Just a three hours’ drive from Kyrgyzstan’s capital, Bishkek, sits a picturesque valley on the northernmost edge of Kyrgyzstan’s snow leopard habitat. This valley, called Shamshy, was once a prime spot for trophy hunters looking to hunt ibex. For several years, the area was managed directly by the President of Kyrgyzstan’s office as a hunting concession. Then, it fell under the domain of the Department of Rational Use of Natural Resources in 2013. Four years ago, the Snow Leopard Trust and its partner, the Snow Leopard Foundation in Kyrgyzstan, joined forces with the Government of Kyrgyzstan to convert this valley into a co-managed sanctuary where hunting is no longer permitted.
This spring, we began work with IUCN Save Our Species, Snow Leopard Foundation in Kyrgyzstan, and Woodland Park Zoo to protect even more snow leopard habitat and create new partnerships in Kyrgyzstan. Our aim is to work with local communities on effective co-managed strategies to conserve snow leopards, including expansion of livelihood programs.
During summer and fall, our Kyrgyzstan team met with local government leaders in Aksu and Kochkor, regions within the same mountain range as Shamshy, to gain a better understanding of community interests and needs in these areas. Prior to the pandemic, the government of Kyrgyzstan signed an MoU with us, lending their high-level support toward working in Aksu and Kochkor, the latter of which does not have formal state protection. Thanks to follow-up by the country team, we now have agreements from three local community governments representing the two areas, affirming their partnership with us to enhance collaborative actions for snow leopard conservation.
Kubanychbek (Kuban) Zhumabai uulu, Director of Snow Leopard Foundation in Kyrgyzstan, confirmed, “This is a really big move forward. It’s the first step toward setting up strong conservation programs in Aksu and Kochkor.”
In Kochkor, we formed a new collaboration with a local jamaat (community body) that shares our interest in co-managing the area and protecting wildlife. This budding partnership will empower the community to take ownership in conservation endeavors. We look forward to better understanding the needs and challenges of the jamaat, and working with them to develop conservation models that benefit their community and environment.
“We are also helping support two rangers each in Kochkor and Aksu, and they have been patrolling since November 1st, in addition to two other rangers we have been supporting for a long time in Shamshy,” Kuban remarked.
“This is significant progress made possible by IUCN Save Our Species funding. Next, we will begin training these new rangers, and start community-based conservation programs in these areas. Especially in Kochkor, working closely with local communities and rangers will be the key to effective snow leopard conservation, since this is unprotected land and the responsibility for protecting it rests with the local people and local rangers.”
With the help of these rangers, our team deployed camera-traps around Aksu and Kochkor in December. Upon retrieving the cameras in spring, we hope to find many photos of snow leopards, ibex, and several other species.
We are pleased to work with local community members from these regions on research and protection of the snow leopard, its prey, and habitat. By bringing Aksu and Kochkor under stronger protection, we are increasing the amount of contiguous habitat for snow leopards and their prey in the Ala Too range. These two regions will augment the protection that Shamshy Wildlife Sanctuary and Ala Archa National Park provide.
This project is co-funded by IUCN Save Our Species @SpeciesSavers. The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of Snow Leopard Trust and do not necessarily reflect the views of IUCN. This project is in collaboration with Snow Leopard Foundation in Kyrgyzstan and Woodland Park Zoo.