Disney Conservation Hero, Tungalagtuya Khuukhenduu

Nov 24, 2015 4:44 pm

Tunga with 4 young students standing in front of her holding puppets

Disney Conservation Fund is honoring Tungalagtuya Khuukhenduu (above with students) with a 2015 Conservation Hero Award for her outstanding work in conservation education, and her dedication to engaging young people and fellow members of her community in environmental education programs. Tunga’s dream for Nomadic Nature Trunks is that it will someday be a government-supported program included in every school’s curriculum, and people will live in harmony with the Being in the Colorful Coat.

Mongolia has long been a land of abundant wildlife and wild places, but today both are in jeopardy. Conservation education and collaboration at the school and community level are a critical component of the nation’s natural heritage. Yet with nearly half of the 3 million people in the country living in the remote steppes and mountains, traditional education settings are rarely possible at the community level. In 2007, Tungalagtuya Khuukhenduu (also known as Tunga) created the Nomadic Nature Trunk Program (NNT) to bring quality conservation education materials to the traditional nomadic cultures of Mongolia.

Growing up in a family of eight children in a small village of South Gobi province, Tunga spent her childhood close to nature with her favorite pastimes being collecting flowers and butterflies, and finding unique stones and pieces of wood to use as toys. Family vacations were in the beautiful Gobi Gurvan saikhan mountain range and her summers were spent with her grandparents who lived in the Gobi Desert and had many livestock. While these summers were filled with hard work collecting branches and cow dung for fires, bringing water from deep wells a far distance away for livestock and human use, and processing dairy products, Tunga loved being with her grandparents. They held much knowledge of the natural world and freely shared it with her. She was always curious about the animals, plants, and insects around her, so her grandparents were wonderful teachers and encouraged her imagination.

Four pictures of Tunga with various groups of villagers

While in secondary school, Tunga was a member of a conservation club that had activities such as planting trees, nurturing house plants, and cleaning school grounds. However, no lessons were taught on the wild flora and fauna of Mongolia and environmental education didn’t play a part in her school’s curriculum.

In 1994 Tunga graduated from the National University in Mongolia and began work as a wildlife biologist with a Dutch and Mongolian research team in Hustai Nuruu National Park. Her research included studying wolf population, behavior, and seasonal food trends, and mountain ungulate and bird observations. She was also in charge of training park rangers on wildlife observation methods and data collection. Her wolf diet research led her to interview herder families to collect data on livestock loss and wild animal carcass observations. Thus, every season she visited approximately 75 herding families to talk about wildlife and gather valuable information. It was during this time that she began to realize that the contributions of local people are so important for research work and nature conservation. She also noticed that these nomadic herding families had no access to much needed environmental education.

For the next eight years, Tunga continued her wolf research work throughout Mongolia. In 2002, she became an educational specialist with the National Environmental Program implemented by the National University of Mongolia. During this time she focused on conducting trainings for biology teachers, but it was difficult as there was a significant lack of resources for environmental and ecological education and absolutely no conservation books for children.

Pictures showing contents of trunk: various animal puppets, footprint molds, guide books

From 2004 to 2006, Tunga played a significant role with New Zealand Nature Institute’s “Community Based Conservation of the Gobi Region” program where she oversaw development of the “Co-Management for Conservation” project. Through this project she facilitated community trainings and community based wildlife monitoring, as well as strengthened already established Eco Clubs and local institutions for conservation.

Through all of the work Tunga had been doing since graduating college, as well as her own experiences as a child, she saw the glaring reality that quality environmental education materials were greatly lacking not only for schoolchildren, but also for adults. So, when she was invited in 2007 by Wildlife Conservation Society of Mongolia to join in the development a curriculum for an education program in the Eastern Steppe region, she jumped at the opportunity and the result was the creation of the Nomadic Nature Trunk Program. Nomadic Nature Trunks are traveling classrooms that provide a three-week curriculum, with interactive lesson plans and hands-on projects. Lessons are designed to promote positive perceptions of nature and the environment, increase scientific and cultural knowledge, and encourage environmental stewardship. Each trunk includes activities and materials such as puppets, posters, maps, animal tracks, books and games focused on region-specific biodiversity and conservation concerns.

In 2010, Tunga and Dolzodmaa Purevjav created Nomadic Nature Conservation (NNC), a new conservation organization for nomadic people throughout Mongolia based on the Nomadic Nature Trunk Program. NNC was able to expand the NNT Program as a resource for the wider community to include both adults and children. NNC staff hold trainings to teach the proper use of the materials in “train-the-trainer” workshops. In 2012, Snow Leopard Conservancy partnered with NNC to produce a set of trunks with activities focused on environmental education in the Altai Mountain region–key snow leopard habitat.

Tunga with a student wearing a snow leopard print shawl and mask

Teachers and administrators have expressed interest in the program because it is compatible with the Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) curriculum, recently revised to incorporate environmental education into other subjects. Also, before the trunks were created National Park staff and community groups had a lack of materials for environmental outreach and education. Now these trunks are available to use in each area for a one month period. Staff of Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park used a trunk as part of a cross-border summer camp with Mongolian, Chinese, and Russian participants which expands the impact even further.

Javzansuren, a specialist of public awareness in the protected area of Uvs Aimag, says, “The trunks are often used for communities and the lessons are appreciated by the community members. They have gotten new knowledge of habitat loss and the importance of mountain ungulates. I have learned a lot of information about wildlife such as Ibex, argali sheep, and snow leopards.”

Byamba, who lives in the Yamaat Mountain range says of NNT, “The lessons are very important and the nomadic people find them easy to understand. I now understand the mountain animal food chain.”

Tunga has shown extremely impressive dedication, creativity, and resourcefulness in creating and bringing essential environmental education materials to remote people throughout Mongolia–something no other organization is doing there. Her efforts are absolutely invaluable in the protection of Mongolia’s wildlife and wild places. Tunga’s dream for the Nomadic Nature Trunk Program is for it to someday be a nationwide government-supported program included in every school’s curriculum. In the meantime, she continues to give everything she can to NNC and the NNT Program to reach as many people as possible.

 Thank you Disney Conservation Fund for recognizing Tunga as the Conservation Hero she is!

Close-up of Tunga wearing royal blue Disney Conservation Fund tshirt and Hero medal around her neck

Disney Conservation Fund written in blue and green ink with several animals in the D of Disney

For information on Disney’s commitment to conserve nature and a complete list of 2015 Conservation Hero Award recipients, visit

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Snow Leopard Scouts Camp

Jul 21, 2015 10:07 pm

Painting of a snow leopard in front of mountains

Snow Leopard Conservancy (SLC), in partnership with the National Trust for Nature Conservation (NTNC) and Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP), has been carrying out Snow Leopard Environmental Awareness Camps in Nepal since 2011. These camps follow the formation of a new Snow Leopard Scouts group which remains active for one year.

The Snow Leopard Scouts Program elevates local students’ awareness level of snow leopard and local biodiversity by conducting specially tailored  field excursions (a day hike) in snow leopard habitat, thereby delivering a “once-in-a-lifetime experience” featuring wildlife watching, characterizing habitat, remote camera trapping, and other activities such as essay-writing and nature drawings. As a result, a network is created of young Scouts (youth citizen scientists) who help mitigate people-wildlife conflicts, spread the word on species and ecosystem protection, promote conservation, and actually monitor snow leopards via remote camera-traps and other means.

group of people carrying a banner saying snow leoaprd scouts environment camp on a cobblestone street between buildings

The education component of the Snow Leopard Program in Nepal is geared toward activating school youth across (snow leopard) districts so they have a collective voice in raising awareness in their local communities and society at large. The program trains and supports youth to work with local teachers, guardians, park rangers, livestock herders, and other stakeholders, in community-based wildlife monitoring targeting snow leopards and prey species. The goal is to help curtail people-wildlife conflicts, exacerbated by lack of awareness and commitment to wildlife conservation on some segments of local population.  The Conservancy — and the Snow Leopard Scouts program — envisages to help community and conservation organizations in Nepal maintain landscape level biological (snow leopard) corridors, dotted with predator friendly communities (Snow Leopard Scouts, their parents and other related stakeholders), so snow leopard and other predators can pass through the landscape without any threat of human persecution.

Three young boys sitting a table and drawing pictures

In celebration of the 42nd Environment Day on June 5, students from four schools in Upper Mustang took part in an environmental conservation and snow leopard awareness rally. In the afternoon, the enthusiastic crowd including students, teachers, ACAP staff, and ordinary villagers participated on a conservation rally. They paraded around Lo-Manthang walled city, with the following Environment slogans:  “Seven billion dreams, one planet, consume with care”, “Save the wildlife”, “Stop poaching”, and “Save the snow leopard, the mountain queen”. Students participated in an Inter School Art competition which was held soon after the rally. The best artists were given awards and khataks (white scarf which is considered holy in Buddhist society) were offered by the chairpersons of various committees.

Painting of Earth with human hands embracing it and animals in the foreground

The following day the new Snow Leopard Scouts were selected and given a description about the day’s hike which was the start of the Environmental Awareness Camp. The new Scouts, along with staff, teachers, and herders, then hiked to Sakao (3,800m), some three hours steep uphill from Lo-Manthang for observing wildlife and their habitat. Once arrived at the site, they were exposed to much training and information pertaining to wildlife and biodiversity.

Large group of people holding a sign saying snow leopard environmental camp with rocky cliffs in background

Students were trained to properly use binoculars, GPS and camera traps. They scanned the surrounding environment for hours hoping to see blue sheep and other wildlife. A herd of blue sheep was observed and identification and classification was also done. Sakao is one of the most possible sites to observe fresh signs of snow leopards and students had opportunity to see the signs—pug marks, scrapes and scat–and characterize them. In addition, students were taught about the conflict between humans and wildlife. They were also briefed about the other programs of Snow Leopard Conservancy such as predator proofing corrals, solar lights, newly introduced Fox Lights, etc.

Finally, students were instructed to write diaries on the day’s activities and their experience. Information from these diaries will be shared with not only the Scout’s family and friends, but also with Snow Leopard Conservancy followers around the world.

-text and photos by Pema Tsering, SLC Nepal Field Coordinator

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Celebrating Snow Leopard Day in Baltistan

Jul 16, 2015 10:30 pm

Young girls with sign

Young girls in Sibiri hold a sign written in Urdu which translates to: Let us come together to protect wildlife–become part of BWCDO

In 2005, Baltistan Wildlife Conservation & Development Organization (BWCDO) entered into institutional partnership with Snow Leopard Conservancy (SLC). Under the agreement, SLC provided technical and financial support to raise awareness among school children in Basha Valley in Gilgit-Baltistan region about snow leopard protection. Under the conservation awareness program, BWCDO has organized cross-valley students’ visits, celebrated World Environment Day in schools and colleges, and organized debate and essay contests in seven schools in the valley. In 2012, with financial assistance from SLC, BWCDO distributed about 1,000 copies of a short informational book on snow leopards suitable for students from grades 5 to 8. The booklet contains general ecological information about snow leopards and general facts about its natural history. It also contains a short poem about snow leopard written by a local Balti poet.


Celebration attendees


Seeing the enthusiasm and interests of students from grade 5-7, BWCDO decided to celebrate snow leopard day in Sibiri village in Basha valley in January 2015. Since this was the first time BWCDO was organizing this event it was held in just one village. The BWCDO team made plans with the local school teachers to organize a debate contest on that day. The news of celebration of snow leopard day, however, soon traveled to neighboring villages and on the designated day, students from neighboring villages started pouring into Sibiri in the shape of processions, chanting slogans for the conservation of snow leopard. This was a remarkable development and the BWCDO staff, the organizing committee and the participants of the snow leopard day, which included the District Wildlife Officer, and local committee members, were caught off-guard at this spontaneous burst of environmentalism among the school children of Basha. The local school teachers said that they had never seen students so motivated and charged up by conservation issues. It turned out that school children from the uninvited villages had also prepared speeches and two female students from grade 8 had written poems about snow leopard. They said they were inspired by the poem about the snow leopard in the booklet that was distributed by BWCDO. All in all about 400 hundred students from seven schools representing all the villages where SLC-BWCDO works were represented at the Snow Leopard Day celebration.

Text and photos by Ghulam Muhammad, BWCDO


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Herder Compensation in Everest

Apr 10, 2015 12:27 am



Lakhpa Chamsi knows snow leopards are not easy to see, yet she hopes that she will someday see one near her village of Thameteng, a settlement of Sagarmatha (Everest) National Park Buffer Zone. Since becoming involved in snow leopard conservation, she has become much more curious about the elusive cat. The chairperson of the Thameteng Saving and Credit Management Group, Lakhpa says if she sees one she will be able to share with others what the snow leopard looks like. While collecting the grass in the jungle she has seen other wild animals such as Himalayan tahr, musk deer and Himalayan Munal, but at this point the snow leopard is like an animal of the imagination.

“My sons are part of the Eco Club, so they know a lot about snow leopards. They also learn about snow leopards in school. My eldest knows how tall a snow leopard is, how much they weigh, and has even written a report that won first place in an essay contest with an award of 3000 rupees,” says Lakhpa proudly.

Thameteng Village View-1Thameteng Village

There have been problems of predator and livestock conflict in Thameteng and nearby villages of Thame, Thamo and Phortse in Sagarmatha National Park Buffer Zone. The members of the Thameteng Saving and Credit Management Group claim the predators are surely snow leopards. Ang Sarki Sherpa, a member of the group says, “The predators that come here are snow leopards.”

Only a few months ago a snow leopard killed a baby yak near the Thameteg Army Barrack. “People rushed to see it, but were too late.” says Lakpa, “I have still never seen one.” However Lakhpa’s husband Karsang has seen a snow leopard twice. He was first frightened by a cub in the Tabang jungle while he was picking mushrooms. Then, last year in September he saw a snow leopard sitting under a bush near the road and almost stepped on it.

DSC07638-2Yak in front of a stupa

In 2012, Snow Leopard Conservancy, in coordination with Sagarmatha National Park Buffer Zone Management Committee (SNP BZMC), formed Thameteng Saving & Credit Management Group which teaches savings and credit practice to its members and allows for compensation to herders when livestock has been killed by a wild predator, such as the snow leopard.

“The saving group members contribute to conservation,” says group secretary Kami Doma.  According to Lakpa, the group has been able to collect 23,000 rupees for the snow leopard conservation fund.

Kami explains how the group works, “SLC has given us 200,000 rupees as a seed fund to start income generation activities. From the group’s annual profit, 25% goes to the snow leopard conservation and 10% is given to local schools for conservation based extra-curricular activities.” She also says, “Savings are collected at least once a month  and the group concentrates on financial growth for each member and for the group as a whole.”  The group is involved in various income generating activities, including having a cafe’ at a recent Golden Jubilee ceremony.  There were able to earn 80,000 rupees net profit.

Chamsi's hotel-2Lakhpa and Karsang’s hotel

Lakhpa and her husband Karsang run a hotel in their home.  Tourists, guides and porters stay at the hotel.  “Twelve people used to sleep in six rooms, but that was not enough,” says Lakhpa.  She decided to take out a loan of 40,000 rupees and added five more rooms to her hotel.  Every season the hotel has earned 500,000 rupees, but now with more rooms, they are able to earn more. Income from the hotel is used to repay the loan.  They have been able to start saving money on a regular basis as well.

Most of the group members do not own livestock, but some do. If a snow leopard kills a baby yak the owner receives 700 rupees as compensation.  1,500 rupees is given for the loss of an adult. The group also gives financial support to the local school for executing conservation work.

j0ou1ciqThameteng school children

In 2014, the Thame Lower Secondary School was given 15,000 rupeees by the three Saving & Credit Management Groups in Thameteng, Thame & Thamo. The school headmaster, Mr. Lakhman Tamang, said the money was used for conservation activities that have helped students develop a better awareness and understanding of snow leopards and other endangered species.  “Students can easily recognize snow leopard in pictures and have started talking about its significance,” says Tamang.


Text and photos: Anil Adhikari

Anil Adhikari serves as local conservation officer, coordinates Snow Leopard Conservancy projects in the Everest & Annapurna region of Nepal. He has a talent to document conservation initiative stories from the remote villages, that gives us a glimpse of life at the foot of Earth’s highest mountains.

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Live in Co-existence!

Feb 13, 2015 11:14 pm

Tenzing Dorje Sherpa. incense

(Anil Adhikari serves as local conservation officer, coordinating Snow Leopard Conservancy projects in the Everest region of Nepal.  He also has a talent for writing wonderful blogs from the field, giving us a glimpse of life at the foot of Earth’s highest mountain.  Here he recounts a visit with Tenzing Dorje Sherpa.)

When I met Tenzing Dorje Sherpa one morning at Khonar Pastureland at Khumbu village, he was lighting incense stick inside his cow-shed. I asked why, and Tenzing said  worshiping local God and snow leopard helps protect local livestock. Serken (Snow leopard in local name) is a symbol of God. “Our ancestor worshiped snow leopard to reduce livestock loss”, he says. Herders in every cow-shed at Khonar worship local God-Goddess and the snow leopard that way.

Khonar pastureland is a 30 minute walk from Phortse village under Sagarmatha National Park.  Thirty-one cow-sheds have been built and scattered in the pastureland. “Currently we have  80 livestock from seven households”, Tenzing explains.

Tenzing Dorje Sherpa

When monsoon starts, Khonar is fully in the fog and mist. Snow leopard hides in the lush plants and bushes. “One can easily hear snow leopard’s shout during the monsoon”, Tenzing says. “I am afraid sometimes, that snow leopard is hiding nearby.”

Tenzing recalls the killing of his 4 years old Yak during winter in 2013. The Yak was chased by the Snow Leopard down hill. He later found Yak’s hair scattered around the ground and snow leopard’s pug marks. That made him sure the predator was a snow leopard, not a wolf. Owner of 3 female Yak, 3 male Yak, 1 Ox, Tenzing thinks that predators can be anywhere during grazing so everybody must be alert. “So that you can protect your livestock”, he says.

Having spent 21 years working with expeditions, Tenzing has extraordinary experience of Everest summit. During the Spring and Fall-season, he works as helper and climbing porter. “During the winter, I spend 2 months at villages, rest of the time in the pastureland”, he tells.

During the expedition and trekking, Tenzing has encountered snow leopard 3 times. “First I saw three years back at Daphutichiwa pastureland and it was adult male”, he says. When he saw second time in 2013, it was again at Daphutichiwa. However the scene was extraordinary. “It was because there were 4 snow leopards near by the local well and there were 2 adults and 2 cubs walking one after another”. Two years back only, he came upon another snow leopard at Gingyo pastureland and it was in front of his cow-shed. Tenzing tells that his cow started shouting one evening. He came hurriedly. “An adult Sherken (snow leopard) was killing one of my cows”, Tenzing explains, “Tail was as long as it’s body size”. This time he encountered only from 10 meters distance. “He was looking at me so angrily as if he was going to jump at me”, he tells.

Like Tenzing, many people in Phortse village have snow leopard stories.

Tenzing Dorje

When I asked the elevation of pastureland, this experienced man looked at his wrist watch. A tourist had gifted him a GPS watch. Finally he managed and explained “3,950 meters.”

Tenzing had built his cow-shed 10 years ago. It cost him 160,000 Rupees ($1600). He continues, “Now I am thinking to upgrade it through using loan from khumbila saving and credit management group. Tomorrow my son will sustain this culture”, he says, “It was my son who insisted to build this shed”. His 21 year-old son has summit Everest twice. “Phuratashi of my village has summit 21 times while in Phortse, every house has Everest climber.” Tenzing receives 200,000-300,000 Rupees for one expedition. Expedition is one of the major sources of his living. “However I am thinking to carry out optional business using group fund”, he says, “It has less risk than climbing”. He thinks that a saving and credit initiative under Snow Leopard Conservancy has helped locals to start talking about snow leopard as well as compensate for livestock loss. “It has good influence not only among villagers but outsiders too”, he says.

While household jobs were being distributed at home, Tenzing got the task of looking after cattle. “This is what I enjoy”, he smiles and says, “Running after cattle is easier than doing household job. It is enjoyable because you encounter wildlife and see animals jumping in the grassland”.

Every morning, Tenzing gets up at 5:00. He makes tea and leaves his livestock in the jungle. While drinking tea, Tenzing eats Champa (a kind of parched grain). For lunch, he eats rice and lentils. For the dinner, he eats boiled potato. During the off season there is food scarcity in the grass land. He stores grasses and feeds it to the cattle along with Tibetan tea. “People say that Tibetan tea is good for their health”, he tells.

Even though Snow Leopard kills numbers of livestock every year in Khonar, Tenzing does not have anger in his face, neither has any hard feelings inside. “We have to live together because earth is the common place for human and wildlife”, he tells at the end.

- Anil Adhikari
Snow Leopard Conservancy-Nepal Program

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