The United Nations Environment Program’s Vanishing Treasures project aims to improve coexistence between humans and wildlife, especially with the growing threats of climate change to both. In the Kyrgyz Republic, our team members and partners are working on the Vanishing Treasures project in the Ala Too mountain range, located in the North Tien Shan region and close to the capital, Bishkek. In the Kyrgyz Republic, the project aims to promote coexistence between humans and snow leopards. As part of the project, we (Benazir and Ulukbek) collected data on negative human-wildlife interactions to understand snow leopard predation levels and the resulting consequences for humans and animals. . By carrying out these surveys, we were able to go to many villages and we met many beautiful places and beautiful people.
It has been a very humbling experience because we have witnessed the resilience of people despite all the difficulties they face on a daily basis. People from each village helped us find shepherds. Either they called the shepherds in the village, or they guided us to them. Every local self we interacted with was willing to provide the phone numbers of village heads and rooms where we could hold meetings. People would invite us to their homes and offer us tea, bread and jam.
During our inquiries, a family invited us to their little two-room mud house. It was a bit cold and crowded inside with the two of us, the Shepherd, his wife and their two daughters. Yet this shepherd did not complain or ask us for anything. He explained that he and the other shepherds in the area had suffered depredation of livestock from snow leopards. While the shepherds did not seem to have hostile attitudes towards the snow leopards, we realized that their attitudes might change if they continued to lose more of their cattle.
On a stormy day, as we were struggling to see a long way through the snow and fog, we crossed a road that connected several villages. We turned around and suddenly we saw the dark silhouette of a man standing by the side of the road, looking into the distance. We noticed he was a shepherd, so we invited him into the car to warm up and talk with us. As the shepherd kindly provided information about recent predator attacks on cattle, his cattle vanished into the fog. We could tell that the Shepherd wanted to stay and help us, but we could also see that he was relentlessly searching for his lost cattle through the fog. Jackals, wolves or snow leopards could attack livestock at any time. As soon as we got his information, he jumped out of the car, galloped through the depths of the fog on his horse, and vanished like a ghost. In winter, the herders stay near the villages, but this does not make their work easier. He spent the whole day herding the cattle in this cold fog and returned home at night.
People living in this landscape face many challenges, including droughts which affect the amount of food for livestock and people, livestock losses from predators, degradation of pastures, landslides, etc. In recent years, the problems of drought have intensified, leading not only to environmental and economic consequences, but also to conflicts between populations and villages. Expecting people to prioritize conservation in the midst of all their challenges would be a little insensitive.
People here are well aware of climate change and are already feeling the effects. They realize the importance of conservation and sustainability and do their best to overcome their challenges. However, financial means, expert resources and time are scarce. The Vanishing Treasures project helps local communities meet these challenges through various interventions. Some of the planned interventions include planting orchards, building vaccination centers and beekeeping. We are working with communities to design these interventions to ultimately increase the resilience of livelihoods and mountain habitats in the Kyrgyz Republic. Together, we are building a stronger community and ecosystem.
We express our gratitude to the United Nations Environment Program and to the Government of the Duchy Grant of Luxembourg for making the Endangered treasures possible project. Thanks to the Snow Leopard Foundation in Kyrgyzstan, the Ilbirs Foundation and the Global Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Protection Program for being key partners in this project. Huge thanks are also extended to the local communities of Ala Too for their participation and partnership.