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Snow Leopard Guard from Altai upland village became the 'The Pride of Russia"

28 march 2019
The public project that praises “the ordinary people of Russia who make global things every day” called the member of WWF project “The Pride of Russia”.

The public project that praises “the ordinary people of Russia who make global things every day” called the member of WWF project “The Pride of Russia”. The hero of the story was Mergen Markov is a local hunter of the Republic of Altai who was involved along with the other 5 local people into snow leopard conservation. Mergen guards 5-6 snow leopard patrolling the area, doing camera trapping, removing snares and traps. 

The resident of the village of Argut, Mergen Markov, became a hero of the "Pride of Russia" project, when he was listed among the Russians who, according to the project authors, "every day do things the entire nation should be proud of". The hunter Mergen Markov has been a participant of the Altai snow leopard conservation project run by the WWF Altai-Sayan Programme and Pernod Ricard Rouss company since 2015. Since 2017, the project involves the employees of Sailugemsky National Park. Besides Mergen, five more people from remote villages of the Kosh-Agachsky District in the Altai Republic assist the experts in the Altai snow leopard studies and conservation by patrolling the entrusted snow leopard habitat areas, checking and setting camera traps, removing traps and snares, and raising awareness about environmental campaigns. The villagers learned operating camera traps; for trips, they get a field uniform and a daily allowance. At the end of every year, if the camera traps still register snow leopards in their habitat areas, which means that the animals are alive and well, the project participants receive a reward. 

Кот на миллион. Фильм Русской службы Би-би-си.

Talking about small feats of Mergen Markov, the authors of the "Pride of Russia" project gave the floor to the hero himself. Mergen, whose name is translated from the Altai language as "hunter", is the first member of the snow leopard conservation project. Mergen guards at least five snow leopards of the Argut River valley, including the well-known individuals: the males named Kryuk and Yunur. Last year, Mergen’s cameras captured a unique moment in the Argut River valley, where the Sailugemsky National Park inspectors have been actively working since 2013. In the pictures made by the camera trap, the female snow leopard named Yunchi with two cubs are sniffing at a log that may seem ordinary at first, but in fact it is a fallen tree the poachers used for setting snow leopard snares. The locals confirm that at least two leopards were caught there. Now the snow leopards in the area move around freely and reproduce their population; since 2015, WWF Russia has registered a slight increase in the number of snow leopards. 

Mergen Markov saves the snow leopard on Altai
(с) WWF Russia, Ivan Usanov, Y. Butushev

The “Pride of Russia” project authors heard of Mergen and the project of WWF, Pernod Ricard Rouss and Sailugemsky National Park from the BBC Russia piece titled “The Million Dollar Cat”. The BBC crew came to the Altai Republic in the autumn of 2018 to meet Mergen, who was of great interest to the correspondents, and to tell about the activity of this Argut hunter from the moment he first met the snow leopard conservation team until today, when he proficiently deals with photomonitoring of leopards in the Altai mountains.

In December 2018, the video “The Million Dollar Cat: Hunters Become Snow Leopard Keepers in the Altai” and the article “The Million Dollar Cat: Why Hunters Become Snow Leopard Keepers in the Altai” in Russian were published by BBC Russia. On March 26th, 2019, BBC News released a video story of Mergen Markov “The Ex-Poachers Saving Big Cats in Russia” in English. On the official BBC Facebook account alone, the story of Mergen collected over 5,500 likes and 200 comments from users all over the world in two days only. Among the received messages, there are: “We would like to see more initiatives like this, please”, "What a wonderful paradox: a former offender became a snow leopard guardian", "The triumph of common sense, that’s a great way to get the local population involved". 

"The future of snow leopards in Russia today depends on the attitude of the local people who live on the same land with this rare predator, since the major threat to the species is poaching. WWF Russia and its partners hope that this year we will manage to get the locals involved in snow leopard conservation in Buryatia and Tyva, another habitat of snow leopards. And we will help the public environmental teams, like we do in the Altai ", says Alexander Karnaukhov, Project Coordinator of the WWF Altai-Sayan Programme.

Russia is home to not more than 2% of the global snow leopard population, estimated by WWF as 4,000 individuals. According to WWF Russia, in our country about 70–90 snow leopards inhabit the territory of the Republic of Tyva, Altai and Buryatia. From February to April 2019, annual snow leopard counting initiated by WWF Russia are held in our country. This year, the counting was supported by: VTB Bank, The World Around You Foundation of the Siberian Wellness Corporation and Xiaomi company. This year, the experts use their smartphones with a special mobile application for snow leopard counting for the first time. The application was developed in 2018 by the Moscow company NextGIS upon the WWF initiative.

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