Following up from my trip to the Altai Mountains this July I found out Rodney Jackson from the Snow Leopard Conservancy visited the area in August and trained some local residents from Inegen and staff from the Altaisky Nature Reserve to do snow leopard counts in the Argut River valley. This beautiful part of Russia still has a snow leopard population but little is known about the size of that population or their movement. Rodney trained the team to use the Reconyx RapidFire and HyperFire cameras and they installed seven cameras along the main snow leopard transit routes. This month there’ll be more camera traps purchased with financial assistance of Panthera and the Altai Assistance Project.
WWF Russia is also involving local communities of the Koch Agach region, where our July Altai snow leopard project team went regularly for supplies. I like the idea of local involvement. While research is important it must be done at the same time as education and antipoaching efforts. The approach by WWF is to get local people involved in conservation and rare species monitoring, that is, animals like snow leopards and their prey species the wild argali sheep. Trained teams will remove illegal snares and traps, as well as educate their fellow locals on issues relating to nature conservation.
While in Altai I searched high and low for souvenir items with snow leopard motifs. In fact it was a task I asked the entire team to help me with, but after 2 weeks of 10 people looking we found only one. Birgit, our eagle eyed Austrian team member found a felt souvenir with a jolly woman selling at the edge of the road one day.
So I’m happy to hear about a recent workshop on felt making organized by Fund of Sustainable Development of Altai (FSDA) with the support of UNDP/GEF Project in Kosh – Agach. Felt making has been less popular in recent times but it could provide a good income for women especially if ecotourism is fostered and people want souvenirs. The felt teachers are not only teaching the craft but also encouraging the women to use snow leopard and argali motifs, thereby educating tourists about local wildlife. I’m hoping next time I go to Altai these lovely items will be everywhere.