Chüy Region - Three hours by car to the east of the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek lies the world's largest open-air enclosure for snow leopards. NABU's rehabilitation and environmental education centre is a unique establishment in Kyrgyzstan and has a long history. The facility located in Suluu-Terek, however, was only opened recently, in 2022. Injured animals that have been found or confiscated are taken in here, receive medical treatment and, whenever possible, are returned to the wild after regaining their health. If the animals are severely hurt and can no longer survive in the wild, they remain under NABU's permanent protection and care.
Baktybek Azhybekov is the rehab centre's veterinarian, responsible for the medical care of all the animal residents. As the facility includes a veterinary station with an operating room, he is able to react quickly and carry out almost all medical procedures himself. The rehabilitation centre consists of a main building and aviaries for wild birds. Behind this, spread over green slopes, are located the massive open-air enclosures for snow leopards and other wild animals.
The NABU rehab centre returns an animal to the wild - photo: NABU Kyrgyzstan
Reintroduction to the wild - photo: NABU Kyrgyzstan
The NABU rehabilitation centre as a place of learning
The rehab centre has also dedicated itself to the cause of environmental education, and is open to visitors as a place of learning. For nature can only be successfully protected in the long term if awareness and support are raised in the local population. On site, schoolchildren can get to know the native wildlife of their homeland, university students can conduct scientific studies, and visitor groups can hold events. "In Kyrgyzstan, there are only a few zoos and museums. The schools barely offer any environmental education", explains Tolkunbek Asylkulov, head of the NABU office in Bishkek. "That's why we see it as our task to convey to people what nature and species conservation really means."
Working locations of NABU in Kyrgyzstan - graphic (German): NABU/ Marc Scharping
Aside from the new rehabilitation centre, NABU also operates an environmental education centre located in the project region of the Kara-Kujur Valley. There, NABU Kyrgyzstan offers children, youth and other interested visitors a chance to observe the local project activities. These include, for example, snow leopard protection carried out by the anti-poaching unit Gruppa Bars.
Gruppa Bars (English: Group Snow Leopard) patrol on behalf of NABU and implement effective measures against poaching. They follow up on every tip regarding poaching activity, check fur traders at markets and search for traps set up in the mountains. The rangers are primarily active in the north and south of Kyrgyzstan.
Snow leopards are among the most endangered big cats on earth. Only 4,000 to 6,400 animals now live in the wild. NABU has been committed to the survival of snow leopards in Kyrgyzstan since 1999 and has extended its commitment to Tajikistan, Pakistan and Nepal.
Only about 300 snow leopards remain in India. Thanks to the High Asia Habitat Fund human-wildlife conflicts have decreased in Ladakh, reducing one of the biggest threats to snow leopards. Therefore, the organizaion receives the NABU Snow Leopard Award 2022.
NABU realises its project „Sustainable yak husbandry in the Kyrgyz Tien Shan Mountains” as part of the Federal Environment Ministry's Advisory Assistance Programme in Middle and Eastern Europe states, Caucasus and Central Asia.