Poachers Beware! Combating Snow Leopard Poaching in Kyrgyzstan

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Roger Blackwell
Snow leopard populations in Asia are declining steadily, in part due to poachers.

Snow leopards, a strikingly magnificent species of wild cats, are facing the risk of decreasing rapidly into extinction. Although snow leopards are spread across the mountains of 12 Asian countries, a range of over 750,000 square miles, scientists state that there are only 3,500 to 7,000 snow leopards left in the wild. With the increasing prevalence of poachers, their numbers are declining fast.

In Kyrgyzstan, poachers could not be stopped easily due to the fact that they are influential figures and that park rangers lacked the funding and resources to have a strong impact in keeping away illegal hunters.

Citizen Ranger Wildlife Protection Program (CRWPP), a project led by the government of Kyrgyzstan and the Snow Leopard Trust Fund, is proposing a comprehensive plan to level the playing field between the poachers and the rangers. CRWPP will use the incentives of both a monetary award amounting to US$250 and recognition with the presentation of a certificate to empower park rangers and local citizens to report any poacher to the authorities. The CRWPP hopes to leverage the local community, in that recognition for rangers and citizens will be just as important to them as the financial reward.

The Snow Leopard Trust Fund stated in a press release in March 2015 that, “National recognition raises social profile and respect for rangers while publicly celebrating and positively reinforcing community collaboration and best practices.”

The CRWPP that began as a pilot program in limited areas in 2014 has managed to expand greatly in all of Kyrgyzstan’s 19 nature preserves and state parks in 2015, and includes coaching for rangers, investigation capacity, and law enforcement training. That expansion became possible due to the extended support of the Snow Leopard Trust Fund and a grant given from the UK’s Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund.

Furthermore, the increasing demand of the marketplace drove supply to an all-time high of US$10 billion in 2011, despite long-term efforts to ban the sale of endangered animal products. Meanwhile, other sellers attempted to sidestep the 1972 law against selling endangered animal products by making them and falsely labeling them as vintage.

In realization of the illegality of selling both newly made and vintage products made out of endangered animals, the Snow Leopard Trust Fund launched an online petition in 2013 to enforce this ban, which was signed by 33,000 people. This petition convinced the popular online website Etsy.com to ban the sale of all items containing material from endangered animals.