17 Jun

Panthera Awards Second Winston Cobb Memorial Fellowship Benefiting Tajikistan’s Snow Leopards


Last year, the Winston Cobb Memorial Fellowship was launched to support the professional growth of early career wild cat conservationists. Created by Panthera supporter Rami Cobb, the annual Fellowship awards $10,000 to an exceptional young conservationist to undertake a three to six month field-based wild cat conservation internship.

We are excited to share that Panthera has awarded the second Winston Cobb Memorial Fellowship to snow leopard scientist Nuzar Oshurmamadov. A native of Tajikistan, Nuzar spent his childhood tracking snow leopards in the Eastern Pamir Mountains, exposed at a young age to human-snow leopard conflict and threats facing the species. Now, through this Fellowship, Nuzar will assist Panthera in addressing these threats by helping to implement a sustainable community-based hunting program of snow leopard prey species in Tajikistan’s Madiyan Gorge region.

Today, as many as 300 of the remaining 3,500-7,000 wild snow leopards are thought to live in the Tajik Pamirs – an area which provides a potentially critical link between the southern and northern regions of the snow leopard’s range, and a vital genetic corridor for the species. In 2010, threat assessments carried out by Panthera’s scientists identified overhunting of snow leopard prey species by local communities, including ibex, Marco polo sheep and markhor, as a major threat to the region’s snow leopards. Depleting snow leopards’ natural prey base, the overhunting of these ungulate species additionally fuels human-snow leopard conflict that arises when hungry snow leopards attack livestock.

Madiyan villagers map the natural resource availability of Madiyan Gorge, including identifying where snow leopards, Marco Polo sheep and ibex are found, to help establish a sustainable community-managed hunting program.

In response, Panthera has developed a team of sustainable hunting experts to establish a model program that will better regulate the off-take of ibex and Marco polo sheep (thus better conserving snow leopards in the region), bring direct social and economic benefits to local villagers through tourism initiatives, and preserve the traditional hunting culture of local Tajik communities. Nuzar will join this team as part of his internship. Now, after several meetings with local villagers to discuss the social benefits of preserving their community’s biodiversity, including gaining legal rights to protect the area and assisting in conducting scientific monitoring, the community is excited about the project, now well on its way.

Nuzar joins Panthera’s team as an intern, but brings an extensive background in the management of community-based sustainable ungulate hunting programs. After completing his Bachelor of Science degree at Tajikistan’s Khorog State University, Nuzar served as Staff Biologist for the Pamir Biological Institute of the Tajik Academy of Sciences, developing a large mammal database for the Gorno-Badakshan region.

Most recently, Nuzar assisted Panthera, University of Delaware graduate student Shannon Kachel, and the Tajik Academy of Sciences in implementing a snow leopard population monitoring survey in Tajikistan’s Jartygumbez Istyk River region. (See a snow leopard cub video from this region.) Focusing his dissertation on the status of ibex populations in the Gorno-Badakshan region, Nuzar is also currently completing his PhD in Wildlife Ecology at Khorog State University.

Nuzar and future awardees will collaborate closely with Panthera’s scientists and gain extensive field experience to develop their professional wildlife careers and the implementation of effective conservation projects.

Learn about Panthera’s other grants and prizes.

Learn more about Panthera’s Snow Leopard Conservation Program and work in Tajikistan.

Check out the Trekking with Tom blog series from Tajikistan and India.

Watch a video of a snow leopard stealing a camera trap in Tajikistan.

Tajikistan Photo Gallery