Researchers have captured the elusive big cat on camera in Shamshy, a former hunting concession that has been co-managed as a wildlife sanctuary by the Kyrgyz government and conservationists since 2015.
“We knew that this area had great potential as a snow leopard habitat. We’ve partnered with the government to establish and manage the Shamshy Wildlife Sanctuary when the opportunity presented itself, “ says Kuban Jumabai uulu, Director of the Snow Leopard Foundation Kyrgyzstan, and country program manager for the Snow Leopard Trust. “Earlier this year, we had found snow leopard tracks and scratch marks on several ridgelines in Shamshy. Now, these pictures prove the cat’s presence in the Sanctuary.”
Snow leopards were photographed at five different locations within Shamshy Sanctuary in a total of 10 encounters. The photos are the first photographic evidence of snow leopards in the Kyrgyz Ala-Too Range (“Snowy Mountains” in Kyrgyz); a mountain range that is part of the North Tian Shan Mountains and extends some 200 miles from East to West.
The cameras had been set up by the Sanctuary’s three rangers and a team of volunteers from India, following a study design and training from Snow Leopard Trust scientists.
The snow leopard photos are not only evidence of this cat’s presence in the Kyrgyz Ala-Too range, they’re also an encouraging sign for an innovative new conservation approach that is being tested in Shamshy: the co-management of a former hunting concession as a nature reserve by conservationists, the government, and the local community.
Commercial big game hunting, often referred to as ‘trophy hunting’, is both a tradition and a revenue source for many countries around the world, and a hotly debated topic in conservation circles. The practice usually involves Governments or private land owners renting certain areas – sometimes termed ‘concessions’ – to hunting companies, who then sell licenses to shoot specific species such as ibex or argali to hunters – often foreigners.
Shamshy, some 50 miles southeast of Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan’s capital, used to be such a hunting concession under the administration of the Kyrgyz government’s Department of Rational Use of Natural Resources (formerly the Hunting Department).
“It is our duty to manage the natural resources of the Kyrgyz Republic sustainably”, says Musaev Almaz, the Department’s director. “This means finding a healthy balance between exploitation and conservation. This initiative in Shamshy is one such effort towards conserving wildlife populations through alternate models of managing natural areas through co-management.”
As part of the agreement. Mr. Musaev’s Department has forfeited the cost of the hunting licenses for ibex that could have been sold in this area had it been rented out to a commercial outfit. (Photos of Ibex in Shamshy, below.)
The Snow Leopard Trust and Snow Leopard Foundation Kyrgyzstan have in turn agreed to prepare a management plan with community based approach for conservation in the area and also monitor trends in its wildlife populations over the next years.
On its own, the area is too small to host a sizeable snow leopard population, but it could serve as a core zone of a larger habitat. “With proper protection and management, Shamshy’s ibex population could double or even triple in the next 10 years, so it could become an important area for the snow leopard population of the Kyrgyz Ala-Too Range”, says Charu Mishra, the Snow Leopard Trust’s Science & Conservation Director.
“We’re thrilled to see that the snow leopard is already there in Shamshy”, Mr. Musaev says. “This cat is an important part of our national culture and heritage, and we’re committed to securing its future.”
The Kyrgyz Republic has indeed taken on a key role in the worldwide effort to protect the snow leopard. Under the leadership of President Almazbek Atambaev, the Central Asian nation brought all 12 snow leopard range countries to the table for the first-ever Global Snow Leopard Conservation Forum held in Bishkek in 2013. This initiative has resulted in the Global Snow Leopard & Ecosystem Protection Plan, an ambitious program with a goal to secure 23 snow leopard landscapes across the cat’s range by 2020.
In 2017, President Atambaev will host a Global Summit on Snow Leopard Conservation to further move this plan forward.
This project has support from: David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation, Woodland Park Zoo and Partnership Funding by Fondation Segre, managed by Whitley Fund for Nature.
Snow Leopard Foundation in Kyrgyzstan
Leading the conservation efforts for the endangered snow leopard in Kyrgyzstan, the Snow Leopard Foundation partners with international organizations such as the Snow Leopard Trust to better understand and protect this cat in this key range country.
Snow Leopard Trust
The Snow Leopard Trust, based in Seattle, WA, is a world leader in conservation of the endangered snow leopard, conducting pioneering research and partnering with communities as well as authorities in snow leopard habitat to protect the cat.
Woodland Park Zoo
Accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA), award-winning Woodland Park Zoo is famed for pioneering naturalistic exhibits and setting international standards for zoos in animal care, conservation and education programs. Conservation, education and excellent animal care are at the core of the zoo’s mission. The zoo is helping to save animals and their habitats in the Pacific Northwest and around the world including tree kangaroos, snow leopards, red-crowned cranes, African elephants, western pond turtles and Oregon silverspot butterflies. By inspiring people to care and act, Woodland Park Zoo is making a difference in our planet’s future.
David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation
The David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation (DSWF) is an adaptable and flexible, non-bureaucratic organisation responding promptly to conservation threats by supporting trusted, reputable individuals and organisations operating in the field. Lean on administration but generous on funding, the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation supports a range of innovative, vital and far-reaching projects throughout Africa and Asia, achieving real results for wildlife survival by:
- sending undercover agents into the field to investigate illegal wildlife crime, training and supplying anti-poaching patrols
- establishing nature reserves and other protected areas
- working with governments to establish conservation laws and regulations
- educating wildlife consumers about the plight of the animals they ‘use’
- teaching young people about endangered wildlife through art and school projects
Partnership Funding by Fondation Segré, managed by Whitley Fund for Nature
Partnership Funding is a one-off grant type endowed by Fondation Segré and managed by WFN, which recognises and provides further funding to support the work of four of WFN’s most successful previous Whitley Award and Continuation Funding winners. Over three years, grant funding totalling €1,500,000 will deliver urgent conservation activities to conserve snow leopards in India, penguins in Argentina, freshwater dolphins in Colombia and large carnivores in Turkey.
This programme offers grants of €337,500 per project over three years (€112,500 per year per project) to outstanding, Whitley award winning conservation leaders and reflects the quality, scale, urgency and financial need of their work. This support provides much needed funding to projects that are having a real and measurable impact on endangered wildlife and local communities.