Follow The Cats
This summer, our research team set a number of motion sensing cameras near our base camp in the South Gobi region of Mongolia. In August, just 6 kilometers from our camp site, five snow leopards were photographed travelling together! Such a large number of snow leopards have never been photographed before, and researchers hypothesize that this may be a mother and her four cubs!
With great sadness, we report that Shonkhor, a snow leopard we have been following since April, 2009 in our long-term ecological study, has passed away. His last GPS update in early August indicated something was wrong, and our field staff rushed to the scene. While it appears Shonkhor died of natural causes, we have sent a veterinarian to investigate further. We hope to have more information soon.
Shonkhor was a cat that you could symbolically adopt through our Snow Leopard Adoption program. We will be removing his name soon, and encourage those interested to make an adoption in memory of Shokhor to help fund the study and protection of wild snow leopards like him.
During the week of May 19, 2011, the young snow leopard Zaraa journeyed from our study area in the Tost Mountain region, 45 km. (~27 miles) north, across the Toson Bumba Mountain chain and all the way to another nearby chain called the Nemegt Mountains. What makes this northern trek so interesting is not the distance covered, but the fact that she is the first snow leopard in our study to reach the edge of the Toson Bumba Mountain range and actually cross over, then walk through an area we call the ‘badlands’ in order to reach this distant chain of mountains. The Nemegt Mountains are within the Gurvan Saikhan National Park and she is the first known cat to cross into this protected area. Zaraa had made a previous long trek in March and walked more than 150 km (~93 miles) in five days south to the China border and back.
The week of May 23rd, Zaraa gave us even more to talk about. She came all the way back to the Tost region, but suddenly her collar stopped transmitting properly, performing at only 25%! We then began receiving mortality signals and suspected that the collar may have dropped off on its own. And where was the collar’s location signal coming from? The heart of the badlands! So, Orjan jumped on his bike and went to recover the collar which holds all of the valuable additional data stored in the memory banks. We now have the collar, but Zaraa is ‘off grid’. We have learned a great deal from her about the world of dispersing female snow leopards. We hope we will see her again soon on the motion sensor cameras and perhaps recollar her in the future.
Aztai has continued to stay in the home range that previously belonged to Tsagaan, but even more interesting is that Khavar has taken over what used to be Aztai’s territory. Both males are using the exact same home range borders as their predecessor, and the question that arises is how Aztai and Khavar can tell so specifically where the borders had been. The female Tenger has begun to use a remarkably small territory- between 5-10 km2- indicating that she may be pregnant or already have cubs. We will carefully place cameras close (but not too close) to where Tenger has been staying and we hope to have photos that will explain her behavior soon. Lasya is using a similar size range as Tenger and we cannot rule out that she too might be pregnant.
New information is coming in every day about each one of these amazing cats and we look forward to bringing you another update soon!
On April 12th the snow leopard Tsagaan was found dead. The uplinks from his GPS collar reported that he was stationary for four days. That was followed by seven days of radio silence. Orjan and the field team traveled to the site where he had been stationary to investigate and sadly found Tsagaan’s body. We attempted to investigate the cause of death and brought in a veterinarian from Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia to conduct a necropsy.
The veterinarian was taken to the site but noted a small amount of blood that had come from Tsagaan’s nose. This can be a symptom of Anthrax (a common but highly contagious illness found in rural livestock such as those living in the area. For more information on this type of Anthrax please click here) Due to the risk of infection and inadequate safety gear the veterinarian was not able to complete the examination. Based on his location and examination of his body we continue to believe that Tsagaan died from natural causes and was not killed by human action.
Thank you to all who have followed Tsagaan’s updates. As we reported earlier his movements overlapped several times with Tenger. We hope that Tsagaan’s offspring will continue to be a part of the Tost Mountains in the future.
With our field researchers settled back in at our Mongolian base camp, this field season is off to a great start. We are thrilled to welcome a new female into our long term ecological study! Orjan, a PhD student from Sweden reports on the event below:
“We caught a new cat yesterday. Finally all the money I have spent on books and courses on how to understand females are paying off. The cat weighed 29.8 kg and was of similar size as Tenger and Khashaa. I estimate her to be 3 years old (she could also be 2).”
We look forward to bringing you a photograph and more information on our newest member as soon as possible.