The snow leopard conservation programme
© Steve Tracy (1) and Kyle McCarthy-Courtesy (5)
To increase rural people’s quality of living and protect the snow leopard and its prey in Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan
The snow leopard, Uncia uncia, is a flagship species in the mountains of twelve nations in Central Asia. With as few as 3,500 left in the wild, snow leopards have been categorized as an Endangered Species since 1972 and are listed on Appendix I of CITES. As a top predator, snow leopards are crucial for the continued health and proliferation of plants and other animals. In 2002, an article published by the German Society for Nature Conservation (NABU) stated that the snow leopard “is a bio-indicator for the integrity of the high mountain ecosystems it inhabits”. These fragile ecosystems are recognized worldwide as cultural and biological treasures, and host a vast array of some of the rarest species in the world. Conservation International lists the mountains of Central Asia and the entire Himalaya Mountain Range as “biodiversity hotspots.” According to Conservation International, the Himalayas are home to “unique and threatened” species, including roughly 3,000 animals and 10,000 plants; and the mountains of Central Asia—including the Tien Shan and Pamir ranges, have “a rich variety of ungulates, including the threatened argali wild sheep”, a common snow leopard prey species.
Unfortunately, the snow leopard and its mountain ecosystem are threatened by the increasing economic needs of rural families, most of whom live in small herding communities and earn less than $1 (US) per day. Herders therefore often perceive protecting the environment and the endangered species as an unaffordable luxury. As herders increase their herd sizes, domestic sheep and goats outcompete their wild counterparts. This reduction in their natural preys often drives snow leopards to attack domestic livestock, and are killed by herders in retaliation. Moreover, snow leopards are killed to feed the growing black market need for animal pelts and bones (used in traditional folk medicines). Over the past two decades, Kyrgyzstan alone is believed to have lost more than 30% of its snow leopard population to poaching.
The overarching goals of the Snow Leopard Enterprises programme are to:
It is believed that the survival and habitat needs of snow leopards must be addressed in tandem with the economic needs of resource-poor communities. Therefore, herders are provided with financial assistance, logistical support, equipment, and training they need to turn raw wool into high-quality, felted handicrafts such as rugs and clothing. These products are purchased directly from the herders by the Snow Leopard Trust and sold worldwide to increase awareness about snow leopard conservation. Over 400 herders in Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan participate in this programme; on average, families are able to increase their base income by 25-40%.
As part of this programme, participants sign “conservation agreements” in which they agree to halt poaching of snow leopards and their key prey species. The success of this programme is tangible: no snow leopard has been killed by any participating family. Communities in Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan are also engaged in educational activities that are integrated with their participation in Snow Leopard Enterprises handicraft production. In Kyrgyzstan, the Snow Leopard Trust hosts an eco-camp for children, and in Mongolia staff publish a newsletter. Communities report that they are more aware of the ecological benefits of predators, and of practices that help promoting healthier environments. The Snow Leopard Trust is working hard to make Snow Leopard Enterprises a model that is easily replicable in new communities; the programme is supported in part by sales of its wool handicrafts.
WAZA Conservation Project 08005 is implemented by the International Snow Leopard Trust. The Snow Leopard Trust is a member of the (American) Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Overall, the Snow Leopard Trust enjoys partnerships with over 55 zoos worldwide through their Natural Partnership Programme (NPP). This includes the following WAZA Members: Zoos VictoriaAntwerp Zoo (Belgium), Zoo de Granby, Calgary Zoo, Toronto Zoo (Canada), Zoo de Doué, Safari de Peaugres (France), Zoo Dresden, Zoo Krefeld, Zoo Magdeburg (Germany), Parco Zoo Punta VerdeBurgers Zoo Arnhem (The Netherlands), Marwell Zoo (United Kingdom), Albuquerque Biological Park, Binder Park Zoo, BRECs Baton Rouge Zoo, Brookfield Zoo, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, Columbus Zoo, Denver Zoo, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Great Plains Zoo, Houston Zoo, Lincoln Park Zoo, Milwaukee County Zoo, Oklahoma City Zoo, Philadelphia Zoo, Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, Sacramento Zoo, San Antonio Zoo, Santa Barbara Zoo, Saint Louis Zoo, Utah’s Hogle Zoo, Wildlife Conservation Society (Bronx Zoo), Woodland Park Zoo (USA), and Melbourne Zoo (Australia).
NPP was created in collaboration with the Snow Leopard SSP. Many zoos directly support the Snow Leopard Trust via donations, grants, and selling Snow Leopard Enterprises products in their gift stores. In addition, the programme is supported by the Leona M. Geyer Charitable Trust, the Moore Family Foundation, eBay Foundation, and the Raynier Institute and Foundation.
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© Steve Tracy (1) and Kyle McCarthy-Courtesy (5)