Goldman Prize for Snow Leopard Trust Mongolia Director

Bayarjargal (Bayara) Agvaantseren, the Snow Leopard Trust’s Mongolia Program Director, and head of our partner organization, the Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation, has been awarded the 2019 Goldman Environmental Prize for leading a successful 10 year effort to protect the snow leopard habitat of Tost Mountains.

Video: Meet Goldman Prize winner Bayarjargal Agvaantseren

The Goldman Prize is the world’s most prestigious award for grassroots environmental activists. Awarded annually to environmental heroes from each of the world’s six inhabited continental regions, the Goldman Environmental Prize honors the achievements and leadership of grassroots environmental activists from around the world, inspiring people to take action to protect our planet.

Bayara and her team worked closely with Tost’s local communities to help create the 1.8 million-acre Tost Tosonbumba Nature Reserve in the Gobi desert—a critical habitat for the endangered snow leopard—in April 2016. In support of these efforts, the Mongolian government cancelled all 37 mining licenses within the reserve. An unprecedented victory for the snow leopard, as of June 2018 there are no active mining licenses within the reserve—and all future mining operations are deemed illegal.

Tost Tosonbumba was designated a State Nature Reserve to protect the area’s snow leopard population. Photo by Snow Leopard Trust / Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation
Teacher, Community Leader, Conservationist

Born to a village teacher in northern Mongolia, Bayara Agvaantseren started her career as a Russian and English language teacher and tour guide. While acting as a language interpreter for a snow leopard research project in the late 1990s, she became fascinated with the cats, and decided to devote her life to their protection.

Since 1997, Bayara has worked with the Snow Leopard Trust on conservation projects and community initiatives to support the Mongolia’s far-flung herder communities, providing livestock insurance for herders, supporting research initiatives, and establishing a  conservation handicraft program run by women.

Bayara Agvaantseren (2nd from left), discussing conservation ideas with herders in the Tost Mountains. Photo by Goldman Environmental Prize.

In 2007, Bayara founded the Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation Mongolia while also assuming the role of Country Program Director for the Snow Leopard Trust. Today, she leads a small and highly effective local team of ten staff who distribute their time between Ulaanbaatar, Tost, and other parts of Mongolia’s mountainous snow leopard habitats.

A Major Victory for Snow Leopards

In 2009, the plans for extensive mining operations in the Tost Mountains became evident. This area bridges two existing national parks in the South Gobi province, serving as a key migration corridor and critical habitat for snow leopards. Having earned the trust of the local herding communities in Tost through her years of work, and acting as an envoy for the community, Bayara met with government officials to advocate that Tost become a federally protected area.

To garner support for creating the Tost Tosonbumba Nature Reserve, she collaborated with environmental journalists in Ulaanbaatar on a mass public outreach campaign that included publishing daily news articles, social media events, and interviews with key lawmakers. She assigned various members of her team to focus on different aspects – research and information compilation, understanding legal aspects, maintaining government relations, and strengthening community relations – to make a watertight case for protection of Tost and its snow leopards.

The effort, started in 2009, saw many ups and downs, including the tragic and distressing passing of the youngest member of Bayara’s field team in Tost, Sumbee Tumursukh, who was found dead in October 2015 under mysterious circumstances.

Lkhagvasumberel “Sumbee” Tomorsukh, who tragically passed away in 2015, was a key member of Bayara’s team in Mongolia. Photo by Snow Leopard Trust / Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation

In the face of such adversity, Bayara and her team resolved to intensify their efforts even more. In April 2016, their tireless work resulted in the formal designation of the 1.8 million-acre Tost Tosonbumba Nature Reserve—the first federally protected area in Mongolia created specifically for snow leopard conservation. The reserve protects a core breeding population of snow leopards and forms a combined area of over 20 million acres of contiguous protected snow leopard habitat in the South Gobi.

Mongolia To Create New Protected Area for Snow Leopards

Although the designation was a major victory, there were numerous active mining licenses within the reserve. Bayara and her team continued to work with government authorities to nullify the remaining licenses to comply with the law. By June 2018, all 37 active mining licenses within the reserve had been canceled.

Tost Nature Reserve is Free of Mining Licenses

“Protecting Tost and its snow leopards has been a team effort! It took everyone, from members of the herding community and local leaders to my team in Mongolia, our colleagues at Snow Leopard Trust and all the donors who have supported our work over the years. This is also a time to remember our dear colleague Sumbee Tumursukh who dedicated a significant part of his short but inspiring life to protect the snow leopards of Tost. I humbly accept this award on behalf of all of us”, Bayara Agvaantseren says.

2019 Goldman Environmental Prize winner Bayarjargal Agvaantseren. Photo by Will Parinello, Goldman Environmental Prize

Watch Bayara’s acceptance speech

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.

Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation

The Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation, founded in 2007 by Bayara Agvaatseren, is one of Mongolia’s leading conservation NGOs, focusing on protecting snow leopards and their ecosystems and helping local herders coexist with this endangered cat.

Snow Leopard Trust and Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation work in close partnership in Mongolia.



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