Over the past 10 years, Snow Leopard Enterprises has created a market in local handicrafts made by herder communities living in snow leopard habitat. What began as a small programme with just a few participants, has just reached a major milestone by raising $1 million for snow leopards!
Now working with 1,000 families, the scheme is boosting local income, and in return herders are working alongside NGO, the Snow Leopard Trust and its staff including Whitley Award winner Charu Mishra, to protect these iconic big cats and their habitat.
Many of the people who share the endangered snow leopard’s habitat in Central Asia depend on livestock for their livelihood. Often, they live on less than $2 a day. For these people, losing livestock to a predator like the snow leopard is a devastating blow. Too often, they see no other choice but to retaliate against the cat, often killing it.
Conservationists intent on saving the elusive snow leopard such as Charu and his colleagues, are working with herder communities to break this vicious circle of poverty and conflict. One simple, but powerful idea has been particularly successful: Snow Leopard Enterprises. In this unique program, the Snow Leopard Trust, teams up with Mongolia’s Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation to provide herder women in snow leopard habitat with the training and equipment they need to make beautiful rugs, baby booties, felt toys and other handicrafts from the wool of their livestock.
The Snow Leopard Trust then buys the finished products from these women and markets them internationally under the label “Snow Leopard Enterprises”. The additional income they gain from the sale of these products helps families improve their lives. In return, participating communities sign agreements to protect the snow leopards living in their area from poaching and retaliation killings. If no cats are hurt throughout a year, the communities receive an additional bonus.
Today, the programme helps protect more than 17% of Mongolia’s snow leopard habitat. The scheme is making a huge difference for the participating families too, boosting their income by an average of more than $150 last year through the production and sale of handicrafts.
“This extra income is a tremendous incentive for these communities to protect snow leopards”, says Bayara Agvantseeren, the program’s Co-Founder.
There are as few as 3920 – 6390 snow leopards left in the wild. The snow leopard has been listed as Endangered by the IUCN since 1971. The cat is protected worldwide, but remains threatened by poaching and retaliation killings, as well as a loss of suitable habitat