Updates from our Nepal Program

Dec 20, 2012 1:34 pm

With the end of the year approaching, our US-based staff has been laden with the gift of updates from our partners abroad! Notably, our Nepal program has been expanding and progressing in exciting ways! Regional director, Som Ale’s reports have shown us that our community engagement plans are both effective and quite fun.

Two things make and keep a society great and long lasting: its people and pristine nature.  ” -Som Ale

Many great societies of past (for example, Mayan, Egyptian, Easter Island societies) collapsed because of the environmental collapse due to habitat destruction and over harvest of local biota.  The notion that man and nature are inseparably bound in an intricate web of interrelationships and interdependencies should be realized and essentially percolated into minds of people from young age.  This level of awareness and education should start with young students and depends on how they interact with nature in the outdoors – that is, they learn much in the field.  We believe in experiential learning.  In other words, “field is the classroom”.

The education component of snow leopard project in Nepal has been to organize school youth, as snow leopard scouts, so they have collective voice in raising awareness in their local communities and society at large.  The program trains and supports high school youths (Snow Leopard Scouts) to work with local teachers, guardians, park rangers, livestock herders, and other stakeholders, in community-based wildlife monitoring targeting snow leopards and prey species.  Snow leopard scouts work with herders, their parents, and other community stakeholders.  The hidden agenda 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 has reached two objectives:

1. Elevate local students’ awareness level on snow leopards and local biodiversity by conducting special students’ snow leopard/environmental camp while delivering a “once-in-a-lifetime experience” featuring wildlife watching, essay-writing and nature drawing

2. Create a net-work of young snow leopard scouts who promote snow leopard conservation

And in 2013 we plan to reach our final objective:

3. Make the snow leopard network self sustainable at the regional level so the network runs the activities at local level on its own.







The snow leopard scouts program has been and will continue to be popular not only among students but also among guardians, park and buffer zone authorities in Everest. Activities in several frontiers have been recommended –
– Continue the environmental workshop and field-excursion, every year, in which new batch of students will get exposure.
– Continue publication of snow leopard scouts booklet series.
– Find mechanisms for self-sustainability (Already, a portion of the interest of the snow leopard savings and credit program comes directly to support snow leopard scouts activities)
– Equip students with cameras to track snow leopards.

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News from Tshewang and Rodney from Bhutan

Dec 11, 2012 5:43 pm

On Tuesday, October 16, Rodney Jackson posted on his Facebook page:

“I’m off to Thimpu, Bhutan for three weeks to work with our partners to establish a community-based stewardship program. I will report back at the earliest opportunity!”

Here is the first report on the trip from Tshewang Wangchuk, the executive director of the Bhutan Foundation and member of the board of the Snow Leopard Conservancy:

Rodney and I made the two day trek into the mountains and are now in Soe Dangojang, at the base of Mt. Jumolhari, Bhutan’s sacred mountain.

For the last two days we were working with local communities, the park officials and other government officials to discuss details of a community-led snow leopard conservation program for the region. Today we will hike with community members to set up their camera traps. We will then cross the ridge, two lakes, a big pass and then move to the next community, Soe Yaksa.

During the day we get clear blue skies, great view of the peaks, but night time temperatures are well below freezing. Cell phone coverage is amazing here, but the internet is very very slow – so we will send pictures later. However from today we are behind another mountian so there will be no cell phone coverage.

There is a lot of snow leopard activity in the region and the people are excited about working together to minimize yak mortality, increase their income, and conserve snow leopards.

Will send you more updates once we have better access to the internet, which will only be around the 29th or so. Best wishes from the base of Mt. Jumolhari where the yaks are strong, the snow leopards thriving, and internet rather slow (but at least we have it).

Yakse village viewKnot exercise_Soe


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There and Back Again: An Update from the Altai, September 2012

Dec 11, 2012 5:34 pm

Greetings from Gorno-Altaisk, the capital city of the Altai Republic. We arrived here three days ago and it really feels like an emergence into the modern world. The streets are bustling with people living their city lives, destinations in mind, plans to meet and people to see. Gorno is a picturesque city, nestled between rolling green hills and lined with trees, changing with the arrival of autumn–the city will turn on the heat soon, warming the lives of the Siberians who endure a frigidly cold winter that lasts until May.

It couldn’t have been a better time to arrive, as we got to celebrate the 84th birthday of the city with what seemed like the whole population last night. The city square (where the Snow Leopard Day Festival will be held in just one week) transformed into a stage filled with music, dance, light shows and fireworks. Children sat on shoulders, teenagers pushed through the crowd, old women watched in awe and we just soaked it all in.
We are staying in the apartment of our translator, Natalya and her two young daughters. Much time is spent in humorous ways of communication: funny faces, humming and singing, and the very few words any of us know in our non-native tongues. Kids are always the most fun to communicate with when there is a lack of linguistic relation.

Now that I’ve brought you up to speed with current life, let’s go back two weeks to where I last left you.

We left Kosh-Agach after helping in the museum interviewing students, teachers, and local conservationists. This is a much deserved shout-out to Alice, SLC volunteer, who has been a great help throughout the trip, especially when it comes to entertaining the unusual amount of babies that have been present during our interviews. Without her, our film would be laden with the hiccups, screams, laughs, and chirps of Russian infants. And more notably, Alice has contributed countless valuable questions that will enrich and further our understanding of the development of SLC’s work in the Altai.
Our journey back along the road that we came signified the turning of our trip toward the our ascent back to the States. Chiminsky Pass, the paved two-lane highway that cuts through the Altai mountains, is said to have been built  on the bodies of the Russians who did the work, which means this highway was extremeley dangerous and difficult to build but now allows access into some of the most remote territories on earth.

The thick clouds dispersed in front of a beautifully sunny day made for some of the most dramatic scenery as we twisted down in elevation to our next destination, Chui-Oozy, a small eco-tourism settlement. Before arriving, we witnessed the most breathtaking double rainbow in the existence of my little life. We all sat in awe, in the middle of the empty highway, staring, mouths open.

We spent three days in Chui-Oozy, under the hospitality of Galina, a kind-eyed Altaian woman who let us interview her about tourism and her perspective of the current issues in the Altai and her hopes for the future. We also  visited a petroglyph site that depicted life up to 15,000 years ago. Wild animals, people, and the heavens were all strewn about the rocks–such ancient history so tangible and present. I felt human, and a part of such a truly amazing history of human consciousness.

We left Chui-Oozy, toward Inegen, a small settlement along a truly terrifying road that, as the locals told us, government officials won’t even travel. To travel this road was the best choice we could have made. Inegen is a magical place, as if from a fairytale you only fantasized about as a child. Set along the jade-green Khatun River and nestled in a lush, green valley between tall, protective mountains, Inegen probably only has 100-200 residents. It’s unique placement in the Argut River Valley, is a microclimate, perfectly abundant with healthy soil, sunshine and rain to have endless gardens. Each house is enveloped in green, thick gardens bursting with colorful flowers, perfectly delicious produce, and apple trees bearing the most crisp, sweet fruit.

We stayed in Irbis Eco-lodge, a small settlement on the outskirts of town owned by Olga and Slava, a sweet couple who have lived in Inegen all of their lives. I was gleeful, admiring the craftsmenship of their wooden yurts and felt blessed to spend a week sleeping in these round homes that I have had the aspiration to build ever since I spent time in Mongolia. With a sweet little dog named Malush (little one, in Russian), a fuzzy, furry white goat, and a lone horse, we spent our days enjoying the simplicity and quietness of life in Inegen. Again, we were greeted by the town with a curiosity that turned in to honest hospitality. And we met people passionate about saving the snow leopard and protecting the land that these people share with the wild animals of the Altai. We visited the school, visited peoples’ homes and shared countless cups of tea, homemade bread and jams, preserved vegetables and various salads.

It was hard to leave this place as this is the life I strive to live: simple, honoring nature and our place in the family of things, harvesting food grown in the yard, building the home I live in.

We left as dawn broke on Friday and as our trusty Russian utility van left the last of the bumpy, unpaved, dirt roads to be traveled on this trip, I felt a wave of nostalgia (already!) for the unpaved life, the gritty, the unpredictable, the undeveloped–a life that I revel in each time I leave the comfort of my own.


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Nepal Snow Leopard Scouts Update August-September 2012

Dec 11, 2012 5:31 pm

Snow Leopard Conservancy – Nepal program

Snow Leopard Scouts – Lower Mustang

Street Drama:  Snow Leopard Scouts – Lower Mustang performed the snow leopard street drama “Mountain  Queen, the Snow Leopard” in Muktinath during the Yartung (horse-riding) festival (2-3 August 2012).   Yartung, the most locally popular annual festival in Mukinath, attracts several hundreds of people from Mustang, Manang and Dolpo districts.  Yartung is celebrated in almost all sizable villages in these districts but the Yartung in Muktinath is special because of its strategic location – Muktinath, the holy abode for Buddhists and Hindus alike. The recently formed snow leopard scouts committee members along with other motivated students brilliantly performed the snow leopard drama.  The main aim of the street theatre was send a strong snow leopard conservation message to locals, civil servants, and national and international visitors. Students also performed local cultural dances and songs.  The Snow Leopard Scouts-Lower Mustang plan to publish the underlying story of the street drama in the form of a colorful comic book for a wide circulation.

Students performing street drama: Note the snow leopard trapped in poorly-constructed livestock corral
Photo of drama

Local people watching street drama
Audience watching the drama

Horse riding event during the Yartung festival
Yartung horse racing

Snow Leopard Scouts – Pokhara, Kaski Chapter

Interschool arts competition:  The Snow Leopard Scouts – Pokhara, Kaski chapter has been registered as Snow Leopard “Open Scouts Troop” of the environmental wing under Nepal Scouts – Kaski.  The Inter-school snow leopard art competition was held on 8 September 2012 in Nepal Scouts – Kaski office.  The program was jointly organized by SLC’s Nepal program, Annapurna Conservation Area Project, and Nepal Scouts, to motivate and mobilize youths for conservation and education activities.  The program was inaugurated and chaired by Sarada Prajuli, Kaski District Commissioner of Nepal Scouts.  In total, 45 students and 20 teachers from 31 schools, 10 special guests from different organizations, 12 members from Nepal Scouts-Kaski, and a few reporters from local newspapers attended the program.  Students were instructed to draw a comic-style nature drawing depicting snow leopard and its prey.  The essential element of the arts competition was that students were to include the images of snow leopard and associated species “conversing”! The best three students were awarded during the occasion.  The participants watched wildlife documentaries and were given lectures on the importance of snow leopard and biodiversity conservation.  Nepal Scouts hosted the program – led by the District Joint Commissioner, Dhiraj Thapa.  The event was highlighted in three local newspapers (Adarsha Samaj, Himjut, Kalam and United Pokhara).

The snow leopard event banner (note the snow leopard image on the background of “snow leopard scouts logo”)
pokhara art competition banner

Snow leopard arts display for juries and others for inspection
pokhara art judging

Participants watching snow leopard-wildlife documentary
pokhara audience watching wildlife documentary

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Russian Altai Report August/September 2012

Dec 11, 2012 5:29 pm

I write you all from the frontier town of Kosh-Agach and the town is bustling with the anticipation of the first day of school (September 1st for all schools in Russia). There are kids running through the streets, extactic about their new school clothes and supplies and parents with furrowed brows, double checking that everything is in place before summer ends. Along with the end of summer comes the beginning of winter (as autumn and spring are short lived here) with the first snow fall often arriving in the beginning of October.

We’ve settled nicely in our little hotel room, sharing quarters with the family that owns Hotel Centralnaya. By now we are famiiar with their two baby boys and countless family members that are in and out, drinking tea and cooking meals in the kitchen. There are lots of laughs even with our language barrier and they find it funny that we seem to make friends with new guests every night, discussing everything from Kyrgz farmers, Russian border guards, and the slightly sensitve subject of the harvesting of Red Deer antlers for traditional medicine. Many people are curious about us and ask with honest curiosity about our work and what it means to us. All of these answers become more clear every day as we visit local activists, organization leaders and teachers.

So far, our most notable interview has been with Maya Erlenbaeva, cultural expert of Altaian culture (she’s Altaian, herself!), and former deputy-director of Quiet Zone Ukok Nature Park. She is a lovely woman, mentioned in Darla’s last visit to the Altai, who lives here in Kosh-Agach and has a deep understanding of the importance of conservation and preserving the culture and traditions of the native Altaian people. Her son, Tengis, mentioned in the last blog entry, is truly beautiful.

Maya and Tengis in his warm wool vest:
Natalya and I interviewing Maya:

We are all very happy with our first official interview, and we fimed the whole thing! One of our many goals here in the Altai is to gather enough footage and interviews to make a short film about the Altai. We know that Altaian culture has a lot to teach the rest of us humans living on earth and their reverential relationship with the snow leopard must be shared.

Maya explained that Altaians believe (they are traditionally a Shamanistic culture) that the snow leopard is the guardian of their ancestors. Up in the high mountains, these ancestors live as spirits and the snow leopard is the intermediary between the living world and the spiritual world. A person who kills a snow leopard will be punished by the spirits, so it is forbidden to kill this totemic animal.
Maya’s words were inspiring, informative and necessary for the world to hear. We are thankful for her ardent participation and look forward to sharing more with you all when the film is completed!

We also finished tidying up and adding our own touch to the Snow Leopard Museum and visitor center that just opened 10 days ago! Here is the display we created:


And I will leave you with a gorgeous shot of the Altai Mountains:

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