After working for a wildlife scientist during the 1980s, Bayarjargal Agvaantseren became determined to save endangered big cats.

Due to poaching and habitat loss, the big cat population in southern Mongolia is dwindling. Farmers who were adamant about protecting their livestock victimized some of these cats, namely snow leopards.

Agvaantseren’s first major accomplishment was the creation of a livestock insurance program for local herders.

“Once local people’s loss was compensated, their attitude changed,” said Agvaantseren. “They didn’t see the snow leopard as an enemy anymore.”

In 2009, she learned that a portion of the South Gobi Desert that serves as critical habitat for snow leopards was to undergo extensive mining operations. The local population quickly got on board with her campaign to stop the mining and to protect the snow leopards.

In 2016, the 1.8 million-acre region became the Tost Tosonbumba Nature Reserve. It’s the country’s first federally protected area for snow leopard conservation and is home to some of the 1,000 rare snow leopards in southern Mongolia.

Agvaantseren also persuaded the government to drop 37 mining licenses and ban future mining permits on the land.

The 49-year-old former schoolteacher was recently recognized for her dedicated conservation efforts with the 2019 Goldman Environmental Prize for Asia.

Thanks to this hero, a magnificent species has a renewed chance to thrive.