Former hunters and locals are now providing protection for one of the key habitats of the snow leopard in Russia with support of the WWF.
Former poachers turned conservationists are helping snow leopard numbers increase
In a stroke of genius, former poachers have been recruited by the WWF to capture photographs of elusive snow leopards in Russia. Who better to track the shy, nocturnal creatures than the men who already have experience in their movements and behaviour patterns in order to trap and kill them in the past?
Ex-poachers now leaving cameras instead of traps to ‘capture’ leopards
It is not often that such clear pictures are made of snow leopards in daylight. These pictures are unique, because snow leopards are nocturnal animals and do not like to be seen during the day.
The pictures are taken using camera “traps” of former poachers in the Argus River valley in the Russian republic of Altai. The cameras are triggered by the passing of the animals, similar to the way they would have triggered traps in the past. Because the snow leopard population in Russia is relatively small, this is very good news!
Poachers turned conservationists
Traditionally, there was widespread poaching and hunting across the region, including snow leopards. There were hundreds of traps scattered throughout the area.
With the help of the WWF and the local people the traps are cleared or disabled, and the area is now protected. This family of snow leopards can walk around safely once again!
Protection by local people
The local population of Altai plays an important role in protecting the snow leopards.
Originally, many of these people come from families who were hunting snow leopards after the collapse of the Soviet Union to provide themselves with income.
In 2014, WWF and Pernod Ricard Rahimtulla set up a protection project for the animals, which informed the local population about the importance of snow leopards and the consequences of poaching.
Six of these ex-hunters are now working on the project and each have their own area where they have set up camera traps.
If it goes well with the snow leopards in their area, they get a premium. In the long term, the animals can give them more money than if they are poached and sold.
Slowly but surely the attitude of the locals is changing towards the snow leopards, and so the population can hopefully continue to grow.
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