Former Poacher Receives 2015 Disney Conservation Hero Award

Photo by F. KoopmansThe Altai Project is thrilled to announce that Altai’s newest snow leopard protector, Mergen Markov, a former poacher, has been honored with a Disney Conservation Hero Award from the Disney Conservation Fund! The award recognizes local citizens for their tireless efforts to save wildlife, protect habitats and educate communities. Recipients were nominated by non-profit environmental organizations like ours, and each honoree and their nominating organization will share a $1,500 award from DWCF.

An indigenous Altaian livestock herder and hunter, Mergen was initially approached by Altaisky State Nature Reserve’s senior scientist. Coming from a long line of hunters, the risk of leaving poaching was great for Mergen, who relied on the illicit income for his family’s livelihood. Sergei explained the incentive program to Mergen, and he cautiously agreed to be its first participant. Putting aside his snare-traps for camera-traps and hoping to secure images of new snow leopards, it was not long before he had captured incredible images of two snow leopard kittens. Nearly a year later, he is now a valued member of the patrol team and a true conservation hero! When he isn’t in the field, he’s talking to other herders and hunters about the importance of protecting wildlife and the dangers of poaching.

Watch a video of Mergen talking about why he became a snow leopard protector.

The Disney Conservation Fund focuses on protecting wildlife and connecting kids and families with nature. Since 2004, Disney has honored more than 100 leaders around the world for their extraordinary conservation efforts.

For information on Disney’s commitment to conserve nature and a complete list of 2014 Conservation Hero Award recipients, visit
Mergen Markov above Argut (Photo by S. Spitsyn)