Photo courtesy of Tashi Ghale

The Story of the Sacred Chest

The Land of the Snow Leopard (LOSL) Network, a grant recipient of IUCN Save Our Species, is a groundbreaking collaboration between western and indigenous science.

LOSL’s approach is unique in that its work is rooted in indigenous understanding of the sacredness and cultural and environmental significance of the snow leopard across central Asia. Indigenous peoples in this region relate to the snow leopard as the cosmic axis of ancient traditions – the protector of sacred mountains – a unifying force and a source of spiritual power and wisdom.

While LOSL’s program area also includes Mongolia and the Buryat and Altai Republics of Russia, our IUCN Save Our Species project, entitled Sustaining Indigenous Communities in Snow Leopard Conservation, is specifically focused on expanding education projects in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

Land of the Snow Leopard Network members are excited about our new effort to expand the “classroom-in-a-box” Nature Trunk Program. Unique interactive games have been created that convey traditional stories and lessons about the sacredness of the snow leopard. We’re looking forward to the time when travel is again safe so we can begin training teachers in our five program areas. In the meantime, our regular Zoom meetings can be challenging with so many great ideas being exchanged between the two dozen or more participants and the three languages in play!

Until now, we hadn’t thought too much about the trunks themselves – the containers for the lesson plans and game materials such as rubber track molds and plush snow leopards, mountain sheep, marmots, wolves, and other toy representatives of the local wildlife.

LOSL Nature Trunk

In Mongolia, where the program was initiated, plastic bins with snug lids or cloth bags that are easily transported by horse or camel have served the storage purpose.

During our recent Zoom meeting, it was mentioned that in Central Asian cultures, households keep certain items in handmade, beautifully decorated chests. One type of chest is used for the storage of precious items or food such dried smoked meat buried in flour.

Aptra – Used for storage of food or precious items in the Altai Republic.

When a daughter is married, she takes her own decorated chest containing clothing and fabrics to her new home. The equivalent here would be a girl’s hope chest, a fading custom in America.

Kairchak – Used to store clothing, fabrics, & household items and sometimes given to newlyweds in the Altai Republic.

Since these family chests are very sacred treasures for Central Asian families, we decided to utilize traditional chests for keeping the Nature Trunk program materials safe. We will ask the artisans to incorporate snow leopards and other key species into the decorations. In this way, the chests will also underline our goal of emphasizing the snow leopard as a sacred animal and living treasure of the mountain communities.

Sunduk – Used for household items in Tajikistan.

The snow leopard species faces many threats to its survival, including lack of awareness and understanding of its value to not only the environment but the culture of local communities as well. Through expansion of this vital educational Nature Trunk program, the Land of the Snow Leopard network seeks to aid in the conservation of this iconic species. Stay tuned for future updates.

Many thanks to Chagat Almachev & Qurbon Alamshoev for contributing photos and information.

IUCN Save Our Species aims to improve the long-term survival prospects of threatened species. It also focuses on supporting the species habitats and working with the communities who share this habitat. It achieves success by funding and coordinating conservation projects into multiple initiatives across the globe.

This project is funded by IUCN Save Our Species. The contents of this news article are the sole responsibility of the Snow Leopard Conservancy and do not necessarily reflect the views of IUCN.