Protecting Snow Leopards in the Kyrgyz Ala-Too Range of the Tien Shan Mountains of Kyrgyzstan

Project location: Kyrgyzstan
Project start date: March 2017 - Project end date: February 2018
Project number: 2017-010
Beneficiary: Biosphere Expeditions

Listing it as Endangered, the IUCN estimates the current global snow leopard population at 4,000 – 6,000. According to recent estimates, around 250-500 snow leopards remain alive in Kyrgyzstan, the third most important country in terms of snow leopard numbers and conservation, after China and Mongolia, according to the IUCN. The goal of this project is to mitigate the biggest threat to wild snow leopard survival in Kyrgyzstan, namely human-wildlife conflict so that measurably more cats survive year-on-year. Biosphere Expeditions will achieve this goal with the help of a Nando and Elsa Peretti Foundation (NaEPF) grant, which will provide funds for research, community involvement and education, and by generating local income through nature-based responsible tourism.

Within the last a few decades, 50 to 80% of snow leopards in Kyrgyzstan have fallen victim to poaching and illegal trading. The Snow Leopard Survival Strategy identifies the following major threats for snow leopards in Kyrgyzstan as (1) reduction of natural prey due to illegal hunting, (2) poaching snow leopards for trade in hides or bones, (3) lack of trans-boundary cooperation, (4) military activity, and (5) human population growth or poverty. Within Kyrgyzstan, the Kyrgyz Ala-Too range has, next to Sarychat-Ertash State Nature Reserve (which is already covered by other conservation organisations), the best potential to make a significant impact on snow leopard conservation in the country. This grant will provide the necessary resources to grow current conservation efforts to an effective level of excellence. The end goal is a self-sustaining, community-driven snow leopard protection programme in the Kyrgyz Ala-Too range, which will make a significant contribution to global snow leopard survival and can act as a showcase for community-run species protection programmes that work well for both local people and wildlife.

In the portfolio for research & monitoring of the Global Snow Leopard & Ecosystem Protection Program (Bishkek 2013) the part referring to the Kyrgyz Republic emphasises the “(1) development and implementation of monitoring system for snow leopards and prey… (2) attracting experts; creation of a database platform. (3) Monitoring of snow leopard population. (4) Identify snow leopards with camera traps…” (page 33).  This task is set for the entire country. However, there are many gaps. One of them is the area of the Kyrgyz Ala-Too, which was last surveyed for snow leopard in the late 1980s. This previous research suggested the suitability of the area for sustaining snow leopards. However, more evidence is needed. This project will work fully in line with the Global Snow Leopard & Ecosystem Protection Program.

Biosphere Expeditions’ partner on the ground in Kyrgyzstan is NABU (and its anti-poaching patrol ‘Gruppa Bars’ = group snow leopard). NABU is one of Germany’s biggest nature conservation organisations. Its project office in Kyrgyzstan, whose main aim is snow leopard protection, has been active in the country since 2005 with 20+ staff year-round.

This project, which received a grant from the Nando and Elsa Peretti Foundation, addresses a highly significant killer of wildlife and biodiversity, namely human-wildlife conflict. Using SMART criteria, the project is also highly significant because it is:

Specific: This is a very defined project to research snow leopard ecology and numbers with the specific aim of converting technical research results into a sound, much-needed and –wanted, self-sustaining and –funded community-based conservation programme.

Measurable: The research element can be measured by the output of scientific research reports and publications in the literature, as well as the publication of fact-based, realistic and achievable recommendations and conservation actions. The community element can be measured by the establishment of community patrols and champions, by the research data the patrols will gather on snow leopard numbers and survival, and by a reduction in poaching and therefore continued snow leopard presence in the area. The success of the community outreach and incentives element can be measured by the establishment of a self-sustaining and –financing community-based snow leopard conservation programme based on responsible tourism income and the fact that snow leopards survive in the area. Finally, production and dissemination of educational materials to the community can be measured too, as well as capacity-building with local biologists by hosting and training them on the research expedition. The ultimate measurement is a reduction in human-wildlife conflict, namely in the number of snow leopards killed within the research area.

Attainable: Biosphere Expeditions has a proven track record of applied research for successful conservation outcomes, as well as educational activities in human-wildlife conflict mitigation across the globe (see The overseeing local scientists Dr Volodymyr Tytar has a professional career background in snow leopard conservation and a proven history of establishing community-based conservation programmes.

Relevant: This grant application is made with the full backing of the local herder community, as well as key players in snow leopard research & conservation in Kyrgyzstan.

Time-bound: This is a very specific project, which will start in spring 2017 and run for one year. Full research and grant reports will be submitted to show specific outcomes of the project. 

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