Wildlife rangers around the world work in tough conditions and remote locations, putting their lives at risk to protect the earth’s precious natural wealth. Yet they remain on the fringes of society’s consciousness and their efforts often go unrecognized. This was the situation for rangers in Kyrgyzstan, who work against the odds with limited resources to stop illegal hunting. But 10 years ago things began to change for them.
In 2011, Kyrgyz Country Director Kuban Jumabay and (now) Executive Director Charu Mishra traveled extensively across the Kyrgyz Tien Shan to assess snow leopard habitats and threats, and visit local partner communities. High up in the remote Sarychat Ertash Reserve, they spent a night in a bunker that the park rangers called home. Here, Charu and Kuban learned about the challenges these rangers faced on a daily basis. They heard a story about a ranger who had apprehended and arrested a poacher, and then had to spend his own resources traveling to town each time there was a court hearing. Eventually, the well-connected urban suspect in this case went free without any reprimand. The rangers lamented not having enough support from their society and government.
That very evening, Kuban and Charu committed to helping their hosts elevate the status of wildlife rangers across the country. They went back to Bishkek and met with government officials to plead the ranger’s case. From that moment, the idea of the Citizen-Ranger Wildlife Protection Program was born.
The Citizen-Ranger Wildlife Protection Program was first piloted by Snow Leopard Trust and the Kyrgyz Government in the Sarychat Ertash and Naryn Reserves of Kyrgyzstan in 2013. The aim of this new program was to inspire and better recognize the work of official rangers, and to encourage regular people to collaborate with rangers. With support from the Whitley Fund for Nature, an official ceremony was held in 2014 near Lake Issyk Kul as part of an international event where a ranger and a local community member were congratulated. They received certificates of appreciation, visibility and coverage in the press, and a financial reward for cooperatively apprehending poachers and booking cases against them during the previous year.
At the Issyk Kul event, representatives from INTERPOL happened to be amongst the participants, providing the perfect opportunity to explore adding law enforcement training to the fledgling pilot program. With INTERPOL’s interest and with funding secured in 2014 from the British government’s Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Grant, the program was expanded to include law enforcement training and new equipment for the rangers, and to cover all protected areas of Kyrgyzstan. Over the years, as the Trust initiated a new program of co-managing former hunting concessions for wildlife conservation, rangers from these new reserves were also brought under the purview of the Citizen-Ranger Wildlife Protection Program.
The program has been run from the beginning as a partnership between Kyrgyzstan’s State Agency for Environment Protection and Forestry (SAEPF), Snow Leopard Trust and Snow Leopard Foundation Kyrgyzstan (SLFK). INTERPOL provided several rounds of training for rangers, as well as training for future trainers.
On March 3, 2021, the 7th annual Ranger Rewards Ceremony under this program was held in Bishkek, where 16 rangers from all over Kyrgyzstan were honored for their wildlife service throughout the previous year. Since the start of the program, 54 rangers and citizens have received the award for active work against illegal hunting of wild ungulates and snow leopards in Kyrgyzstan. Our co-hosts for this year’s ceremony included the SAEPF, SLFK, the British Embassy in Kyrgyzstan, and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
One of the recipients at this year’s event, Baktyar Kozubaev, from the Batken Regional Department of Protected Areas, brought to justice a suspect who had illegally killed three ibex in Sary-Chelek Nature Reserve. During his felicitation, Kozubaev expressed, “I find the reward to be a very strong incentive to protect and conserve wildlife, not only for the rangers involved, but also for every citizen in our country. I hope that the reward program will double the number of people who are willing to help reduce illegal hunting and crime. ”
The Citizen-Ranger Wildlife Protection Program remains a growing and meaningful initiative in Kyrgyzstan. “Both the trainings and the recognition mean a lot to these rangers,” says Kuban. “They are dedicated to protecting Kyrgyzstan’s precious wildlife, and if we can further enable and inspire them to do that, we can make a real difference in the fight against poaching.”
Thank you for helping us save our nature for the next generation!
Special thanks are due to the UK government’s Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund, which provides funds in perpetuity for the awards to rangers. The Whitley Fund for Nature helped set up this program with catalyst funding during the pilot phase. The David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation and the Woodland Park Zoo have been long-term supporters of our work in Kyrgyzstan. We were able to organize the 2021 event to award rangers and citizens with support from Toronto Zoo, UKAID, IUCN Save Our Species, and Woodland Park Zoo, in cooperation with SAEPF. We also express our gratitude to UNDP, Ilbirs Foundation, and RSK Bank for their participation in the celebration of World Wildlife Day.