Snow leopard poachers in central Asia will soon have a new enemy: better trained park rangers and eagle-eyed members of the general public. It’s all thanks to an aggressive new program headed up by the Snow Leopard Trust and the government of Kyrgyzstan.
Worldwide, only about 3,500 to 7,000 snow leopards remain in the wild today. For some time now, those seeking to stop poachers from preying on the iconic big cat in Kyrgyzstan faced serious problems. Park rangers there lack funds and resources to do their jobs effectively.
Worse, the poachers they’re fighting are often influential businessmen, politicians and other outside interlopers who are difficult to deal with. A project called the Citizen Ranger Wildlife Protection Program (CRWPP) aims to level the playing field.
The keys to the program are incentives: money and recognition. When park rangers, local citizens or other community members apprehend poachers and report and file cases against them, the CRWPP rewards them with about $250 in cash and a public ceremony at which they receive a certificate.
Recognition for these efforts means as much as the cash award. In fact, it’s probably the most important incentive of all. As the Snow Leopard Trust notes in its press release:
National recognition raises social profile and respect for rangers while publicly celebrating and positively reinforcing community collaboration and best practices.
Arrests and filling cause hassles and costs for poachers as an added deterrent, and placing cases on record is a critical first step towards stronger law enforcement.
“Although it involves a cash reward, recognizing the rangers’ and community members’ effort is an even more important aspect of the program,” according to Dr. Charudutt Mishra, Science and Conservation Director for the Snow Leopard Trust.
“Despite their limited resources, park rangers in protected areas as well as our partner communities work hard to stop these outside poachers – but their efforts too often go unrecognized,” said Dr. Mishra. “This project therefore will be a huge enabler.”
The CRWPP began as a pilot program in 2014 in a limited area. Success with that program led the Snow Leopard Trust and its partners to expand the program in 2015 to all 19 of Kyrgyzstan’s nature preserves and state parks.
A grant from from the U.K.’s Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund makes this expansion possible. That grant comes as a result of commitments agreed to at 2014′s London Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade.
“Park rangers are working hard under difficult circumstances to protect endangered wildlife in Kyrgyzstan,” noted Snow Leopard Foundation Kyrgyzstan director Kubanych Jumabaiuulu. “I’m very pleased that we’ll now be able to assist and empower them in their efforts across all 19 Protected Areas of the country.”
The grant money will also provide a huge training boost for park rangers. INTERPOL has agreed to partner with the program to provide much needed high quality investigative and law enforcement training.
Poachers beware. Those who protect snow leopards and their prey in Kyrgyzstan aren’t pussyfooting around. They’re out to stop you. They mean business. They have the means and they have the motivation.
A lot more watchful eyes will be guarding the welfare of these beautiful big cats from now on.