On The Right Track: Innovative Zoo Partnerships That Protect Snow Leopards and Their Environment
Marissa Berryman, Snow Leopard Trust
Every year, over 40 million people visit the 70 zoos in North America that have snow leopards on display. Many watch these cats in awe. Think of the impact we can have on these cats if all 70 zoos work together to inspire these visitors into action and contribute directly to conservation each year. Get your zoo involved in helping to ensure the survival of these cats, and become a partner in snow leopard conservation.
Majestic and elusive, the snow leopard makes its home in one of the harshest, most remote environments of the world. Uniquely adapted to the high mountains of Central Asia, their thick spotted fur makes them virtually invisible to the naked eye while keeping them warm in sub-zero temperatures. These cats can leap spectacular distances to catch prey on high rocky ledges, surviving at extreme altitudes –some have been spotted roaming at elevations of over 16,000 feet (4877m). With quiet grace they have ruled the mountains for centuries.
Today they face threats such as illegal hunting by poachers for fur and bones, loss of habitat as people and their livestock take over more space, and loss of prey. Listed on the World Conservation Union’s Red List of Threatened and Endangered Species, they share the same status as the giant panda and the tiger. There are estimated to be as few as 3,500 to 7,000 cats remaining in the wild, distributed across twelve countries in Asia.
Background of the Snow Leopard Trust
The Snow Leopard Trust has been working with local communities to prevent the loss of this beautiful cat for over 25 years. With the support from our partners, we have successful conservation programs in China, India, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia and Pakistan.
Working to protect the snow leopard and the mountain ecosystem on which it depends, the Trust combines scientific research, public education, and community-based conservation initiatives. Using a collaborative approach, the Trust works to:
- Foster tolerance among local people towards sharing the mountains with snow leopards
- Conduct research to better understand the cats and define threats to their survival
- Connect a network of professionals by linking hands across borders, to ensure a future for snow leopards in the wild.
What is the Natural Partnerships Program?
The Natural Partnerships Program (NPP) brings together the global zoo community and the Snow Leopard Trust in a united effort to ensure the survival of the endangered snow leopard. Through NPP, zoos help support high priority conservation projects that Snow Leopard Trust staff identify and implement in snow leopard range countries, including Pakistan, India, China, Kyrgyzstan, and Mongolia. NPP offers a convenient, efficient system for making powerful contributions to the field.
How Zoo Partnerships have made a lasting difference
There are countless ways that Zoos and Docents are involved in supporting the conservation efforts of the Snow Leopard Trust. We would love to see all zoos, both that have snow leopards and those that do not, be involved in one or more of the following ways if at all possible:
Grants for field work
In 2006, the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium invited Jennifer Snell Rullman, the Trust’s Conservation Program Director, to Columbus to address the Zoo’s Conservation Committee. Jennifer presented an update of SLT activities and presented a proposal for Dr. Tom McCarthy’s radio-collaring study of snow leopards in Pakistan.
The committee supported the Snow Leopard Trust’s study with a $10,000 grant. Rebecca Rose, Conservation Coordinator for the Columbus Zoo stated, “It was truly gratifying to receive a follow-up message (with wonderful photographs) from the Trust just a few months later announcing the successful collaring of the first snow leopard!” They have made a commitment to long-term support of the Trust for at least $5000 for conservation.
In addition to funding the Snow Leopard Trust’s conservation projects, the Columbus Zoo also added a new event to their 2006 Wildlight Wonderland celebration. Jack’s Home for the Holidays featured live shows introducing Jack Hanna’s animal friends and clips from his travels. Hundreds of people attended and had an opportunity to do some meaningful shopping before and after each show at the Conservation Market. The Market was established 3 years ago to give visitors an opportunity to purchase unique items that provide direct benefit to conservation projects around the globe. The Zoo added merchandise from the Snow Leopard Trust and said that customers were so interested to discover the connection between the beautiful Snow Leopard Trust ornaments, rugs, pillows, and cat toys and the conservation of wild snow leopards in Asia. Rebecca Rose also stated, “We look forward to continuing to feature SLT products at future Columbus Zoo events”.
Selling Snow Leopard Enterprise products in your Zoo gift store
Over $75,000 worth of SLE handicrafts sold in 2006 with over $10,000 of that being from zoo gift store sales, and growth is expected to continue for several years to come. Currently, over 20 Zoos are selling SLE handicrafts including Zoos in the UK, Canada, Italy, and across the US. The Trust hopes to consistently reach more Zoo stores as more people hear about our programs.
What is Snow Leopard Enterprises?
Snow Leopard Enterprises (SLE) relies on handicraft sales to generate income for semi-nomadic herder-artisans in exchange for community support for conservation. Initiated in Mongolia in 1998, SLE benefited from a snow leopard research project, led by Dr. Tom McCarthy, that identified conservation concerns, and quantified human-wildlife conflicts. These nomadic herders completely depend on there livestock as a source of income and can simply not afford to lose a single sheep, goat or camel due to depredation. In an effort to survive, these herders often increase their herd sizes each year, hoping to gain a little more food and wool, and make up for any losses that may occur throughout the year. But as livestock numbers grow, they move higher into the mountains to graze, displacing the wild prey of the snow leopard. With no wild prey, these cats may turn to domestic livestock for sustenance. As a result, herders hunt and poison snow leopards to protect their livelihood and retaliate for their loss. Dr. McCarthy’s study also elucidated the socio-economic conditions, specifically a herder-expressed need for improved access to markets for livestock products, which needed to be addressed in order to gain a conservation commitment from communities in snow leopard habitat.
As part of the SLE Program, the Snow Leopard Trust provides training and simple tools to help artisans develop sheep, yak, and camel wool products which retain local cultural character, yet are marketable in the USA and Europe. Annually, each community signs a Conservation Contract which stipulates that in exchange for the Snow Leopard Trust support of SLE, no snow leopard or wild large ungulate prey will be poached in the area.
At the end of each year, SLE participants receive a bonus payment equal to 20% of the value of their products if no one in the community has violated the contract. A single violation means the entire community loses the bonus, thus peer pressure and community incentive encourages the community to work together to prevent poaching by outsiders. Compliance is also monitored by rangers of nearby protected areas and other law enforcement agencies. SLE incorporates an educational component, with ecological seminars, newsletters, and posters about snow leopards in participating villages. These activities increase awareness among the local people of the value and benefits of snow leopards and other wildlife species.
But is it the program successful?
The success of SLE has been apparent in that no known killing of snow leopards has occurred since its inception, and poaching of large ungulates has been rare (2 known cases) in any SLE community. The program has become very popular within snow leopard habitat in Mongolia and has spread to 14 communities with nearly 400 herder families participating and household incomes have increased by an average of nearly 40%.
The Snow Leopard Trust commissioned an outside assessment of the program in Mongolia in 2006 and that review found that “SLE fulfills its twin goals of increasing household income for people in snow leopard areas,and protecting the environment” and has “…undoubtedly made a significant contribution to snow leopard conservation.” The review concluded that: “SLE is an outstanding example of an integrated rural development and conservation project.” The success of this project in Mongolia led to its replication in Kyrgyzstan where 5 villages similarly requested assistance in reaching markets to bolster income. The Trust is also working in the region of Chitral, Pakistan where the women are making hand embroidered napkins using cotton that is also woven in Chitral.
Host Traveling Zoo Display
The Snow Leopard Trust received a grant in 2005 to create an education tool to benefit zoos partnering in the effort to raise awareness about snow leopards. This indoor/outdoor educational display is available for zoos participating in the Snow Leopard Trust’s Natural Partnership Program, and who are willing to sell Snow Leopard Trust conservation products in their gift store. The display has four colorful, interactive panels, including a tail that can be lifted to see how much a snow leopard tail actually weighs. The display also includes two TV monitors featuring beautiful snow leopard footage and scenes depicting the habitat and cultures in snow leopard countries. The story printed on the panels describes the conservation pressures and solutions, and directs visitors to the zoo gift store to purchase conservation projects. The Traveling Zoo Display books at each zoo for about 10 week period, with an average of 8 weeks for display time depending on transit times.
The Traveling Display has been very successful in getting Zoos across to the US to be involved with the Snow Leopard Trust including: Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo, Tulsa Zoo, Milwaukee County Zoo, Columbus Zoo, Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, Philadelphia Zoo, Tautphaus Zoo (ID), Chattanooga Zoo (TN), Blank Park Zoo (IA), Utah’s Hogle Zoo, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo (CO), and the Great Plains Zoo (SD). During it’s trial run at Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo, Sales in the Gift Shop increased by over 200%. Katie Smith from Chattanooga Zoo said: “We’ve really enjoyed having the traveling display – it’s such a great, interactive tool for the zoo guests to get to enjoy. We’ve had several compliments about it. We’ll certainly hate to see it go, but I know the next group that gets it will be as happy as we have been. Thanks again, like I mentioned, we’ve really enjoyed having it on our grounds!” The display truly is a great way to inspire zoo patrons, and does a superb job of highlight the great conservation work that Zoos are doing across the States.
Conservation Connection Program
Docents along with Education Staff at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle developed the Conservation Connections Program to give docents an opportunity to engage visitors in positive conservation messaging through informal programs highlighting conservation programs supported by Woodland Park Zoo. The content of these informal programs is designed to help the visitor understand WPZ conservation programs while informing visitors of how they can actively participate in the ongoing effort to conserve wildlife, including the snow leopard. Inspiring visitors to take personal action in support of conservation is a major goal of this program.
The Conservation Connections Program is designed to help zoo visitors better understand the environmental pressures snow leopards face in the wild and how the Trust is seeking to alleviate these pressures by working with communities. In this program, docents utilize props to engage visitors in conservation, explaining how the Snow Leopard Trust works together with communities to address pressures facing endangered snow leopards and other environmental issues. Some of these interactive props include:
Raw Wool Display
To help demonstrate in the increase in market value of selling finished handicrafts as opposed to the raw wool. There are samples of the wool in three stages: raw, cleaned and carded, spun and dyed. By converting the raw wool into finished products, rather than it in the trade markets for pennies per pound, they are able to increase their income to purchase food, medicine and clothing for their families.
Laminated pictures of the families who are involved in the SLE and the products that they make Trap camera photographs, film canisters, and trap camera casings. By placing sets of infrared cameras in snow leopard habitat, biologists are getting pictures of wild cats in the area (along with some other Himalayan wildlife).
Scientists are studying the spot patters and other physical features of these cats to attempt to identify how many individual cats are in any given area.
Felted handicrafts from the SLE program. These helps facilitate the SLE story and allow visitors to see the finished product. This also encourages them to purchase them in the Zoo Gift Shop.
Livestock vet procedure photo and a plastic syringe
The Trust is involved in a Livestock Vaccination Program which supplies vaccines for herders’
livestock thereby reducing the loss of disease by a significant amount. By protecting their livestock
from disease, it enables herders to sustain a few losses a year to snow leopard depredation. When
depredation occurs, the herders do not feel the need to retaliate, because what they have lost to snow
leopards, they have gained twice that from disease prevention.
- Snow leopard photos
- Map of snow leopard range countries
- Snow Leopard Trust literature
The SLT Conservation Connections program hopes to inform visitors how they can personally get involved in
conservation efforts, providing the visitor with concrete ways to participate in global conservation issues such as; buying Snow Leopard Enterprises products in our zoo store, supporting the Zoo or the Snow Leopard Trust through volunteering/donations/memberships, and learning more to help educate others. In addition, they hope to inspire visitors to care about preserving animals for future generations by sharing interesting facts about snow leopards and the beauty of the animal, educate visitors about the role top predators play in maintaining healthy ecosystems, and remind visitors our own local community faces similar challenges as we strive to find ways to live alongside other predators. We are working with the WPZ to help make this Conservation Connections Packet available to all zoos.
International Snow Leopard Day International Snow Leopard Day will pilot at Woodland Park Zoo on August 18th, 2007. The festivities will be held on Zoo grounds and will include: face painting, felting workshops, booths with Snow Leopard Trust literature, specials on Snow Leopard Adoptions and Zoo Memberships, keeper talks, presentations by members of the Trust staff, the Conservation Connections cart being proudly displayed, traditional Mongolian
instruments being played, and much much more! The Trust is extremely excited to be a part of this event and hopes that this pilot serves as a model for other Zoos; enabling International Snow Leopard Day to occur every year to inspire people across the globe to get involved with snow leopard conservation. At the AZAD Conference the Trust hopes to share the outcomes of the day so Docents can relay the findings back to their Zoos.
The Snow Leopard Trust is eternally grateful to our partnering Zoos. Zoos serve as such a powerful outreach tools and through our collaboration, it is our hope that we will ensure that the snow leopards reign over their mountain ecosystems for generations to come.
Submitted By: Marissa Berryman
Snow Leopard Trust
4649 Sunnyside Ave. N. #325
Seattle, WA 98103
Phone: 206-632-2421 Email: Marissa@snowleopard.org