WWF Altai-Sayan Newsletter issue #13: July – September, 2010

WWF Russia and WWF Mongolia share the main achievements of both offices in Altai – Sayan Ecoregion regarding species conservation, protected areas, ecotourism, public awareness, education, eco clubs, fresh water. For the full version of the newsletter in pdf format,
click here
. Several articles reference snow leopards:

WWF Russia
Camera Trapping in Argut River Valley

Snow Leopard Camera Trapping project started in August in Argut Valley – the largest snow leopard distribution in Russia located in the very heart of Altai Mountains. Over the next six months (October 2010-March 2011), a pilot monitoring project of the Argut snow leopard population will take place in this region, thanks to support from WWF, UNDP/GEF, Panthera Foundation, Altai Assistance Project and The Altai Project.

With support from UNDP/GEF a seminar for local residents took place in the Argut Valley village of Inegen on August 23-28, 2010.

Rodney Jackson of the Snow Leopard Conservancy (USA), a leading international snow leopard expert was invited to serve as the seminar’s instructor. During the training in Inegen, two local residents already involved in snow leopard population counts in the Argut River valley and Sergei Spitsyn, a rare species expert at Altaisky Nature Reserve, were trained in the use of digital Reconyx RapidFire and HyperFire cameras, as well as their implementation in snow leopard habitat and techniques for conducting camera-trapping population surveys for snow leopard.

The seminar took place in snow leopard habitat and concluded with the installation of the first seven cameras along the main transit routes of this rare predator. In October the number of camera traps, purchased with support from Panthera Foundation and the Altai Assistance Project, will be increased to twenty in the Argut Valley. The project will be implemented by local Inegen residents under the leadership of experienced staff from Altaisky Nature Reserve. As a result of the project, the development of a method for estimating snow leopard populations in the Argut Basin is planned. The active participation of local residents in this project engages them in snow leopard protection as a part of their natural and cultural heritage.

Another project goal is the development of a unique camera-trapping ecotourism route in the Argut River valley as part of a transboundary tourism route known as “Land of the Snow Leopard”.

On this route tourists can see not only unique landscapes along the Northern Chuisky and Katunsky Ridges, but they can also photograph local fauna, including the snow leopard, using camera traps. Local Inegen residents will organize the entire tour as part of Irbis-Ecotour’s tourism package, a project that has been underway in the Argut River valley for two years with support from WWF and UNDP/GEF. Finally, another planned aspect of this project is the establishment of a Snow Leopard Museum, meant to contain both scientific information about the species as well as the traditional knowledge of Altaian peoples about this charismatic predator of the high mountains. The museum will be a popular attraction not just for tourists traveling along the route, but also for local residents interested in protecting the snow leopard as a symbol of Altai.

WWF Russia
Community inspection is established in Republic of Altai to take part in anti – poaching activities in the key territory for argali and snow leopard conservation

Establishing of community inspection in Kosh – Agachsky Region near the Mongolian border is aimed to involve local indigenous people into nature conservation and rare species monitoring. Along with the government agencies the inspectors can remove illegal nets, snares and traps, help struggle poaching and conduct propaganda of nature conservation among the local villagers. They can monitor the situation and report to the law-enforcement agencies about the violations found. WWF provided the inspectors with the necessary equipment (cameras, means of communication, binoculars).

In July the representatives of nature conservation governmental organizations, law-enforcement agencies of Republic of Altai and the members of ten communities of indigenous people – telengits – gathered together to discuss the issues of public inspections. Ere – Chui – the Association of telengit communities was the organizer of the workshop supported by UNDP/GEF project.

At the workshop local people learned about the rights, obligation, duties and constraints of the public inspection, discussed the possibilities of the joined cooperation.
In whole the inspection is planned to consist of 15 telengit communities (30-35 inspectors), distributed all across Chuy valley and surrounding mountains. Every Telengit community is responsible for protection of its native mountain ranges and valleys and has real ability to decrease poaching in the habitats Argali and Snow Leopard – sacred animals for telengit people.

WWF Russia
“Land of Snow Leopard” Ecotourism Project as a tool to protect Irbis and Argali by local communities

“Land of Snow Leopard” project is a joint initiative of WWF and UNDP/GEF Project to involve local communities of Altai, Tuva and Western Mongolia to ecotourism development in the habitats of Snow Leopard and Altai Argali. The project will develop a transboundary ecotourism route based on local communities in South-Eastern Altai, South-Western Tuva and Western Mongolia, so local people will be able to have good income from tourist.

One of the most attractive features of “Land of Snow Leopard” route is an excellent opportunity to watch wild animals – Altai argali, Siberian Ibex, wolves, marmots, raptors and water foul. So, the protection of biodiversity by local communities will attract ecological tourists in the area and provide support for local people. Local people can work as tourist guides, souvenir makers and homestays providers. Due to WWF support last summer two ecotourist camps were established in Sailugem range by local communities of Telengit people. This area is the habitats of the largest Altai argali population on the border of Russia and Mongolia (about 500-600 individuals) and an excellent place to watch and film this endangered animals. In July 2010 the established camps opened the doors for the first visitors – WWF experts from Russia and Mongolia.

In September local people of Sailugem range participated in good training on tourist guiding and developed several routes for ecotourism excursions in argali and snow leopard habitats. The workshop was conducted by the trainers of Teaching Centre of Protected Areas in Republic of Altai organized with the support of WWF “Protected Areas for a Living Planet” Project. The Land of Snow Leopard route will start to operate next year conserving unique species of Altai-Sayan.

WWF Russia
Snow Leopard and Argali inspired the Masters of Felt Making of Republic of Altai

On September, 23 – 24 the workshop on felt making was organized by Fund of Sustainable Development of Altai (FSDA) with the support of UNDP/GEF Project in Kosh – Agach District. The main goal was not only to teach felt making but also inspire the locals to use the images of argali and snow leopard for the souvenirs.

In 2009 year the resurrecting of felt making in Republic of Altai became an important part of alternative livelihoods development programme for the people living close to protected areas for “Protected Areas for a Living Planet” project of WWF in Altai – Sayan Ecoregion. This kind of traditional craft has been almost forgotten in the area but it could be a good source of income for local people living in the habitats of rare species and a means of raising their livelihoods.

WWF concentrated on providing the local people with a chance to learn the new skills of felt making and experience share. “Marketing Commonwealth” festival in Mongolia was a starting point for Altai women to learn the basis of felt making. The number of new felt masters have been growing like a snow ball and at the moment there are about hundred of felt masters in Republic of Altai who continue teaching the other local people.
The workshops in September were organized only for the local people of three districts – the crucial for argali and snow leopard conservation. Revenue received from selling souvenirs will raise their income and help diminish illegal hunting and wild plants picking pressure. Besides the felt souvenirs will became an essential part of every camp of “Snow Leopard Land”.

Felt souvenirs are the famous, attractive and ecologically pure souvenirs popular all over the world. The resurrecting of felt making traditions is not only a chance for livelihoods growing but also the possibility to show the world cultural and natural heritage of Altai.

Snow Leopard – a Treasure of Tuva. WWF introduces Tuva journalists to the snow leopard (Tsagaan Shibetu Ridge)

Altai – Sayan Project of WWF became a member of a large- scale project “Tos Ertine” (Nine Treasures) in Republic of Tuva which is aimed to identify nine the most precious places and events of Tuvin Land. WWF proposed a snow leopard as a real treasure of Tuva. To support snow leopard WWF organized a press-tour for local TV-companies and newspapers to South-Western Tuva – a real Land of Snow Leopard. Headed by the experts of Ubsunurskaya Kotlovina Nature Reserves the journalists had a chance to visit the key habitat of a snow leopard in Tuva – a mysterious place of Tsagan-Shibetu Ridge near the border with Mongolia. Tsagan-Shibetu is one of the key snow leopard distributions in Altai-Sayan Ecoregion located in transboundary zone of Russia and Mongolia. The total number of snow leopards in Tsagan-Shibetu population is about 20 individuals.

The journalists spent three days in Tsagan-Shibetu Mountains, so that they could personally experience how the snow leopards live and survive in places which were once their hunting range and now they are settled by herders. They found out how the poachers capture leopard cubs to sell to private zoos of rich people. How, due to decrease of wild ungulates by

poachers irbis is forced to attack domestic livestock of local herders. The journalists learned more about conservation projects of WWF and other conservation groups to protect snow leopards: in 2007-2008 all livestock pens in snow leopard habitats were protected with metal mesh and number of livestock killed by snow leopards decreased 5-8 times; in 2010 an ecotourism project called “Land of Snow Leopard” started in South-Western Tuva in cooperation with herder communities; new cluster of Ubsunurskaya Kotlovina Nature reserve is planned on Tsagan-Shibetu Ridge.

The visit to snow leopards was also annexed to the field work of The Institute of Ecology and Evolution, Russian Academy of Sciense in Tsagan-Shibetu Ridge. This project was made possible by Government of Russian Federation in the frameworks of the Big Cat program devoted to wild cats study and conservation in Russia including an endangered snow leopard. The scientists have been working in Tsagan-Shibetu since June, and every day they carefully set up and check their camera traps to get pictures of irbis. Their goal is to try out the new methods of research of irbis populations in South-Eastern Tuva: using camera traps and DNA analysis for precise estimation of snow leopard number, satellite collars to learn more about irbis home range and movements. More than 40 camera traps had been set up on Tsagaan-Shibetu ridge but the only and the very first sharp image of the irbis was taken right on the day the journalists arrived. RECONIХ camera took a picture in grayish fog, but a distinct silhouette of a snow leopard can be seen in profile: the irbis was moving along the path in early dusk. Inspired and amazed the journalist went home.

WWF Mongolia
Nature conservation through involving local residents and supporting their initiatives

WWF Mongolia aims to conserve the nature through strengthening local people on their self-development and livelihood improvement. Within this aim it supports herders’ community groups in many ways. Such example was a 3-day meeting on strengthening management team of herder community groups and evaluation of their activities was carried out in August 2010. Around 10 herder community groups from saiga range area have participated in the event and many of them were newly established. The participants shared their experience and lessons learned on group development, livelihood improvement options and conservation activities. A first draft of work plan for the coming year was elaborated in a participatory approach which will focus more on surface water resources. A volunteer ranger is agreed to be nominated within each community group.

Besides, the groups have held their annual Community Development Festival with participation and support of local authorities. Activities also made aware about the advantages of becoming community group member and encouraging them to join a community-based organization. During the festival, a trade exhibition was organized displaying various products made by herders. Other entertainment shows such as sport games contests, quiz and art show have been held as well. The festival enabled the local communities have in-depth knowledge and benefits as the key tool to accelerate the rural development.

Community groups trans-boundary cooperation

Members of some community groups of Uvs and Khovd provinces participated in the International Felt Festival 2010 which was held in Tuva, Russia. There were number of wool masters from many countries and provinces of Russia such as Abakan, Bashkorstan, Khakasia, Krasnoyarsk attending the event. Trade fair was displayed with various activities like wool processing, product making shows, competitions on several nominations and so on. Mongolian participants expressed their satisfaction as they have gained awards in 2 nominations, e.g. the best processed felt and best souvenir product. They were grateful to the organizers as they learned a lot from the masters of other countries. Contact with some of them is being maintained which would open new horizons to expand the existing market.

Afterwards, an advanced training on wool and felt products design was conducted with financial and logistical support of WWF Mongolia with totally 24 wool masters of community groups from Uvs and Khovd provinces have been trained and certified.

WWF Russia
WWF and Oxfam –GB joint project works on capacity building of local people in Tuva

Potential Business Trainers Workshop held in Kyzil City in Tuva in September was aimed to identify potential people willing and capable to become the business trainers. Being involved as trainers into the workshops they will later share their knowledge with the local people who live in three key districts for snow leopard and argali conservation in Tuva. Teaching local people business basis will help them start their own business and raise the livelihood and moreover to distract them from poaching for food in this area which is the main reason for illegal hunting as reported in WWF – Oxfam survey last year.

The workshop was headed by the experts from the European part of Russia who used their own “Start Your Business” Programme to teach the new-comers the basis of training and training organization.

Eleven participants (mostly women) attended a 5 day-long full-time workshop learning the aspects of working with people, training and developing communicative skills. At the end of the meeting everyone had to prove the skills they had obtained. The participants had to conduct a part of a made-up training, demonstrate the use of exercises, elaborate their own methodological materials and so on. Six people with a high potential for becoming the professional trainers were identified.

WWF Mongolia
Altai-Sayan PA administration staff start to undertake quality research activities at experts level

A major research work has been carried out by the staff of five Altai-Sayan PA administrations in the Khasagt Khairkhan mountain range, a division of the Altai mountain system. Studies covered the distribution, habitat range and population patterns of rare and endangered species such as the Snow Leopard, Siberian Ibex, Red Deer and some avian species.

As it was decided to establish a new administration to conserve the integrity of Khasagt Khairkhan Strictly Protected Area’s biodiversity, this research study is of key significance which would serve as baseline documentation for development of management plan.

The core feature of this research tour is that the PA administration staffs have carried out the research studies themselves without any technical backstopping at high professional level, which we truly believe to be the key outcome of WWF’s interventions.

Furthermore, the participants have had a unique opportunity to get on-job training as they apply theoretical knowledge in practice. For the last three years WWF Mongolia made tremendous efforts to build the capacity of PA staff at all levels through series of training sessions, technical consultancy and research activities with regular feedbacks.

Another major fish survey has been carried out in the Khar, Khar-Us, Khyargas and Airag lakes, in the Great Lakes Depression of the Altai-Sayan Mongolia part. For the last two decades, only ad-hoc based surveys were conducted with no consistent database. This survey is featured by its on-job training for the PA staffs that are further expected to carry-out observations and establish reliable database on regular basis.

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