Snow leopard conservation, Altai mountains 

Biosphere Expeditions promotes sustainable conservation and preservation of the planet’s wildlife by forging alliances between scientists and the public. Scientists, local people and volunteer members of the public work together on expeditions to conduct scientific studies and conservation efforts.

There are about 3500-7000 snow leopards left in the world and they are listed by the IUCN as ‘Endangered’. Threats they face in the Altai area include poaching, subsistence pastoralism, retribution killings, as well as loss of prey. Through this project, Biosphere Expeditions aims to make snow leopards more valuable to the local communities alive rather than dead, by:

  • Engaging and training locals to be involved in their monitoring and conservation together with scientists and volunteers
  • Paying local herders annually for each snow leopard proven to be in their area
  • Developing nature-based, sustainable tourism in the area
  • Providing scholarships for two local biology students to increase local conservation capacity

The Update

During the implementation of this project, the political situation in the Russian Federation made it impossible for volunteer expeditions to be organised to the Altai Republic, which is part of the Russian Federation. Despite this, project objectives were met and a final report submitted to EOCA by the end of 2014.

The project trained sheep herders to monitor snow leopards using camera traps and then paid them a significant amount per year per snow leopard proven to be in their area. Payments were far more than anyone would receive for a one-off poaching trip, thus making the animals worth more alive rather than dead. Although only a stop-gap until more long-term solutions can be found, with so few snow leopards left alive, this gave local people a real incentive to protect them. Six herders were trained on the use of camera traps, entered into contracts and were paid during this project. As of 2015 there is evidence of herders stopping the poaching of snow leopards as a result of these contracts, and snow leopards were confirmed to be resident again in one of the area’s protected areas after many years of having been absent.

The project also helped develop conservation-based local businesses and tourism. A book was written and distributed to guide people through the area, ten tourism camps were set up and seven guides trained. Eco-tourism provides an alternative income to local communities and again, places a value on snow leopards. Attitudes to the animals change as benefits of having them in the region are seen by more and more people. This is the long-term, sustainable solution required for snow leopard survival into the future and the project made a significant contribution to this in the Altai Republic.

Image: Snow Leopard. Image credit: Biosphere Expeditions