Snow Leopard Enterprises
Snow Leopard Enterprises is a conservation program that works directly with the people who share snow leopard habitat to create sustainable economic opportunities that reduce the motivation behind poaching.
Many families who live in the remote regions where snow leopards are found depend entirely on their herds of livestock for food and wealth. When these domestic animals graze on the limited local vegetation, snow leopard’s wild prey are often forced to find food farther away. With domestic animals in the area, and reduced availability of wild prey, snow leopards target livestock more frequently when hunting.
Because these families are typically living on less than $2 per day, the loss of even a single animal can create great financial hardship. Herders may retaliate against snow leopards to protect their animals, or set steel-jaw traps to stop the cats before they get too close.
Snow Leopard Enterprises was created through a partnership between these families and Snow Leopard Trust conservationists in order to address the poverty that leads to retaliation against snow leopards. This program provides training and equipment that enables participants to make beautiful handmade items from the raw wool of their livestock. The Snow Leopard Trust purchases the finished items at mutually agreed upon prices, and sells the items through our online store.
This program has drastically increased the value of each herding family’s raw wool, and the money earned can boost annual household income by up to 40%. This money is used to buy food, medicine, clothing and other vital necessities.
In order for a community to participate and earn this additional income, each member must sign a conservation agreement. Every year, these participating communities review and sign an agreement that requires each person to protect the snow leopards and wild prey species living in their area from poaching. If a participating community fulfills their collective conservation agreements, an additional cash bonus is awarded at the end of each year. However, if any poaching takes place during that time, the entire community loses the bonus. This strong financial incentive encourages the community to work together to protect snow leopards and share information with the Snow Leopard Trust and others in their region.
Regular conservation education and outreach activities are also built into the program. These activities increase awareness about snow leopards, encourage additional conservation projects initiated by SLE participants, and provide resources and information that help reduce snow leopard predation on livestock. All profits from the sale of Snow Leopard Enterprises products are invested right back into conservation programs that encourage communities to protect snow leopards by improving their quality of life. Visit our online store to purchase the handmade products made by Snow Leopard Enterprise families!
Oyuntseren Oidov, Mongolia
Oyuntseren Oidov is a doctor living in Tost Bag, a village in Gurvantes Soum of the South Gobi Province. She had three children, but recently lost her 19-year-old son in a tragic accident. Since that time she has been responsible for taking care of her granddaughter and her elderly mother. She travels frequently to visit patients up to 30-50 km away, and must leave her 15-year-old daughter and 7-year-old granddaughter at home during nighttime calls. She supports her family financially with the money she earns from her practice, which is less than $6.00 a day.
But today, through Snow Leopard Enterprises, Oidov is the local program coordinator in Tost Bag. She makes camel wool yarn to sell using the wool from her community members, and takes on the role of community organizer for the other families. Because she frequently travels throughout her community as the local doctor, she is also able to spend time helping the other SLE participants with their products. Each year, her community of 15 households earns over $1,000 by making these handcrafted items.
“As a single mother, I am very grateful for the program’s usefulness and support. The money is very helpful. The women in my community all work together on this program, and being able to help other women in my community helps me in my own life. We are so happy for the program.” –Oyuntseren Oidov
Eliza is a mother of two children and is married to Usubakunov Bakyt, who graduated from Issyk-Kul University with a degree in Tourism and Environmental Management. Eliza also studied at a music college, but she could not afford tuition and had no choice but to drop out.
Both Eliza and her husband were unable to find work in the city of Issyk-Kul after he graduated. They decided to move to Inilchek, where they were hired to care for herds of livestock. Neither had experience with domestic animals, and it was very difficult for them to make a living. Eliza recalls, “At that time, the whole village was without any jobs. You can imagine how very difficult our lives were. One of the difficulties is that Inilchek is situated in high altitude, and no potato or wheat grows there. To tell the truth, we hunted ibex for our food then.”
But Eliza attended the first meeting the Snow Leopard Trust held in her village, and she listened to us describe Snow Leopard Enterprises. At first, Eliza says she “didn’t believe it could help us.” But after the women of her community discussed the potential benefits, they decided to participate, Eliza included. She began making handicrafts through the program and says “Once we tried it and got the first payment, we could see the benefits.” After working with Snow Leopard Enterprises for years, Eliza is quite proud that she can provide so much for her family. Eliza’s husband Bakyt has also become active in the program.
“We have different concerns now. Before, I worried about having no money. Now I worry about how we can stop poachers. We didn’t know about the snow leopard before, but now we do, and we see the importance.”- Eliza
Chuluunbat, South Gobi region of Mongolia
Chuluunbat is 70 years old and lives near the Nemegt Mountain with her husband and grandson. As a hobby, she spins yarn and knits clothing with a traditional drop spindle and a crochet needle her husband made out from an aluminum spoon.
Chuluunbat and her husband had made their living herding livestock for decades, but in 2004, a neighbor told her about the Snow Leopard Enterprises program. Chuluunbat soon visited a nearby village participating in SLE, and she saw women spinning beautiful camel yarn using a modern spinning wheel. She was inspired to take part in the conservation program as soon as she could.
Through Snow Leopard Enterprises, Chuluunbat was able to participate in free craft-making workshops where she gained new skills in spinning. She enjoys the thought of protecting “the spotty animals” and the pristine habitat she also shares. By participating in this conservation program, her average monthly income has nearly doubled from $69 to $130.
Chuluunbat has become an important advocate of Snow Leopard Enterprises. She has helped train other women how to process raw wool into beautiful handicrafts, and through a microcredit loan program, she now owns her own modern spinning wheel.
Sainbileg lives in the Yamaat valley of western Mongolia with her husband, Erdenebaatar, and their four children. When Snow Leopard Enterprises first began in her community, Sainbileg was excited about earning additional income. Although she had no previous experience processing wool into handicrafts, she was able to participate in free training workshops. She mastered the new skills quickly and has now become the local program coordinator for her community.
In the spring of 2004, Sainbileg was asked to provide wool processing training to a neighboring area. She and her husband traveled to the site by motorbike, and provided two days of training for 37 women. While reflecting on the successful workshop, she recalls “It wasn’t that difficult, because the herder women were eager to learn how to process and produce handicrafts. I also had experience providing training and advice to the herders in my own region. This helped me feel more comfortable, and I was able to see the best way to train is in these bigger groups.”
Before joining Snow Leopard Enterprises, Sainbileg and her husband both remember witnessing other community members poach wild sheep and goats. But Snow Leopard Enterprises offers a strong financial incentive, and Sainbileg convinced her neighbors to join the program and protect these animals instead. Since her community became involved in Snow Leopard Enterprises, Sainbileg and her husband are proud to report that they have not seen any poaching take place.