Snow Leopard Trust staff are working with partners and the Kyrgyz parliament against a proposed law that would weaken protections for nature reserves in the country.
Kyrgyzstan’s protected areas are made up of core zones, which are off-limits to everything except scientific research, and buffer zones, where activities such as agriculture and tourism are allowed in certain circumstances.
Current law requires that core zones must make up at least 75% of each protected area.
But in early 2014, four members of the Kyrgyz Parliament introduced a draft law that would reduce the core area of nature reserves and expand the buffer zone, allowing potentially damaging development to take place in a larger proportion of protected areas.
Exactly how much larger isn’t clear, because the draft law simply states that core areas should be a “certain size.”
“Reducing the size of core zones would be detrimental as it would allow more disturbance, livestock, trophy hunting, tourism developments, and mining which are already prevalent in the surrounding areas,” says Dr. Charu Mishra, director of Science and Conservation for the Snow Leopard Trust.
Snow leopards are found in eight out of ten State Reserves in Kyrgyzstan, and these protected areas play very important role in the survival of rare species.
For example, Snow Leopard Trust scientists estimate that 10 to 15 snow leopards currently inhabit the Sarychat-Ertash Reserve, located in an area where Trust scientific research and community-based conservation programs are ongoing.
“A smaller core zone wouldn’t be able to support that many cats, putting the snow leopard’s survival at risk in the country as a whole,” says Kubanych Zhumabai uulu, or “Kuban,” the Trust’s program director in Kyrgyzstan.
The Environment Committee rejected the proposed law at first, but when it was reintroduced this fall the Committee quickly approved it and sent it to the full Parliament for a vote.
Reserves are Safe – for Now
A group of conservationists including Kuban drafted a letter expressing concern about the proposal and the potential threat it could pose for snow leopards and other species. Sixty-eight local and 14 international organizations signed the letter, which was distributed to members of the Kyrgyz Parliament just before the law came up for a vote.
Parliament members found the letter persuasive and, fortunately, voted down the proposal, though the proposal can be voted on twice more before it is permanently rejected. The team of conservationists will continue to work with Parliament and environmental groups to ensure the future of snow leopards is not inadvertently compromised due to unfriendly changes in laws and policies.