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Vote online to help protect snow leopards

Posted by: Brad Rutherford, Snow Leopard Trust – a Woodland Park Zoo conservation partner

Dear friends of Woodland Park Zoo and wildlife—

One of our conservation partners, Seattle-based Snow Leopard Trust, has an opportunity to win $20,000 for conservation as a finalist in the BBC World Challenge. Your vote can help them win this incredible prize that will protect endangered snow leopards and improve the lives of the people who share snow leopard habitat throughout Central Asia.

Here’s Snow Leopard Trust’s executive director, Brad Rutherford, with the story behind the Trust and this exciting opportunity for zoo fans to vote and make a difference…

- Woodland Park Zoo

Across the vast mountains of Mongolia, snow leopards have been seen as an enemy by herders for generations. However, this all started to change in 1998 when two researchers sat down with herders and really tried to understand their challenges. While drinking tea and listening, it became clear that as long as herders were only being paid pennies per pounds for their raw wool there was no way they could afford to tolerate livestock losses to snow leopards. That led to the development of the Snow Leopard Trust’s Snow Leopard Enterprises. The idea behind Snow Leopard Enterprises is simple: help herders turn their wool into high-value products, like rugs, and they will have the income they need to tolerate snow leopards. Back in the late 1990s, the concept of a conservation incentive program like SLE was relatively new.

But thanks to the confidence and support shown by partners like Woodland Park Zoo, Snow Leopard Enterprises really took off! Now, each year, the Snow Leopard Trust places orders for tens of thousands of wool products and sells them worldwide, allowing herders to earn extra income. Woodland Park Zoo sells Snow Leopard Enterprises items through their ZooStore gift shops, and has even helped to design some the program’s highest selling products.

Also each year, when we place orders, each herding community signs a Conservation Agreement that specifies what actions they will take towards protecting snow leopards and their prey. In the fall, if all the terms of the Conservation Contract have been met, herders receive a 20% cash bonus. If any herding family breaks the terms of the Conservation Contract the entire community loses its bonus, creating a self-regulating system that has proven effective time and again.

I recently took a trip to the West of Mongolia to personally see how the Snow Leopard Enterprises is working, and it was a truly incredible experience. I was touched by the excitement among families as this year’s order was placed and they calculated the revenue they would be earning in the spring. It was clear what the 20% conservation bonus would mean to each community if the Conservation Agreement were upheld. For example, I met a talented yarn spinner named Surnaa who was using the revenue to help her daughter buy a laptop for school. It was also amazing to see men and women reversing their historically held roles in the household: I saw men either starting to make products or taking on chores that their wives used to do so that they have more time for making products. Another great outcome was seeing families moving all their livestock out of a nearby valley for August and September to reduce conflict with snow leopards and improve pastures for wild sheep and goats. They didn’t have to do this—but they wanted to in order to further build off of Snow Leopard Enterprises.

Throughout history, conservation has always been focused on preventing a behavior—fining or arresting people for using protected land or killing endangered species. Unlike this approach, Snow Leopard Enterprises is a positive incentive for families. And today, Woodland Park Zoo has helped the program grow into the largest snow leopard conservation project in Mongolia. Seeing Snow Leopard Enterprises develop and expand to protect hundreds of snow leopards, help hundreds of families escape poverty, and produce thousands of beautiful products that people can enjoy has been one of the most important accomplishments of my 11 years at the Snow Leopard Trust. To hear more from me and to learn about our other programs, check out this video.

I wish everyone could see the program first hand but we have a fantastic opportunity to support it right now. Snow Leopard Enterprises has been selected to compete in the BBC World Challenge! We are up against 11 international competitors and we need your help to get enough votes to win! Visit to experience this program through a short film and then cast your ballot for snow leopards and the communities who share their mountain homes.

By voting and asking your colleagues, friends and family to do the same, you will help us win $20,000 for snow leopard conservation. Equally important, we could win a feature in Newsweek Magazine and on BBC World News—coverage that will reach millions of people! Voting closes November 11, 2011. With one simple click, you can vote for this program and help us support Snow Leopard Enterprises.

Thank you.

Photo credit (from top): Snow leopard Helen at Woodland Park Zoo by Tianna Klineburger/Woodland Park Zoo; Family of herders by Jason Brown; Handicrafts available through Snow Leopard Enterprises by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo; Wild snow leopard caught on camera by Snow Leopard Trust; Snow leopard Tom at Woodland Park Zoo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo. Video produced by Snow Leopard Trust.