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Kids in Kyrgyzstan Trek Sky-High to Help Save Snow Leopards

 Posted by Meghan Sawyer, Communications

Snow leopard at Woodland Park Zoo. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Snow leopards were once considered the kings of the mountains, but this majestic cat is considered globally vulnerable to extinction. Snow Leopard Foundation in Kyrgyzstan (SLFK), supported by Woodland Park Zoo, is working to protect this vulnerable species—and they’re getting help from kids to do it!

The elusive and powerful snow leopard evolved to survive the harshest conditions on the planet: high, rugged and snow-covered mountains with sky-high elevations—but human-wildlife conflict is endangering snow leopards’ survival. SLFK led in-person eco-camps in the Shamshy Valley of Kyrgyzstan this summer, teaching local students about not only snow leopards and how to protect them, but also about nature and conservation for all local species.

SLFK’s eco camps were launched in 2018 with eight students in attendance. After a two-year hiatus due to the ongoing pandemic, the camps have resumed in-person again. This time, nearly 60 students joined! The program brings local kids into the mountains and teaches them about nature in Kyrgyzstan through experiential, hands-on learning.

One day, they set up camera traps to photograph animals in the wild. They learned how to spot and identify species like vultures and ibex, because protecting snow leopards requires learning about the entire ecosystem. They even spent the night in a yurt, watching nature films and sharing local folklore about snow leopards. For many of these kids, it was the first time staying in the wilderness.

Students exploring nature in the Shamshy Valley. Snow Leopard Foundation in Kyrgyzstan

“Even children who live close to nature reserves sometimes don’t have a particularly strong connection with their local ecosystem,” said SLFK Director Kubanychbek Zhumabai uulu. “After nearly two years of being unable to host any in-person environmental education, this absolute nature immersion was invaluable and influential.”

The difference between sharing knowledge remotely and having actual experiences in nature with these young conservationists is clear. Camp counselors found that kids lit up when they got to experience nature face to face.

“I saw the eyes and faces of kids who saw their very first ibex through spotting scopes. They were so very happy,” said field coordinator Kasim.

Students trying to spot an Ibex. Snow Leopard Foundation in Kyrgyzstan

“There are not many summer camps that take kids into the mountains, and those that do exist are quite expensive,” adds Zhumabai uulu. “Most summer camps take kids to beaches on the lake, where they don’t get nature study experiences. The eco-camps that we host give kids an opportunity to learn about the flora and fauna in their backyards and teach the importance of protecting the land around them.”

Though this year’s eco-camp has ended, the kids are still connected to the eco-camps through technology like WhatsApp and are encouraged to take part in learning more about their environment. With resources like eco-camps inspiring and educating this next generation of conservationists, the snow leopard and its habitat will be better protected in the future.

Adopt a ZooParent
Celebrate the holiday season with a Snow leopard adoption! Adoptions make wonderful holiday gifts, plus your support helps fund the daily care and feeding of all the zoo’s inhabitants. $69 Special available through January 31, 2022.

Adopt a Snow Leopard ZooParent 

Visit snow leopards at Woodland Park Zoo!
Visit our snow leopards Helen, Dhirin, Aibek and Marai––each time you do, funds from admission tickets support snow leopards and other endangered species around the world.

Snow Leopard Trust
Woodland Park Zoo supports the Snow Leopard Trust (SLT). Based in Seattle, it was created in 1981 by the late Woodland Park Zoo staff member Helen Freeman. Through innovative programs, effective partnerships, and the latest science, the SLT is saving these endangered cats and improving the lives of people who live in the snow leopard countries of Central Asia including Russia, Afghanistan, China, India, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Nepal and Pakistan.

Snow leopard by Ryan Hawk/ Woodland Park Zoo.