In 2016, the Snow Leopard Trust joined forces with the Kyrgyz government to convert the former hunting concession of Shamshy, in the Ala-Too mountains of Kyrgyzstan, into a sanctuary for snow leopards and ibex; co-managed and co-funded by the government and by our generous supporters and partners.
For decades, ibex were hunted legally in Shamshy, and their populations dwindled. The presence of snow leopards, although occasionally reported in the area, was never confirmed.
Since the area was converted into a Wildlife Sanctuary, however, things are looking up, as the innovative approach has yielded very encouraging results. “One year after the Sanctuary was established, we captured the first ever snow leopard photos taken in the Kyrgyz Ala-Too mountain range, where Shamshy lies. A first ibex count showed a healthy population of around 300 animals living here”, says Kuban Jumabai uulu, the Snow Leopard Trust’s Kyrgyzstan Program Director.
This spring, Shamshy had another milestone to celebrate: the first documented snow leopard cubs being brought up inside the Sanctuary – or anywhere in the Kyrgyz Ala-Too range! These pictures confirm that there is a breeding snow leopard population in the Kyrgyz Ala-Too range, rather than just a few stragglers and transients from other core snow leopard habitats.
“The cubs and their mother were captured on camera around 18km up the valley from the reserve entrance”, Kuban says. “However, we’ve also found snow leopard tracks at much lower altitudes, near the ranger’s cabin, and camera trap photos later showed that it was a different cat roaming this area. So we have at least two adults and two cubs using Shamshy right now.”
“Kyrgyzstan has been making a focused effort to protect snow leopards for several years, and these photos are another indication that our approach is working out”, says Almazbek Musaev, the Director of the Department for Rational Use of Natural Resources with the Kyrgyz government. “As a result of this work, we now have a breeding snow leopard population just a few hours from our capital city, Bishkek.”
The ranger’s cabin, located right at the end of the dirt road leading into Shamshy, had originally been built to host the former Shah of Iran on a hunting trip. The royal visit never materialized, however, and the cabin soon fell into disrepair. When we established Shamshy as a Wildlife Sanctuary, we renovated the structure and turned it into a cozy abode for the wildlife rangers working in Shamshy and for visiting researchers and guests.
“In the future, we’re planning to host local area kids for educational eco-camps and also bring visitors and partners to Shamshy to see and appreciate the snow leopard field research laboratory that it is developing into”, Kuban says.
The management of Shamshy Wildlife Sanctuary is generously supported by David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation; Partnership Funding by Fondation Segre, managed by Whitley Fund for Nature; Woodland Park Zoo; and Chattanooga Zoo, and by many individual donors and supporters. Thank you very much.