The Kyrgyz Department of Hunting and Natural Resource Management, Snow Leopard Foundation Kyrgyzstan, and the Snow Leopard Trust have teamed up for an exciting new conservation venture. They are turning a 100 square mile hunting concession into a nature reserve.
This area, known as Shamshy, was once used to hunt ibex commercially. But now Shamshy’s ibex will be strictly protected. According to Dr. Charu Mishra of the Snow Leopard Trust, this could see their population triple in the next decade.
If Dr. Mishra’s prediction proves correct, this will greatly benefit the area’s snow leopards. One of the major threats facing Kyrgyzstan’s snow leopards is the loss of wild prey (Jackson, Mallon, Mishra, Chundaway, & Habib, 2008). When snow leopards (Panthera uncia) have a hard time finding natural prey, they sometimes target domestic animals. This can notably impact local peoples’ livelihoods, which leads to retaliatory killings of snow leopards (Jackson, Mishra, McCarthy, & Ale, 2010). So bolstering ibex populations in Shamshy will help both Panthera uncia and their human neighbors.
In fact, this new nature reserve was designed with local people in mind. Not only will they be hired to work as rangers, but they will maintain their right to graze their animals in Shamshy: as long as they do so in an ecologically friendly manner. This should prevent some of the bad blood that has developed when local people have been shut out of protected areas (Campbell, 2000).
But this new sanctuary will be used for more than responsible grazing. Education, research, and ethical tourism will all take place here. Should this innovative strategy prove successful, the Snow Leopard Trust and its partners might replicate it elsewhere.