When I hiked deep into the remote Argut River area in October 2012, I gained new appreciation for the grueling work it takes to study snow leopards and protect them from poachers’ snares. Rangers spend weeks camped out in snowy, rocky mountains at high elevations in order to track the solitary animals and stop poachers. And now politics are making it even harder for the big cats.
The Russian government has just passed a series of laws intended to silence civil society. The laws restrict free speech in public, private, and on the internet, as well as Russian citizens’ freedom to associate with foreigners and international organizations. Another law imposes bureaucratic penalties and creates social stigma for groups receiving international grants.
Just this week, a critical $100,000 collaboration in Altai between The Altai Project, State University of New York, and Altaisky State Nature Reserve/Arkhar was canceled when Russia demanded that USAID shut down all Russian programs. This grant had already been officially approved, so we are now scrambling to replace funding for this winter’s vitally important patrols to stop illegal hunting.
Without international friends like you and me, snow leopards will die in poachers’ snares. The Russian government, while restricting international aid, fails to fund enforcement agencies responsible for protecting snow leopards and other endangered animals. One quarter of our canceled grant was to pay for enforcement patrols in Argut this winter. We need to make up that shortfall now. Show the world we care enough to protect these animals!
In 2012, The Altai Project provided over 50% of the Altai Republic’s entire budget for patrols enforcing wildlife protection. Annually we provide at least $27,000 – and sometimes much more – to Siberian nonprofits studying snow leopards and argali mountain sheep, pioneering new methods of stopping poachers, working to re-route a proposed natural gas pipeline away from wildlife sanctuaries and indigenous sacred lands, and supporting the nature park system. All of these efforts require moderate, long-term financial support to be effective, and they are all threatened by the Russian government’s efforts to silence its critics.
Despite these challenges, we know that Altai’s environmental defenders – people like Sergei Spitsyn, who spends over 25 weeks per year trekking over mountains in search of snow leopards and argali sheep – will never give up their fight to protect Altai’s natural and cultural heritage for future generations.
Altai and The Altai Project need your help now. We must raise $25,000 of emergency funding this holiday season to replace the lost grant award. Consider a gift of:
- $1,000 covers half the costs of a 7-day enforcement patrol to protect snow leopards from poachers
- $500 purchases a video/camera trap to use in poacher detection and wildlife studies
- $100 buy a warm sleeping bag, boots, or a tent for rangers and scientists to use on long alpine expeditions
- $50 buys a half-tank of vehicle fuel for team transportation
- $25 pays for a trained villager-herder to participate in enforcement patrols for a day, reinforcing the value of snow leopards in the local economy.
Although my travels this fall gave me new hope for the region’s burgeoning tourism economy and a sense of optimism about what the future may bring to Altai’s people, the mountain creatures and cultures of this land depend on us to survive. Please join me in protecting Altai’s nature and strengthening its communities!