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Can international police help snow leopards?

interpol-and-environmental-crimes-1-728Recently INTERPOL, along with the Snow Leopard Trust, the Snow Leopard Foundation Kyrgyzstan and Kyrgyz government agencies, made an exciting announcement about their partnership on a snow leopard protection initiative in that country.

INTERPOL is the International Criminal Police Organisation, an intergovernmental organisation facilitating international police cooperation. One of INTERPOL’s objectives is to fight environmental crime, that is, illegal acts which harm the environment. INTERPOL aims to share information and illegal trade intelligence and increase cross border collaboration through their Wildlife Crime Working Group.

SL pelt Photo WWF UAE

Illegal snow leopard pelt. Photo WWF-UAE.

Unfortunately snow leopard poaching and smuggling of body parts is still happening throughout most range countries. All such poaching and smuggling activity is illegal but demand for snow leopard products still exists. In the past demand for body parts came from the medicine industry but now conservationists say demand is “fuelled by wealth, not health” by which they mean wealthy citizens wanting skins as ready-made rugs and taxidermy specimens, as status symbols. Rising affluence and increasing disposable incomes in consumer countries is now the major driver of snow leopard poaching. Studies in last few years have shown that snow leopard parts are traded in the wealthy coastal cities of China.

While the program just launched doesn’t cover China we hope it will help Kyrgyzstan’s snow leopards and the snow leopards of its neighbouring countries. Known as Citizen-Ranger Wildlife Protection Program (CRWPP), it will train, publicly honour, and financially reward park rangers and local community members who successfully apprehend illegal hunters.

Two poachers with snow leopard pelts arrested in Nepal in  2011. Photo Kathmandu Post

Two poachers with snow leopard pelts arrested in Nepal in 2011. Photo Kathmandu Post

The Snow Leopard Trust (SLT) has been working in Kyrgyzstan since 2002 focusing on community-based conservation, and more recently, with the Kyrgyz President for catalysing range-wide governmental action for snow leopard conservation. The SLT’s program in Kyrgyzstan, Snow Leopard Enterprises, has helped with the problem of hunting of snow leopards and wild sheep and goats by local community members. However, for many years, community members and rangers have expressed frustration at preventing poaching by outsiders.
“Our existing community-based conservation programs are not as effective against this outside threat,” says Brad Rutherford, Executive Director of the Snow Leopard Trust.

INTERPOL’s role will be to train rangers on investigative skills and standard enforcement techniques over a period of three years as part of their Project Predator. This project is supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Project Predator has been actively participating in international snow leopard conservation efforts for several years, including the drafting of the Law Enforcement Component in the Global Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Protection Program (GSLEP), 2013.

First photos of SLT program in Kyrgyzstan Pic SLT

One of the first photos of wild snow leopards in Kyrgyzstan from the Snow Leopard Trust’s remote camera’s helping with their conservation programs. Photo Snow Leopard Trust.

We congratulate the Snow Leopard Trust and partners in Kyrgyzstan on setting up this program which will help the endangered snow leopard population in their mountains.

We also hope that this type of training and INTERPOL’s involvement can be replicated in other snow leopard countries, including China, where demand for body parts appears to be high.

However much also needs to be done in non snow leopard range countries as the largest markets for illegal wildlife products are believed to be, in order, China, then the European Union and the USA. (IFAW Report 2013).

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