The Snow Leopard's Saviour – Bayarjargal Agvaantseren
Snow leopards make their home in remote mountain ranges and are found at altitudes of 10,000 feet or more above sea level. A single individual’s territory can reach up to 200 square miles in size. Bayarjargal Agvaantseren has never seen one of these elusive big cats in the wild, a fact which makes her heroic efforts to save the species all the more remarkable. Before founding the Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation in 2007, Bayara worked for many years as a translator for snow leopard researchers in Mongolia, collaborating also with the country’s nomadic herding communities on conservation projects and community initiatives. In 2009 she learned that a huge area of important snow leopard habitat in the Tost Mountains had been licensed for prospecting, and it was then that her conservation battle truly began.
Over the ensuing years, Bayara would have to take on the mining industry, lobby government officials, work with the media on a mass public outreach campaign, and convince Mongolia’s herders that protecting the snow leopard could benefit them. Following years of tireless advocacy, Bayara’s work finally paid off in 2016, when the Mongolian Government established the 1.8-million-acre Tost Tosonbumba Nature Reserve – the first federally protected area in Mongolia created specifically for snow leopard conservation. Numerous active mining licenses remained, however, and Bayara continued to pressure the authorities for a further two years until the reserve was finally fully protected. Mining operations here are now completely outlawed. The reserve protects a core breeding population of snow leopards and forms part of a contiguous protected area of habitat that stretches for more than 20 million acres across the South Gobi.
For her colossal contribution to snow leopard conservation in Mongolia, Bayara was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2019. Though Tost Tosonbumba has been enshrined as a vital protected area for the snow leopard and many other species, Bayara’s work isn’t done. The big cats are still threatened by poachers, habitat loss, and herders who engage in retaliatory killings of snow leopards in response to livestock predation. The Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation aims to prevent this latter threat by providing livestock insurance for herders. The Foundation also supports research initiatives and manages Tost Tosonbumba in collaboration with local communities, training herds in how to patrol and monitor the reserve. Bayara also serves as the Mongolia director for the International Snow Leopard Trust.