A Snow Leopard Hero’s Journey

Hear how one woman’s transformation into a snow leopard advocate is influencing her entire community. This is Chuluuntsetseg (Chuka) Dashzeveg’s inspiring story, shared in a recent conversation with two of our team members, Dr. Justine Shanti Alexander and Pujii Lkhagvajav. Chuka lives in western Mongolia's Khovd Province.

How did you first become involved in snow Leopard conservation?

It all started in 2010 when I joined a Snow Leopard Enterprises training offered by the Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation (SLCF). It was the first time I learned about this animal. It was so beautiful. I wanted to learn more about it and contribute to its conservation. 

The next year in 2011, I decided to call the town center to formally register a new Snow Leopard Enterprises community. This gave me the opportunity to share what I learned with other women and offer a training in the town center on how to make felt products with their sheep wool.

The training took place over three to four days. I decided to bring my wool processing machine with me on the morning of the first day. It was very heavy. I had to walk three to four kilometers with my heavy bag to the town center while my husband was out herding. But I was excited to share what I’d learned with the other women. 

During that training, 15 women participated. I provided the trainees with food and others living near the town center also cooked food and provided tea. Many people helped make the training a success. Every evening of the training, I had to travel home to milk the cows and herd the sheep. For the next three days, I rushed to the training early in the morning and headed back home late to make sure that everything was still ok.

After the training, seven of the women decided to join our Snow Leopard Enterprises community. During the early years with SLE, the first product we were able to make and sell was yarn from our sheep wool.  In the beginning, I remember traveling on horseback to all the other women’s houses to make sure they had all the materials to create the SLE products and keep everyone motivated.

During this time, I learned a lot about the environment and snow leopards. I read all the materials I could get from SLCF. I would then call lots of people by phone and share the updates with them. I love sharing information about conservation. I told people why we should not kill snow leopard prey like ibex, argali, chukars and marmots.

Even today, when there is a community meeting, I share updates about ongoing conservation work in other places and the importance of snow leopards in these mountains. Everyone in the village started calling me “Snow Leopard Chuka”!

Now every Snow Leopard Enterprises member trusts that I know all about SLE products, community work and wildlife conservation, so if anyone has any questions, they call me. 

Can you tell us about the snow leopard attack?

One day a snow leopard attacked my husband’s best horse. (My husband, Davkharbayar Bandiraa, has won many horse riding championships and is kind of a local celebrity in terms of horse races.)

He was super angry and told me I had to stop working to help snow leopards. The horse did not die, but the snow leopard had attacked its back and injured it. Even though it could be ridden again, it wasn’t the same after it got better and would never win first prize again. 

I told my husband, “I will never stop!”. The snow leopard did not kill your horse, so it’s ok. I will continue to support snow leopards and advocate for them. I am already well-known as “snow leopard Chuka”. This is what I do. I’m committed to snow leopard conservation, to SLCF and to my community members. 

Now, ten years later, my husband is being trained as a volunteer community ranger. He said my passion for snow leopard conservation and the environment changed his views about snow leopards. I am so happy he will soon be a ranger for the community. He will be supporting the protection of our community-responsible area, which is home to the snow leopard!

Tell us your husband, Davkharbayar’s story.

My husband now travels, and herders sometimes tell him that “his snow leopard attacked their livestock.” They call us saying “take the snow leopard from our home.” 

One particular family would keep calling and complaining that they were losing livestock to snow leopards. They said, “if you don’t take the snow leopard away, then I’ll kill it.” My husband responded by saying, “It will cost you more if you kill it due to the fees associated with the fine. I am trying to help you because if you kill the snow leopard, you will be in trouble since killing a nationally protected animal is illegal. So we have to find another way.” 

We worked with that family and helped them build a predator-proof corral. The whole community came together to support the project. We later asked the family if the corral was effective and they said it was very good. 

Chuka, please tell us about your recent run to be a local government representative.

Last year, community members approached me with an idea. They knew how active I was at the local level – supporting other households and spreading the word about conservation. The community and district-level government were listening to me! The community thought I could become an excellent voice for the village and be elected at the district-level government committee. The village decided to support my run as a local representative on Election day. 

So, I participated in local elections to represent my village in 2021. Unfortunately, this first time I was not successful and was not elected. However, there is still hope for the elections in 2024 and I will try again. 

If I am elected in 2024, I will be able to further support snow leopard conservation efforts in my village and the surrounding areas. I can be a stronger voice for the snow leopard. We will also have access to local government networks and funding to support the wildlife and mountain habitat of the area. I am hopeful that we can achieve this dream. 

Chuka is currently the community leader for one of the 37 communities that the Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation, Snow Leopard Trust’s Mongolia partner, works with. Together this network of communities is supporting the protection of over 12,000 km2 of snow leopard habitat.

If you want to support Chuka and other snow leopard champions like her you can purchase their handmade products in our online store.

Thank you to the Acton Foundation, Bioparc Zoo de Doue la Fontaine, Dakota Zoo, David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation, Dynafit, Goldman Environmental Foundation Grant, Idaho Falls, Nysether Family Foundation, Paradise Wildlife Park/Zoological Society of Hertfordshire, The Big Cat Sanctuary/Wildlife Heritage Foundation, The William H. and Mattie Wattis Harris Foundation, Tulsa Zoo, Zoo Dresden, Zoo New England, Zoo Wroclaw and all of our supporters who have helped support community responsible snow leopard habitats and conservation in Mongolia. 

Photo Credits:  Snow Leopard Trust/Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation – Mongolia

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