Unsung Heroes for Snow Leopards

“Once, during an inspection in the forest, I saw a man with a gun and ran after him. But he stopped and aimed the gun at me.” - Yrysbaev Adilet, unarmed ranger from Naryn oblast

Committed wildlife guardians like Yrysbaev are crucial to biodiversity conservation in Asia’s high mountains. This year on World Wildlife Day, Yrysbaev was part of a group of 20 rangers, environmental specialists and local citizens in Kyrgyzstan who were officially recognized for their dedication to wildlife conservation. These brave individuals are the proud custodians of a natural treasure that enriches lives the world over, the elusive snow leopard. 

2023 awardees gather for a group photo after the ceremony

Ten years ago, Snow Leopard Trust and our partner, the Snow Leopard Foundation in Kyrgyzstan, collaborated with the Kyrgyz Government to create a program to train, celebrate and honor those who serve on the frontlines of conservation. They often risk their lives to protect wildlife for very little pay. The Citizen-Ranger Wildlife Protection Program aims to train, inspire and support these defenders of nature and encourage local communities to work with them to protect their native wildlife. 

This year, many of the cases they successfully charged involved the illegal hunting of ibex, an important snow leopard prey species, confiscated illegal weapons, and in two instances, illegally killed snow leopards. The awardees at this year’s annual event received certificates of appreciation, coverage in the press, and a financial reward for their work to prevent wildlife crimes during the previous year.

We asked a few of the awardees about their service.  

What motivated you to become a ranger?

Illegal killings had increased, harming the environment. It was difficult for me to turn away from that reality. I decided to become a ranger for the purpose of environmental conservation.  – Yrysbaev Adilet, Ranger from Naryn oblast

What is the most challenging part of your job?

Being in the mountains during the cold season, when it’s raining, snowing and sometimes being hungry. And nowadays, it is very difficult to fight people who have guns. – Murzaev Khamidjan, specialist from Kara-Kuldja region

What’s the most memorable thing that’s happened to you in the field?

In Ak-Sai Valley, in Kara-Taar and Kyzyl Taar sites, we spent a night in a cave in September 2018. When we were having dinner, the body of an ibex fell down at the entrance to the cave.  We ran out, looked up, and saw that it was killed by a snow leopard. But unfortunately, we could only see the snow leopard from the back. Then it melted away between rocky mountains and disappeared. – Jakshylykov Askhat, Head of the Protected Areas department of Issyk-Kul-Naryn Regional Management.  

What do you wish people around the world knew about snow leopards?

The snow leopard is a legendary representative of the cats which are endangered.  If we want to conserve them, then we must protect their prey base. – Alybaev Ulukbek Tashibekovich, Osh, Djalal-Abad regional management, hunting specialist

Some of the awardees gather for a photo opp after the event.

We launched this comprehensive program, including an inspiring annual ranger rewards event, thanks to a partnership with the UK Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund and other generous organizations. These donor partners empowered Snow Leopard Trust to invest part of the project funding into a sustainable trust fund. This investment allows us to hold this event and give away cash rewards in perpetuity. The success and sustainability of this program in Kyrgyzstan have inspired governments and partner organizations in other countries to initiate similar programs there. 

Nature knows no borders, and snow leopards move between countries without the need for passports or visas. Thanks to the commitment of these unsung heroes, they can do that a little more safely today.

Our goal is to expand this program to Mongolia and Pakistan. Your support helps fund initiatives like the Citizen-Ranger Wildlife Protection Program. Please consider making a donation here.


Special thanks to the UK government’s Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund, which provides funds for the awards to rangers in perpetuity. The Whitley Fund for Nature-Fondation Segre helped set up this program with catalyst funding during the pilot phase. We organized the 2022 event to award rangers and citizens with generous support from Toronto Zoo and Woodland Park Zoo in cooperation with MNRETS (Ministry of Natural Resources, Ecology and Technical Supervision). 

We also express our gratitude to Kyrgyz Parliamentarian, the Vice Minister of Natural Resources, Ecology and Technical Supervision, the ambassadors of the United Kingdom, India, Switzerland, and Aga Khan Development Network to Kyrgyzstan, and other dignitaries for their participation in the celebration of the rangers’ efforts, and our many supporters.

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