Biography: Goldman Winner Bayara Agvaantseren

Snow Leopard Trust Mongolia Director and 2019 Goldman Prize winner Bayara Agvaantseren has taken an unusual path to becoming an environmental hero.

Bayarjargal (Bayara) Agvaantseren was born on 11 January 1969 in Rashaant (Khovsgul Province), Mongolia.

Current positions:
  • Executive Director, Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation (SLCF), Mongolia
  • Mongolia Program Director, Snow Leopard Trust (SLT), USA
Achievements and Awards
  • Goldman Environmental Prize – 2019, Goldman Foundation, USA
  • Polar Star medal – 2017, Government of Mongolia
  • Environmental Leading Worker  – 2010, MNET, Mongolia
  • Rabinovitz – Kaplan Prize for Next Generation – 2009, Panthera USA 
  • Helen Freeman Award – 2008, Snow Leopard Trust, USA

Bayara Agvaantseren began her professional career as an English and Russian teacher and translator in the early 1990s. During this time, she often worked with Peace Corps volunteers who had come to Mongolia, helping them overcome language barriers and acting as a de facto tour guide.

In 1997, driven by her deep regard for Mongolia’s natural treasures, she agreed to spend a summer translating for a snow leopard research study led by the Snow Leopard Trust – and that decision would change the direction of her future. The stories she heard that summer about the hardships rural herders faced living in snow leopard habitat moved her to such an extent that she left teaching and joined the snow leopard conservation world. She soon founded one of the first community-based snow leopard conservation programs in Mongolia, called Snow Leopard Enterprises, and has never looked back.

Bayara Agvaantseren has engaged local herders in Mongolia in snow leopard conservation for more than two decades. Photo by Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation / Snow Leopard Trust

Saving snow leopards and helping rural families sustain their traditions and improve their livelihoods has become her life’s focus.

From 1997 to 2007, Bayara served as a program manager for Snow Leopard Enterprises. In 2007, she became the Mongolia Program Director for Snow Leopard Trust. In the same year, Bayara also founded a local NGO, Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation (SLCF), to further help rural women improve their income through handicrafts and to link that to snow leopard conservation.

Snow Leopard Enterprises, a conservation program Bayara helped launch, empowers herder women to create and sell valuable products using the natural resources that are at their disposal. Photo by Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation / Snow Leopard Trust

In 2009, Bayara was forced to shift her attention to the political arena when she learned that Tost, the focal area of her conservation work, was under threat from mining: dozens of licenses had already been granted for various companies to start digging up the ground.

Building on the trust and friendships she and her team had built with the local herders, Bayara began mobilizing the community to protect Tost and its snow leopards. It was a long, rocky road – but after seven years of grassroots campaigning, the Mongolian parliament finally declared the Tost Mountains a State Protected Area in 2016, and all previously issued mining licenses have since been cancelled.

Bayara followed the parliamentary procedures via live stream – and erupted in celebration as lawmakers voted in favor of protecting Tost. Photo by Snow Leopard Trust / Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation

For Bayara, advocacy was an entirely new field of work. It required courage, initiative, determination and effort above anything she had ever faced before—and she attacked it with force. She has sacrificed her time—sleep, time with family, vacations—to always be on-call for the community.

Prior to Bayara’s involvement in mining issues in Tost in 2009, the local community was only loosely organized and did not have any recognized land rights. Bayara was able to facilitate and inspire an incredible transformation of Tost herders into a unified, mobilized, and focused Herder Organization with a legal voice and legal right to protect and speak out for their lands. 30% of Mongolia’s population are nomadic herders, and Bayara’s work has served as a catalyst for other herder families to organize, form herder groups, petition for rights, and raise their voices for similar environmental issues. In fact, Bayara has taken learning from her experiences in Tost to help over 20 other herder groups coalesce as Herder Organizations and register their lands as Community Protected Areas (government-recognized land right). Tost Nature Reserve, along with these Community Protected Areas, have extended community conservation coverage over 17% of snow leopard habitat in Mongolia.


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