Innovative Zoo Partnerships that Protect Snow Leopards and Their Environment
Marissa Niranjan – Conservation Commerce Manager
The Snow Leopard Trust
4649 Sunnyside Ave. N. #325
Seattle, WA 98103
Over 150 zoos worldwide have snow leopards on exhibit, with 71 zoos exhibiting snow leopards in Europe and 68 zoos in North America. Currently 65 zoos are participating in the Snow Leopard Trust’s Natural Partnerships Program. Participation directly impacts snow leopard conservation in the field.
Millions of individuals watch these snow leopards in awe and amazement every year. The Natural Partnerships Program bridges these inspiring moments with powerful contributions to snow leopard conservation in the field. Imagine the impact on snow leopard conservation if all 150 zoos joined together to support the Snow Leopard Trust conservation, education and applied research efforts. What a huge difference each zoo makes.
Get your zoo involved as a long- term partner in snow leopard conservation. Naturally, there are so many ways to help!
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
Founded in 1981, the Snow Leopard Trust (SLT) is a non-profit/charity organization dedicated to the preservation of the endangered snow leopard. The oldest and largest organization focused solely on snow leopard conservation, the SLT has implement over 120 projects related to snow
leopard research and conservation in the last 25 years, partners with 65 zoos worldwide and is a member of the AZA, EAZA and WAZA. The Trust has received the highest ranking possible from Charity Navigator, America’s largest independent evaluator of charities, for its sound financial management.
SLT has more than 35 staff world-wide, 25 of whom are nationals of snow leopard range countries. In snow leopard habitat, the Trust focuses its conservation and research efforts in 5 of the 12 countries where snow leopards are found, including China, India, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia and Pakistan, covering more than 75% of the available snow leopard habitat in these core countries. The Snow Leopard Trust, in addition to being located in these 5 countries full time, also supports the efforts of snow leopard research and conservation in most of the other 7 countries where snow leopards are found through our Conservation Grants Program. At the core of the Trust’s work is the understanding that economic and ecological systems are mutually interdependent. The Trust operates community-based conservation programs in the five core countries listed above in order to help local people improve their quality of living while protecting snow leopards and their habitat. All the Trust’s programs were created in collaboration with local communities and continue to be run based on input from program participants. Depending on community interests, skills and resources the Trust operates community-based conservation programs in all of these core countries.
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 Snow Leopard Enterprises?
Snow Leopard Enterprises (SLE) is the flagship community-based conservation program of the Snow Leopard Trust. 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 kill 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.
Is the program successful?
The success of SLE has been apparent in that no known killing of snow leopards has occurred since its inception by any SLE participant, 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 27 remote communities from 7 provinces 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.” In 2007, equipment loans and micro-credit loan programs were also made available for Snow Leopard Enterprise participants in Mongolia. Before this program was established, women made their products with drop spindles, which can be tedious and difficult. We have been able to provide families with equipment like spinning wheels, drum carders, felting needles, knitting needles, and skills training to improve their product quality and quantity if desired. The women are therefore able to increase their family’s income faster, and Snow Leopard Enterprises can keep a larger supply of goods on the market to meet the growing demand, and ensure that public interest in the artisan’s products stays high. As their income increases, these women are able to make a greater commitment to our shared conservation goals. The success of SLE 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.
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. A few of these projects include: Livestock Vaccination and Animal Husbandry Programs, Conservation Education and Outreach, and Livestock Insurance Programs. NPP offers a convenient, efficient system for making powerful contributions to the field. The Snow Leopard Trust is currently working with 65 zoos around the world to protect the endangered snow leopard.
Your zoo benefits from participation in NPP in several ways:
You become a Leader in Snow Leopard Conservation, supporting a collaborative approach, focused on successful in-situ community-supported conservation programs and applied research.
You receive reports, maps, updates and photographs directly from the field, enhancing your efforts to educate the public and inspire your members. SLT staff are accessible for questions, custom materials, and updates via phone, Skype or e-mail.
You are recognized in SLT publications (website, annual report) for your support. Snow Leopard Trust staff can, by invitation, visit your zoo to present to your staff, members, and donors, about snow leopards, their status, current research and conservation methods used.
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, those that have snow leopards and those that do not, be involved in one or more of the following:
Grants for field work
The Trust receives Grants every year from Zoos throughout the world. These Grants range from $20,000 to $180. In 2009, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo (CMZ) in Colorado Springs, CO raised over $14,000 through their “Quarters for Conservation” program. This Grant enabled the Snow Leopard Trust to organize the first ever meeting of 27 local coordinators from participating
villages throughout Mongolia – the women who run SLE on a daily basis. Most of these women were meeting each other for the first time, and for many it was the first time that they had traveled outside of their province. During this meeting the women were able to share information, create their own conservation work plans for 2010, and do community-mapping in each region in order to establish ownership of the areas they protect.
Cheyenne Mountain Zoo implemented Quarters for Conservation (Q4C) in 2008. Q4C involved adding an additional twenty-five cents to every zoo admission (as well as additional fees to memberships) and the money was earmarked specifically for conservation initiatives. A portion of the money raised was allocated to the on-going conservation projects that CMZ funds. The
remainder of the funds was divided between the additional projects that were chosen by Zoo staff. As zoo guests enter the zoo, they receive a token and use it to “vote” for the project they like best. These “votes” ultimately decide how the money is divided between the projects. The exciting part was that CMZ staff was asked to submit the projects that they were most passionate about. That is where this partnership with Snow Leopard Trust began. As a long time keeper of snow leopards, Megan Sanders, Animal Behaviour Programs Manager for CMZ has always been passionate about snow leopards. CMZ had worked with Trust making donations through our AAZK chapter, but Megan wanted to do something even beyond that so she proposed Snow Leopard Trust as a Q4C project and felt lucky to be selected as one of the six inaugural projects. She also worked with her gift shop to increase the inventory of SLE merchandise, assisted in the interpretation and decoration of a yurt on zoo grounds and helped to coordinate activities when their resident snow leopards moved into their new exhibit. By the end of Q4C’s inaugural year, all those single quarters had raised over $100,000, with the snow leopard project being the overwhelming top choice from guests. The votes totaled $14,200 to go directly towards snow leopard conservation and helped fund the first ever local coordinators meeting mentioned above.
Megan was able to travel to Mongolia as part of the project to see the meeting come to fruition and also see first hand the work that SLT is doing in the country. Her trip and experience in the field has had an impact on the zoo as well. Megan was able to share her trip with zoo staff and the board. It has helped to start fulfilling another goal of the Q4C program, which is to get staff out into the field doing what they are passionate about. Megan says, “There is nothing quite like being involved in in-situ work. It gives a feeling of validation and determination to make sure that the animals under your care in the captive setting are able to do the important job of making people fall in love with that species so that their wild counterparts can continue to survive.”
Some other Grants awarded in 2009 that make a huge impact include a $10,000 Grant from Zoo Magdeburg in Germany to support Education in India. The Kolmarden Zoo in Sweden also raised over $10,000 and put it towards the Long-Term (15+ year) Ecological Study (LTES) in the South Gobi Province in Mongolia, which the Trust launched in 2008. Although the Trust has completed over 120 research and conservation projects in all 12 countries where the cat is found, and they have been valuable studies, most were at most four or five years in duration. The aim of this project is to study all aspects of snow leopard ecology, and researchers will employ a variety of methods including trap cameras and GPS radio collaring. This major study is a collaborative effort involving the Trust, Snow Leopard Conservation Fund (Mongolian NGO), Panthera, Mongolia’s Ministry of Nature and Environment, and the Mongolian State University of Agriculture. To date, we have placed GPS radio-collars on eight snow leopards since initiating the project, and are currently tracking 5 leopards. Aztai, the first snow leopard we began tracking, was originally collared in the fall of 2008 and in late June of 2009 we replaced his collar as the battery was nearly depleted. Overall the satellite collars are performing well and we have received an unprecedented amount of data on snow leopard movement and habitat use. We have been able to use this data to estimate home range sizes and how the cats are using that landscape. For example, while Aztai’s core home range (the area where he spends the majority of his time) is just 257 km2, that figure balloons nearly three-fold to 771 km2 when including an exploratory trip to the eastern edge of the Tost mountains that he has taken. These exploratory treks seem common and important to consider when planning conservation efforts. The information on home range sizes is helping the Trust determine how we define communities when we establish conservation agreements with the local people so that we can ensure the cats are protected year-round. We also work directly with the communities in this area in many ways, including Snow Leopard Enterprises, a Livestock Insurance Program, and direct involvement in the Long-Term Ecological Study.
The Buffalo Zoo raised $180 by raffling Zoo Animal Prints at one of their events. Every bit helps and there is no contribution too large or too small. One of the most positive impacts that Zoos can make is by committing as long-term partners. Knowing we can count on that $180 or that $15,000 every year is critical to long-term planning and sustainability.
Selling Snow Leopard Enterprise products in your Zoo Gift Store or at an Event staffed by Zoo Staff or Volunteers
Many zoos have added these products, and Snow Leopard Trust logo products, to their gift store to both contribute to conservation and generate revenue. Purchasing at wholesale prices, zoo stores order the products from the Snow Leopard Trust, then sell the products at retail prices to fit their market. The products are easily purchased on our secure online wholesale store or by calling or faxing an order into our office. Products come from Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan and Pakistan and display beautiful tags describing where the item is produced and what materials are used to craft the product. They also share the conservation message, describing how these products help save snow leopards. We would be happy to connect you to other zoo store buyers who can discuss their experience purchasing and selling these products in their zoo gift store.
Over $119,000 worth of SLE handicrafts sold in 2009 with over $25,000 of that being from zoo gift store sales, and growth is expected to continue for several years to come. Currently, over 40 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. Our Wholesale Terms are extremely flexible, so you can order anywhere from 10 to 1,000 items. We understand that every shop has different space and budget limitations, so we are here to work with you.
An addition to, or as an alternative to selling products in your Gift Shop, you can also host an event at your Zoo to sell SLE products. Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo is a prime example of how to make this successful. Their involvement with the Snow Leopard Trust is a story of how creativity combined with passion and perseverance can make for a very successful partnership. Stephanie Huettner, Assistant Animal Curator for Omaha’s Zoo, first got involved with snow leopards when she met the Trust’s Conservation Program Director, Jennifer Snell Rullman, at a SSP master planning session in 2007. They began talking about how Stephanie could bring the mission of the Snow Leopard Trust to Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo. Stephanie stated, “At that time, I had no idea to what level of commitment we could participate in, but I really wanted to be a part of this organization and all of its wonderful accomplishments.” Little did she know, they would actually end up becoming one of the highest contributing Zoos when it comes to selling SLT products. Stephanie brought back a packet of information that Jennifer handed out during the planning session and shared it with her coworkers. She started to get her Gift Shop to sell the merchandise, and while that was still in the works, she began placing orders and selling the products out of her office. In 2007 she sold over $1,500 worth or product! In 2008, Stephanie worked her way into an underused corner of the Gift Shop during the Christmas season. That year they sold close to $4,000 worth of product. This year, Stephanie is working with both docents, volunteers, and very dedicated staff to man a booth on zoo grounds on Saturdays, Sundays, and during holidays. They have sold $3,000 worth of product so far, and if they sell all of the products that they have, they would reach $6,000 in sales. If successful, Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo will have sold $11,500 in Snow Leopard Trust products since 2007! Stephanie says, “I believe this is such an easy way to reach out to the public to not only sell a product, but to share the messages of what the Trust and other organizations are doing for conservation of people and animals. Since Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo has become involved with the Trust, we have been able to obtain a USFWS permit to import a Snow leopard out of Canada, and are currently working on exporting one to Canada. Without the Trust, we would not have been able to do that. Aside from that, I feel fantastic knowing that by giving a few hours of my time to sell some really cool handmade products, I am helping to save the Snow Leopard.”
Host an International Snow Leopard Day
Zoos around the world are hosting annual snow leopard fundraising and awareness-building events! Whether you call it Weekend Winterfest or Snow Leopard Day, we hope you will host a 2010 event to spread awareness about these elusive leopards. It can take place any time of the year. These events are a huge success, drawing large crowds, especially kids and families, that come together to share in the festivities and celebrate these amazing cats! They also serve as a great PR opportunity for your Zoo.
In August 2009, the Snow Leopard Trust and Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo (WPZ) celebrated the third annual International Snow Leopard Day and WPZ reported record gate sales during the Event. Santa Barbara Zoo held their own version of International Snow Leopard Day in both 2008 and 2009 where they trucked in over 40 tons of snow, both for sledding and animal enrichment. The event was a huge success and over 4,000 visitors attended the zoo in one day. They also sold SLE products at the event as a way to further their outreach efforts while generating revenue.
Here are a few ideas for making your event a success:
- Conservation Connections Cart—Docents man a mobile education cart with touchable items that illustrate the conservation issues facing snow leopards. Some of the items on the cart can include: a snow leopard pelt, photos and posters illustrating poaching by herders to protect livestock, handicrafts from the Snow Leopard Trust conservation programs, raw wool, models of snow leopard skulls, ibex horns, maps of snow leopard range countries, photos of snow leopard and community members, Snow Leopard Trust Literature etc. The Snow Leopard Trust is more than happy to provide you with some of the items above. Please contact us for more information.
- Puppet shows, children’s story time, organize tracking activities for kids.
- Face painting and crafts for children—Create snow leopard masks, snow leopard puppets, or decorative ‘prayer flags’
- Mock research station display and booth—Display SLT literature, maps, equipment
- Tables selling (or displaying) Snow Leopard Enterprises handicrafts
- Snow Leopard Keeper Talks and Enrichment activities for resident cats
- Traditional Music and Dance performances
- Truck in snow for zoo animal enrichment and visitor recreation!
- Invite SLT staff to give conservation talks to the public at your zoo!
All of these activities and displays are aimed at informing 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. The Trust is extremely excited to see this event expand every year across the globe to inspire visitors to get involved with snow leopard conservation. The Trust is happy to help by sending you ideas, information and materials.
Buy SLE Products to put in Conference Gift/Delegate Bags
A new and exciting trend at Zoo Conferences is finding a way to make giveaways count saying goodbye to plastic water bottles, key chains, and flashlights on lanyards. In 2009, the Roger Williams Park Zoo (RWPZ), and the Cape May County Zoo ordered a total of 500 felt ornaments to give away to conference participants raising $1,500 for snow leopards. RWPZ also ordered 225 of SLT’s organic cotton canvas bags to use as delegate bags. Jennifer Hennessey, Conference Chair for RWPZ wrote, “The conference went great and everyone LOVED the bags and ornaments. Thank you for everything. It was a pleasure working with you.” At the beginning of this year, Marwell Wildlife in the UK followed suit ordering 150 ornaments to include in their own delegate bags. Both Cape May County Zoo and Marwell Wildlife also hosted a booth to sell SLE product, raising money not only for their own zoo, but also for the Snow Leopard Trust. Some other Zoos such as the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium purchased snow leopard ornaments instead of the traditional plush to put into an Adopt and Animal package that features the Snow Leopard Trust. People appreciate knowing that they are receiving a unique gift that makes a huge impact for snow leopard conservation as opposed to something that is factory-made which you could buy anywhere. You can also use or organic cotton extra-large canvas totes for the conference bags themselves. If you would like to purchase these products at a wholesale rate for your upcoming event, please contact Marisa Niranjan at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 206-632-2421.
Install new (and free) Graphics at your Zoo
Thanks to a grant from M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, the Snow Leopard Trust worked with five Northwest zoos to develop new graphics to educate the public about snow leopard conservation, and also encourage people to purchase SLE conservation products from the Zoo Gift Shop to make an immediate impact. Representatives from the Alaska Zoo, Zoo Boise, Oregon Zoo, Tautphaus Zoo, and the Woodland Park Zoo collaborated on the development of a graphic with a message that would best reach zoo visitors. The resulting template is easy to adapt allowing us to customize the sign for you to print and install, in order to fit your own Zoo design needs. The Lake Superior Zoo recently requested a custom sign, which is now being installed at their Zoo in northern Minnesota! The only stipulation is that your Zoo needs to have SLE products in your Zoo Gift Shop. The graphic truly is a great way to inspire zoo patrons, and does a superb job of highlighting the great conservation work that your Zoo participates in.
Hold a Teachers Training Workshop to introduce our new Curriculum titled “Engaging Students in Conservation: Protecting the Endangered Snow Leopard” We are excited to announce the completion of an interdisciplinary 1-2 week curriculum unit developed in collaboration with Facing the Future and support from the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust. Recommended for Grades 5-8, five dynamic lessons introduce students to snow leopards, their unique ecosystem and the human-wildlife conflicts that exist where people and snow leopards overlap. The 1-2 week curriculum unit engages students in the creative process of developing conservation solutions for real-life wildlife conflicts and culminates with a service learning project that provides students with the opportunity to directly contribute to the protection of these cats. Available for free, hold a Teacher’s Workshop to introduce the curriculum and service learning project to schools in your area or use some of the lessons in your own zoo classes and camps.
This winter, two schools piloted the service learning project. At the Patrick F. Taylor Science & Technology Academy in Louisiana, a7th grade science class spent a few weeks learning about snow leopards and the conservation issues facing this endangered species. They then organized a fundraiser that would raise money not only for their school and for snow leopard conservation, but would also raise awareness by telling others about what they learned. In just one week, they collected over $222.00 by taking orders for holiday ornaments and felted cat toy mice. Of that amount, $111.00 went to the Snow Leopard Trust and the rest will be used for a school project. This is a fabulous and sustainable alternative to selling wrapping paper or chocolate bars. The Sharpstein Elementary School in Walla Walla, Washington chose to have a month long Information and Sales Booth at their school. Sharing information about what they had learned about snow leopards and endangered species, they sold during teacher-parent conference weeks and over the holidays and raised more than $5,100 from selling the products! Because they purchased the products at discounted wholesale prices from the Snow Leopard Trust, $2,760 came back to the Trust and the additional $2,400 was kept by the school for a project of their own choice. In fact, the fundraiser was so popular, that the school chose to hold on to the products they didn’t sell, so they could try and sell them later in the year. It was a win-win for the school and for snow leopards! Please stop by our booth to either pick up packet, or sign up to receive more information on how your Zoo can help to inspire the next generation of Conservationists! Schedule a Snow Leopard Trust Staff Presentation By Invitation, Snow Leopard Trust experts will present the most updated information on in-situ conservation efforts. Organize an event for staff and members at your zoo. Hear first-hand what Snow Leopard Trust staff are working on in Central Asia, including updates on new methodology and equipment being used, such as GPS collaring, individual cats being identified utilizing high quality photo trap cameras, and the information we are finding from these projects. New conservation models are being piloted and older models evaluated, tweaked and expanded. See how strong community partnerships and long-term support are helping protect these endangered cats and find out how your zoo can get even more involved with our snow leopard conservation programs.
Zoos play such a powerful role in reaching out to the general public and The Snow Leopard Trust is eternally grateful to our partnering Zoos. Docents have the wonderful ability and opportunity to inspire and education Zoo visitors about how magnificent, important, and unfortunately endangered snow leopards are. This information inspires people to make a difference and will help ensure that the snow leopards reign over their mountain ecosystems for generations to come. Thank you for turning inspiration into action!