Land of the Snow Leopard Network

Since 2010, the Snow Leopard Conservancy has worked with its partners to build a coalition of Indigenous Cultural Practitioners (ICPs) who live and work in snow leopard habitat. The term ICP includes shamans, tribal medicine people, sacred site guardians, and revered elders.

The conservation community increasingly recognizes that cultural and biological diversity are deeply linkedand programs should take into account the ethical, cultural and spiritual values of nature. The framework for this creative merger is provided for in the United Nations’ Brundtland Report and Agenda 21 of the World Summit on Sustainable Development.  See links to these and other resources at the end of this page.

The goals in our Land of the Snow Leopard Network program are:

  • Merging western and indigenous approaches to scientific knowledge;

  • Establishing a precedent for Indigenous Cultural Practitioners (ICPs) to be co-equal partners in snow leopard conservation, standardize integration of relational world-views in such planning,

  • Revitalizing ancient ceremonies to remember and honor the snow leopard spirit as a unifier of humanity;

  • Establishing sacred sites as education/interpretive centers for the spiritual and terrestrial ecology of snow leopards;

  • Empowering cultural practitioners with new communication technologies, and building an on-line network.

2018

The Land of the Snow Leopard (LOSL) Network completed its third year of a groundbreaking collaboration between Western and Indigenous science, with the goal of creating pathways for Indigenous people to be equal partners in research and planning for conservation of snow leopards.

In September, Rodney, Charleen, and Darla traveled to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, to meet with LOSL’s seven Country Coordinators and other key Network members in order to work through some challenges of communicating in more than five languages and working in remote, mountainous snow leopard habitat across more than 600,000 square miles of the Altai Republic, Buryatia, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, and Tajikistan.

In the Network’s program areas, the snow leopard is not only a flagship species for biocultural diversity, it is the axis mundi of ancient traditions, legends, and beliefs. These beautiful, mysterious animals are protectors of sacred mountains, a unifying force, and a source of spiritual power and wisdom. Despite the remoteness of their high-mountain habitat, snow leopards are vulnerable to human-caused threats across a wide spectrum. Most of these cats roam outside the relative safety of national parks or other officially protected areas.

The LOSL network now includes over 100 organizations and individuals. The founding members include Shamans, Sacred Site Guardians, and revered Elders. They are referred to as Indigenous Cultural Practitioners (ICPs). An ICP is defined as “one who communicates with and receives support and guidance from the spirits/creator/ancestors/guardians.” While ICPs serve as guides, the greater LOSL community includes lifelong herders who know the ancient practices for reading and living in their environment, indigenous educators, historians, scientists, and traditional hunters.

The catalyst for this work is the Global Snow Leopard Ecosystem Protection Plan (GSLEP), whose leaders recognize that achieving the plan’s objectives will require collective action – including the full participation of local communities.

The strength of the LOSL Network is the knowledge and experience of the spiritual and cultural importance of Snow Leopards to the work of securing landscapes for their preservation. The challenge is to help the Snow Leopard range country governments understand and embrace the Spiritual nature of Snow Leopard and it’s fundamental place in indigenous practices and knowledge of how to protect the species.

Over the past three years, the Network has  made significant progress, in part through the creation of two database structures. One is a geospatial computer App for monitoring wildlife sightings, poaching incidents, and other data in a way that supports the goals of the GSLEP, including the overarching goal of “20 landscape-level snow leopard populations protected by the year 2020.”

Unique to this project is a platform that enables the members to collect interviews, stories, folklore, photos, and videos. Country Coordinators had collected a large amount of this culturally-important data, but they had encountered problems in getting the information onto the platform so it could be shared among the network members. Thus, the September meeting was called to deal with database management.

Once the technical problems were solved, a system and form for summarizing and categorizing photos, interviews, etc. that were considered of cultural and/or spiritual importance was developed. All summaries will be translated into Russian and English. This allows for easy sharing of the data, to identify commonalities, create reports, and develop tools for revival/preservation of traditional practices. No one has attempted this kind of effort before, to standardize the integration of culturally-important data into conservation planning and action for snow leopards.

ICPs and other LOSL Network members are already developing tools and taking an active lead in reviving traditional practices that save snow leopards.

  • They are bringing new ways of learning about snow leopards to their local schools. In Russia’s Buryat Republic, the Baikal Buryat Center for Cultural Conservation followed the example of the Conservancy’s Mongolian partner, Nomadic Nature Trunks. They introduced interactive conservation education through visits to all the schools in Okinsky Region. Norbu Lama, the local Buddhist spiritual leader, talked to students about the indigenous attitude towards nature and how to record observations using the LOSL snow leopard monitoring App.  The children at one school decided to write special love letters to snow leopards.

  • Norbu Lama worked for more than a year to achieve for Okinsky official designation as a Territory of Traditional Use of Natural Resources. The designation gives special management authority to local people.  This means that they can now, for example, protest mining, forbid hunting, and establish tourism. The territory includes Mönkh Saridag Mountain, sacred to Norbu’s community and the highest peak in the Sayan Mountain range. Mönkh Saridag is the site of Norbu’s annual community ceremony to honor Snow Leopard as their protector.

  • In Mongolia, Shaman Buyanbadrakh led the effort to establish Spirit Lord of Sutai Mountain in his home province of Hovd. The mountain is now officially acknowledged as a spiritual and cultural sacred site of the Mongolian Altai.

2017

After two years of effort, LOSL network member Association for Protection of Altai Cultural Heritage successfully established “Spirit Lord of Sutai Mountain” as intellectual property. Sutai Mountain, located in Khovd Province, stretches about 4090 meters) above sea level.

LOSL members from Kyrgyzstan and the Russian Altai Republic represented the network at the GSLEP Stocktaking and Steering Committee meetings held in Kathmandu, Nepal, in January.

Zhaparkul Raimbekov was invited by the UN and Kyrgyz Head to represent the Land of the Snow Leopard Network at a panel discussion in New York to mark International Snow Leopard Day, October 21, and to publicize the GSLEP.

Abdylkalyk Rustamov, Director of the Kyrgyz Agency on Environment Protection and Forestry stressed the importance of integrating climate-smart conservation efforts with the interests and needs of the local communities who share the snow leopard’s habitat.

In his closing blessing, Zhaparkulspoke of the inherent value and dignity of the snow leopard, and of the importance of mutual respect between all creatures.

2016

The Conservancy brought together 20 Indigenous Cultural Practitioners from Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and the Altai and Buryat Republics of Russia for a ten-day workshop in Mongolia. We outlined ways to improve cultural components of education programs, and drafted the content for a custom computer Application (APP) to facilitate wildlife monitoring and data collection in a way that supports the needs of local communities as well as the goals of the Global Snow Leopard & Ecosystem Protection Plan (GSLEP).

The participants selected Land of the Snow Leopard as both the name for our network and its App. The App was translated into the five languages used by our Network members. Field testing and refinement of the Beta version of the App continued through the year in anticipation of the planned GSLEP Steering Committee meeting, which was postponed until January 2017.

2012-2013

The Kyrgyzstan Head of State initiated a Ministry-level effort to create a Global Snow Leopard Ecosystem Protection Plan (GSLEP).  See Global Plan in our Conservation section for details.  This effort presented the first-ever opportunity to directly involve ICPs in such high-level planning for conservation.

The Conservancy convened a workshop of ICPs living and working in snow leopard habitat. Participants gathered in Kyrgyzstan and exchanged their experiences of and connections to snow leopards, and developed a Statement to present to the GSLEP Forum.

See a 15 minute video of this historic occasion.

In October 2013, the Forum delegates met at the Kyrgyz State Residence where the GSLEP was endorsed by all twelve snow leopard range countries. Rodney Jackson addressed the assembly and read excerpts from the ICP Statement. Kyrgyz Sacred Site Guardian Zhaparkul Raimbekov was asked to perform a brief closing prayer.

PARTNERS:

Association for the Protection of the Altai Cultural Heritage, Mongolia

Baikal Buryat Center for Indigenous Cultures

Slava Cheltuev, Shaman and Sacred Site Guardian, Altai-Russia

The Christensen Fund

Conversations du Monde

Ecological Movement of Kyrgyzstan, Alene,

Foundation for Sustainable Development of the Altai-Russia

Mongolian Herders’ Network

Nomadic Nature Conservation. Mongolia

Pamir Mountains NGO, Tajikistan

Zhaparkul Raimbekov, Sacred Site Guardia, Kyrgyzstan

Rural Development Fund, Kyrgyzstan

Salbuurun Federation, Kyrgyzstan

Soyot Khambo Lama Danzan

Taalim Forum, Kyrgyzstan

Worldwide Indigenous Science Network,

RESOURCES

United Nations Framework

Our Common Future, also known as the Brundtland Report, from the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED), 1987.

http://www.un-documents.net/wced-ocf.htm

Agenda 21, UN Conference on Environment and Development, 1992.

http://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/Agenda21.pdf