Editor’s note: The Snow Leopard Trust’s work in Kyrgyzstan is in collaboration with Woodland Park Zoo, with special support from Partnership Funding by Fondation Segré, managed by the Whitley Fund for Nature.
Less than a year after launching a pilot program to fight poaching of endangered snow leopards and their prey in Kyrgyzstan, the Snow Leopard Trust and its partners are ‘going national’ to cover all 19 of the country’s state parks and nature reserves, thanks to a grant from the UK government’s Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund.
|Wild snow leopard recorded by a remote camera. Photo courtesy of Snow Leopard Trust.|
The project, known as the Citizen-Ranger Wildlife Protection Program (CRWPP), trains, publicly honors, and financially rewards park rangers and local community members who successfully apprehend illegal hunters.
It addresses one of the most persistent threats to snow leopards and their prey species in the Central Asian countries: poaching by outsiders.
The Snow Leopard Trust has been working in Kyrgyzstan since 2002 with a dominant focus on community-based conservation, and more recently, with the Kyrgyz President for catalyzing range-wide governmental action for snow leopard conservation.
|A snow leopard spotted by remote camera technology. Photo courtesy of Snow Leopard Trust.|
The organization’s longest-running program in Kyrgyzstan, Snow Leopard Enterprises, has helped address the problem of hunting of snow leopards and wild ungulates by local community members. However, for many years, community members and rangers have expressed frustration at preventing poaching by outsiders.
“Our existing community-based conservation programs are not as effective against this outside threat,” says Brad Rutherford, Executive Director of the Snow Leopard Trust.
A Porous System Exploited by Illegal Hunters
Due to entrenched problems such as an under-resourced and underfunded wildlife conservation sector, lack of trained personnel and equipment, and low salaries for park staff, rangers and local people often feel socially and economically disenfranchised to control poaching in and around protected areas. In the past, this has supported a porous system easily exploited by illegal hunters.
In response, the Snow Leopard Trust, local NGO partner Snow Leopard Foundation in Kyrgyzstan (SLFK), and the Government of Kyrgyzstan developed CRWPP.
When cases of illegal hunting are recorded and filed by citizens, rangers, or teams of community members and rangers, CRWPP honors them in a public ceremony with certificates and a small cash reward.
CRWPP cash rewards provide incentive to rangers to apprehend poachers and follow-through filing cases. National recognition raises social profile and respect for rangers while publicly celebrating and positively reinforcing community collaboration and best practices.
|Toktosun uulu Urmat, recipient of the first-ever ranger award. Photo by Fred Koontz/Woodland Park Zoo.|
“Although it involves a cash reward, recognizing the rangers’ and community members’ effort is an even more important aspect of the program,” says Whitley Award winner Dr. Charudutt Mishra, Science and Conservation Director for the Snow Leopard Trust.
Arrests and filling cause hassles and costs for poachers as an added deterrent, and placing cases on record is a critical first step towards stronger law enforcement.
In 2014, the Snow Leopard Trust signed a 10-year, three-way agreement with SLFK, and the Government of Kyrgyzstan to help manage this program into the future, and later that same year, inaugural awards were conferred on a ranger-community member team that had apprehended a hunter with a gun in Sarychat-Ertash Nature Reserve.
Major Expansion Thanks to UK Grant
Now, a new grant received in 2015 from the Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund through the UK Government will enable us to begin massive nationwide expansion starting this spring. The grant will provide for an endowment to support the program’s financial awards into the future, including a roughly $250 US reward for cases involving endangered species.
One of the most exciting outcomes of the grant will be to enable a partnership with INTERPOL, the international police organization, to deliver quality training for rangers in law enforcement and investigative techniques.
|WPZ Vice President of Field Conservation, Dr. Fred Koontz (second to right), with rangers in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan. Photo courtesy of Fred Koontz/Woodland Park Zoo.|
“Despite their limited resources, park rangers in protected areas as well as our partner communities work hard to stop these outside poachers, but their efforts too often go unrecognized,” says Dr. Mishra. “This project therefore will be a huge enabler. We’re excited to grow this program and start a new chapter in conservation in Kyrgyzstan.”