From Hunting Reserve to Wildlife Sanctuary – Kyrgyzstan tries innovative conservation program

The Snow Leopard Trust, Snow Leopard Foundation Kyrgyzstan and the Kyrgyz Department of Hunting and Natural Resource Management are piloting a new, innovative conservation program: they are turning a hunting concession, where ibex were commercially hunted, into a co-managed nature reserve.

Press Release, Seattle/Bishkek, Dec. 28, 2015

The 100 square mile former concession area, Shamshy, in Kyrgyzstan’s northern Tian Shan mountains, is home to ibex, and seasonal populations of argali and wolves. It lies within a large snow leopard landscape, and has the potential to become a key part of the home ranges of several of these endangered cats if its wild ungulate population could be increased.

kyrgyz ibex
Ibex are a key snow leopard prey species. In Shamshy, they can thrive undisturbed in the future (photo: K. McCarthy)

Shamshy’s ibex used to be hunted commercially – but now, they will be allowed to thrive and recover undisturbed, as hunting will no longer be allowed. This comes as part of a pilot project that aims to turn the former hunting concession into a new type of reserve, co-managed by the government, conservation NGOs, and local people.

“With proper protection and management, the area’s ibex population could double or even triple in the next 10 years, so it could become an important feeding ground for the local snow leopard population”, says Charu Mishra, the Snow Leopard Trust’s Science & Conservation Director.

The new wildlife sanctuary has the potential to become an important snow leopard feeding ground
The new wildlife sanctuary has the potential to become an important snow leopard feeding ground (photo: SLF Kyrgyzstan)
An Idea Born Out of the Trophy Hunting Debate

Commercial big game hunting, often referred to as ‘trophy hunting’, is a revenue source for many countries around the world, and a hotly debated topic in conservation circles. Advocates of trophy hunting say that selling licenses to hunt big game generates funds, which can be used for conservation projects, while opponents fear that it adds to the pressure many species are already under, and also question the ethics of the practice.

The idea of turning a former hunting concession into a nature reserve was born out of this debate.

Charu Mishra, the Snow Leopard Trust's Science & Conservation Director
Charu Mishra, the Snow Leopard Trust’s Science & Conservation Director

“In a hunting concession, the company that leases and manages the area would have the exclusive right to sell a stipulated number of licenses given out by the hunting department to shoot argali or ibex to any interested party – and they’d have the right to protect their interests e.g. by employing rangers. In our case, we’ll have similar rights, but we won’t sell any hunting licenses, and we’ll have rangers patrolling the area to make sure that there’s no hunting at all. We will also work with local people in the surrounding region, initiate community-based programs that they can benefit from, and strengthen their support for conservation”, Charu Mishra says.

The area will be used for research, education and limited ecotourism – camera trap population surveys of snow leopards, and distribution and abundance surveys of ibex and other species; and also law enforcement trainings for park rangers, and possibly nature camps for local children are slated for the coming years.

This new, innovative approach is made possible by a partnership between the Snow Leopard Trust, Snow Leopard Foundation Kyrgyzstan, and the Department of Hunting and Natural Resource Management under the State Agency for Environment Protection and Forestry of the Kyrgyz Republic, which issues hunting concessions and licenses in the Central Asian country.

A sign at the entrance to the former hunting concession raises awareness for nature conservation.
“More Forests, Stronger Health, Longer Life” – a sign at the entrance to the former hunting concession raises awareness for nature conservation.

“It is our duty to manage the natural resources of the Kyrgyz Republic sustainably”, says Musaef Almaz, the Department of Hunting and Natural Resource Management’s Director. “This means finding a healthy balance between hunting and conservation. We believe that this innovative idea of co-managing some of our concessions with partners such as the Snow Leopard Trust and the local people has a lot of potential.”

More Reserves Could Be Added in the Future

For this pilot, the Hunting Department has forfeited the cost of the hunting licenses that could have been sold in this area, had it been rented out to a commercial outfit. All partners will share expertise, the cost of training, equipment and salaries for the rangers, as well as any other costs that arise from the co-management of the area.

Shamshy is an ideal spot for the pilot. It offers natural features that make it a good habitat for a wide range of species. “Shamshy has a bit of everything – the terrain gradually changes from lush meadows and thick forests along a crystal clear stream to grassland, and finally to steep, rocky peaks covered in glaciers”, says Kuban Jumabai uulu, the Director of the Snow Leopard Foundation Kyrgyzstan.

A small mountain paradise, and a future snow leopard stronghold!
A small mountain paradise, and a future snow leopard stronghold!

While the area is fairly easy to access by road, there are only two conceivable entry points into the reserve, it’s feasible to monitor and patrol the area with a small team of rangers drawn from the local communities around.

“Local people are crucial partners for any conservation initiative”, Kuban Jumabai uulu says, “they will retain their right to graze their animals in Shamshy, albeit in an informed and systematically managed way”.

Kuban Jumabay uulu (left), the director of SLF Kyrgzystan, and Emil, a local ranger employed to patrol Shamshy
Kuban Jumabay uulu (left), the director of SLF Kyrgzystan, and Emil Djaparov, a local ranger employed to patrol Shamshy

“We’re looking forward to seeing the results of this approach” says Musaef Almaz “If it works as well as we expect, we will expand it to other hunting concession areas in the future together.”

Charu Mishra agrees: “This pilot can be a great start to a promising new conservation approach that could really make a difference for Kyrgyzstan’s wildlife.”


This project has support from: Woodland Park Zoo and Partnership Funding by Fondation Segre, managed by Whitley Fund for Nature.

More information:

Snow Leopard Foundation in Kyrgyzstan

Leading the fight for the future of 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.



    1. Hi Phoebe. Thanks for commenting, and for your question! As we’re still in the very early stages of setting up the reserve, we can’t really say much about what kind of ecotourism will be possible in the area, but it’s definitely something we’re hoping to get a more clear idea of in the next months. The area is certainly great for mountain hiking, and should also be an excellent spot for wildlife watching. We’ll do our best to keep you updated!

      Thanks and happy 2016!
      Matt, SLT Communications Manager

  1. This is excellent for our snow leopards, as well as the other animals. We need to do more to make people understand how important it is to save our wildlife. There need to be more conservation areas and more people wanting to save wildlife before they’re gone and no way to bring back

  2. I think this is great news and would love to support this in the future when this sanctuary is somewhere people can come to visit, learn about animals and their environment. Huge opportunity for ecotourism as Phoebe has pointed out, I think it will do very well.

    Cheers and keep up the excellent work

  3. Involving local people and working as a group, conservation and government together with the community, is fantastic. I hope you’ll also have big financial backers to help out too. Yeah!

  4. This is awesome news! Wishing much success in the pilot program and eventually expanding the reserve even more. Trophy hunting – in most all cases – is NOT conservation. That is all.

  5. I would be interested in attending a photography expedition of this area. It would be thrilling to see and photograph ibex and snow leopards (and other animals that are around). Please keep me informed about any events like this.

    Thank you very much!

  6. Dumb. The hunting community protects more habitat and more animals than all conservation groups combined. We should be doing the opposite – returning hunting rights in preserves where they have been banned. Oh well …

    It wouldn’t surprise me, though, if a few Kyrgyzs are being paid-off by the SLT to implement this stupid plan.


    1. Hi Steve. Thanks for commenting.

      Your allegations of bribery are not only unhelpful for this debate, but also needlessly insulting to a people and government who are taking a lead role in snow leopard conservation, have been responsible for facilitating the Bishkek declaration for conservation (, and are hosting the Global Snow Leopard Secretariat. Beyond that, I would like to share a few thoughts in reply to other parts of your comment:

      As you certainly know, there’s no single panacea for conservation. We’re not claiming that Protected Areas are a perfect solution everywhere, which I believe becomes very clear to anyone who takes the time to inform themselves on our conservation approach and philosophy ( All single approaches, including trophy hunting or even Protected Areas, have been inadequate to halt the rapid decline and extinction of biodiversity, because they all tend to ignore certain stakeholders and their needs. Clearly, there is a need for multiple approaches.

      Our effort here is not an attempt to close down or ban hunting across the board, but to engage constructively with stakeholders (in this case, the local community and the government hunting department) for conservation. The fact that we’re partnering with the Hunting Department in this initiative should be a clear indication of this intent.

      Conservation needs constructive debate and action, and while criticism is welcome, calling names doesn’t help – so I’d like to invite you to continue this conversation, but in a more respectful manner. Thank you.

      Matt Fiechter, SLT Communications Manager

  7. It is not clever to deny the role of the trophy hunting for the conservation of species and their habitats.
    The hunting managers must stop or decrease radically all poaching in the region if they want to carry out trophy hunting business. If the management is well organized then the trophy hunting could bring fantastic results for nature conservation – you can see many examples for this in Africa and Asia and even in Europe!
    The only way to stop sustainable the trophy hunting is to replace the trophy hunters with wildlife photographers and other similar tourists. They could also bring incomes for the local communities and protected site management. I can not understand why you plan to develop only restricted ecotourism? If you did not succeed to bring more incomes to the locals then your idea will fail earlier or later….

    1. Hi Stefan. Thanks for your comment.

      We’re not denying that well managed trophy hunting, wherever it is culturally appropriate and based on revenue sharing with local people, can help conservation. Our project does not assume that well managed trophy hunting is unhelpful.

      We also agree that bringing income to local people is critical. However, in our view, beyond the fact that hunting is certainly not the only way to do so; generating income alone isn’t enough. Conservation is not an exclusively economic issue.

      There is a strong need for promoting awareness, involving local people in wildlife management, and strengthening their association and pride with wildlife as well. We do this through programs like Ecosystem health, where we assist local communities in building vaccination programs for their livestock, through Snow Leopard Enterprises, a handicraft-for-conservation program; through corral improvement initiatives, community-based livestock insurance programs, education for both children and adults, and more. (Info:

      Without such a multi-pronged approach, there’s little hope for conservation of a landscape species such as the snow leopard, where an individual cat can safely spend the day in a well managed hunting concession or Protected Area, but can easily find itself in a highly poached area within a few hours of movement.

      We will be exploring such community-based conservation initiatives in Shamshy and surrounding regions, not just limited ecotourism. “Limited” in this case does not mean less money – it means sustainable and efficient use of resources. There are numerous examples of well-intended ecotourism that contributed to the decline of ecosystems because it wasn’t well managed (too many people, too much traffic, too much garbage left behind, too much pollution…) – we’re making every effort to avoid this and stick to best practices, all of which suggest limiting the number of visitors.

      Like any other community engagement, these things take time, especially if the communities are to be true and equal partners in the effort.

      Matt Fiechter, SLT Communications Manager

  8. I think the initiative is very good and I hope it is going to spread to more areas. I have been in Ladakh, India to photograph snow leopards and it was fantastic and I hope more people can experience the wonderful cats and also the people living in the area.

    Thank you Matt for your engagement and I hope you get a prosperous 2016.

  9. Here is one very good article about the trophy hunting –

    I cannot understand the trophy hunters, I think that they could do the same with photo camera and the killing of the animals is not good. But they could pay huge amount of money in order to make their hobby.

    I think that the only way sustainable to eliminate the hunting is to attract enough wildlife photographers and watchers. They will pay less money per person but if the number of the photographers and watchers is enough high then they will be able to replace the lost incomes from the hunting in sustainable way. We try to do something similar in Bulgaria, Europe with Balkan Chamois and Capercaillie and I hope that in 20 years we will change the situation in some regions.

    I will be happy to visit your reserve in the future. My hobby is wildlife photography and I will be happy to photograph the nature of Kyrgyzstan.

  10. Hunting for a trophy will never be something proper or ethical. Killing animals just for fun is simply horrible and bad. True humanity it’s being responsible, it is a great effort and taking care of nature and the environment at every step and in every field. And please do not say that the hunting industry is good, because this is just an another industry – to make money by people at the expense of animals that have no chance to defend themselves. It is time to wake up and be responsible, and stop thinking about getting rich and gaining for own joy or profit. Being human means you need to work hard and sacrifice for others.

  11. Dear team, thank you for your great work in saving this amazing creature..
    Would love to visit the site and it would be a dream to see the Snow Leopard with my own eyes <3
    Much love <3

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.