camera traps over large areas of snow leopard habitat.” As the Snow Leopard Trust’s Research and Monitoring Manager in Mongolia, Pujii is responsible for carrying out snow leopard population surveys across vast stretches of Mongolia’s most important snow leopard habitat, including the Tost Mountains—the base of our long term study. By 2012, as our surveys expanded out from Tost to cover more of the South Gobi landscape, Pujii realized she needed to build capacity, particularly among local rangers in nearby protected areas. Over the following years, the mostly male ranger corps came to know Pujii well. Today, they recognize her expertise, grit and knowledge of snow leopard habitat. “They understand how important my work is for snow leopard conservation, and I, in turn, am more than grateful that many of the rangers have skills to conduct the surveys, even without me.” In May 2019, with the help of 10 newly trained rangers, Pujii and her team successfully surveyed 2,500 km2 of Ikh Bodg National Park. This is the first time the park has been surveyed for snow leopards and early photo analysis already shows multiple adult snow leopards and young! With the addition of Ikh Bodg, Pujii has now trained over 100 rangers and created a powerful force for continuing snow leopard research in southern Mongolia.
Shanaz and Her New Pursuit
For Shahnaz, life in the mountains of rural Pakistan has been far from easy. Shahnaz is a young woman who lives in the Chitral region of northern Pakistan, where steep fertile valleys give way to glacier filled mountains—home to snow leopards and their wild prey, the markhor goat. Like other families in rural Chitral, Shahnaz’s family makes a meager living from livestock herding and struggles to scrape by. As the oldest of her siblings, Shahnaz felt obliged to leave school to relieve the financial burden on her family and let her younger sister continue her education. “I was sad to leave school but also wanted to help my family,” says Shahnaz. After leaving school, Shahnaz still struggled, desperately searching for ways to help her family earn income. Her life changed thanks to a special snow leopard conservation program. “I heard about a training for women in livestock health and husbandry and I jumped at the chance to participate.” The training was provided by Snow Leopard Foundation, Snow Leopard Trust’s Pakistan partner. They were offering an opportunity for rural women in Chitral to learn to administer annual livestock vaccinations for thousands of sheep and goats. Livestock vaccination programs in Pakistan have proven to be an effective way to promote healthier herds and make it possible for families to sell excess livestock at market. When livelihoods improve, rural people, like Shahnaz and her family, are more able to tolerate the occasional loss of livestock to snow leopard attacks and are less likely to retaliate or persecute the cats. Excited for the training, Shahnaz traveled to Islamabad with 12 other Chitral women in October 2013 for a 20-day training in livestock healthcare. Upon returning, Shahnaz began working with Snow Leopard Foundation as a vaccination provider. Today, she visits families, shares with women what she has learned about livestock health, and provides livestock treatments and medicines. She is helping her family, improving her community, and making Chitral safer for snow leopards. “The training changed my life and was the beginning of my journey towards financial independence,” says Shahnaz. “Through my work to keep livestock healthy, I am also so glad to be helping people better cope when livestock are killed by snow leopards.”
“I was questioned a lot when I first started my position as Snow Leopard Project Coordinator in Qinghai, China. Some people thought I had no Tibetan Plateau experience; some people thought the mountain conditions were too hard for a woman. The local people thought I might act like an ‘expert’ who only sat behind their desk and would ask them to do all the fieldwork. The only way I could gain their confidence was to work alongside them. I insisted on climbing all the mountains to set up camera traps. I tried my best to hike as fast as the rangers, and eventually I was accepted as a woman doing fieldwork. Now young women across the areas I work in tell us that they would love to accompany the teams and help us with camera trapping efforts to monitor snow leopards. We also see that they are helping rangers set up camera traps. My wish is for these young women to be accepted and work officially as National Park Rangers or snow leopard monitors in the future.”
– As told by Peiyun, Snow Leopard Project Coordinator, ShanShui, SLT China Partner.
Dreams Come True
“In most conservative societies there are few opportunities for women to excel in their relevant field and this was very true for Miss Mubarak Nisa. Although she was educated and had some embroidery skills, she never had the chance to use these skills professionally. Her family was also facing many financial problems. She was married, but the sole income provided by her husband was too small to support the entire family. As a mother, she wanted the best quality education for her children. She also dreamed of sending her daughter to university. Concerns about sending her children to school and university would trouble her every day.
One day she discovered the Snow Leopard Enterprise program through Snow Leopard Foundation Pakistan. Snow Leopard Enterprises supports women in making handmade products from the raw wool of their livestock, and provides the opportunity to sell these products on national and international markets. Additional snow leopard conservation education and outreach activities are also built into the program. As an enthusiastic and skilled artisan, Miss Mubarak Nisa joined the program and started working on a set of designs. Because of her zeal and commitment, she excelled in the work and was quickly promoted as the program’s Center Coordinator. In this new position, she could support her family financially and could even afford to send her daughter to university. Dreams really do come true!
Currently, she works as a Master Trainer and enables other women to support their families. She teaches women the art of designing local handicrafts and remains a strong advocate of snow leopard conservation.”
– As narrated by Mubarak Nisa, Snow Leopard Enterprise worker, Snow Leopard Foundation, SLT Pakistan Partner.
Why I Love What I Do
“When I started working for the Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation Kyrgyzstan (SLT’s Kyrgyzstan partner), I had the opportunity to visit the SLT team working in India. I traveled to Leh, Ladakh located high up in the Himalayas. The goal of the trip was to learn skills on how to implement a snow leopard education program for young people. The education program aims to boost kids’ knowledge about the fragile ecosystem they live in through games and playful learning exercises.
The experience was very interesting as we met local people and monks that worked in snow leopard conservation, and learned about their way of life. We also had the chance to observe ibex, the snow leopard’s main prey, from the valleys. I learned so many things and experienced a different way of life. Even though I am from Kyrgyzstan, I was told that everybody would think I was from the Ladakh region. It made me think back to our history and Genghis Khan. In the past, many Central Asian countries were very much connected. I was fascinated to learn that in Ladakh people use the same phrase as they do in Kyrgyzstan when offering a guest some tea. This made me realize how much we are still all very much connected and alike. Moreover, I became increasingly aware that snow leopards across these two countries face similar threats and conservation opportunities.
We travelled to very remote areas, areas that had few livelihood opportunities. This made me value even more the work that we are doing for local communities across India and Kyrgyzstan. Across both countries, and other range snow leopard countries, we work hard to provide these remote areas with sustainable livelihood opportunities. We do this so that humans and snow leopards can co-exist more peacefully into the future. This is why I love what I do.”
– As told by Venera, Program Assistant of the Snow Leopard Foundation, SLT Kyrgyzstan Partner.
Thanks to the efforts of the intrepid women who have dedicated their time and energy to the conservation of snow leopards, we are able to connect with communities, gather stories, and ultimately increase protections for the cats. These women continue to perform this work day in and day out, and are making great advances in the field.
You can read more stories and see more photos on our Instagram page by following @snowleopardtrust.
Stories collected and edited by Snow Leopard Trust’s Regional Ecologist, Justine Shanti Alexander. Story contributors include, Peiyun, Snow Leopard Project Coordinator, ShanShui, SLT China Partner; Mubarak Nisa, Snow Leopard Enterprise worker, Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation, SLT Pakistan Partner; and Venera, Program Assistant of the Snow Leopard Foundation, SLT Kyrgyzstan Partner.