We hosted Ak Ilbirs Summer Camp as part of the “Kyrgyz traditional ecological knowledge based on the protection of the snow leopard and its habitat at the community level” project from 27 July to 1 August, 2016. The camp had two stages: The first was held in the Tar-Suu gorge in Chon-Kemin National Park, where the snow leopard lives, and the second stage in the Bilimkan school in Shabdan, Kemino district, Chui oblast.
Experts from Chon-Kemin National Park, the Academy of Sciences of the Kyrgyz REPUBLIC, project members of RDF, and members of the pastoral network, Kyrgyz El Akyl Kazyna, had united to organise the camp and its work. The camp leader, Erica Undeland, was an Intern at the Secretariat of the Global Program for the Conservation of the Snow Leopard and its Ecosystems.
The summer camp is part of the work with the local population with a focus on young generations. For the selection of participants, we had held a concours at the pilot schools in Bal-Bal village, Talas district, and Novorossiysk village, Kemin district, to select 14 students from those two schools aged 14 to 16 years and 2 children of the employees of Chon-Kemin National Park, while respecting gender and regional balances.
For 5 days, under the guidance of trainers and the custodians of traditional knowledge, students searched the footsteps of snow leopards, surveyed their habitats and fenced anthills, made birch twigs to hang on pine trees as winter feed for roe deer, installed salt mixture for wild animals, and created warning signs for tourists and visitors to the Park. They also learned to build yurts, stayed in them, experienced nature orientation using only compasses, kindled fire in the field without harming nature, and studied Kyrgyz traditions and crafts.
We were welcomed by a pleasant surprise when the camp leader and the students created a sequel to the children’s comic book on the adventures of Zhibi, the snow leopard cub. Students documented all their observations from the camp using photo reports, stories, poems, and drawings to share them with each other including new discoveries and surprises from studying the snow leopard habitats.
On the last day we held a discussion session to exchange opinions of the camp and to discuss how they could put in practice what they had learnt at the camp at their schools and communities where they lived. Students proposed to use school wall newspapers, photo reports and mini theatre performances. We ended the camp with an award ceremony where children received prizes by nomination and certificates of participation.
The camp was “rich” (Erica, the camp leader), “interesting” (children), and “educational” (parents of the children). Everyone who took part in the camp was very sad to leave. The children did not want to leave the camp and part with new friends. We were very pleased to know that that the environmental camp AK Ilbirs was so interesting to young minds, and hope that we will meet with them again in the future!