After a week of planning and preparing and 3 exhilarating weeks of field work in Mongolia, Senior Regional Ecologist Koustubh Sharma is back home in Delhi, working on analyzing the wealth of data collected over the last months. He shares some of his experiences with us. (more…)
Throughout the snow leopard range, Trust researchers like Rishi Sharma and Li Juan are tracking snow leopard populations with research cameras. They hike up steep slopes and scramble down rocky crevices to find the perfect spots to set up their cameras – and then they make the same trip again a few months later to collect the photos and look for hidden gems! Check out their best pictures at the bottom of this post! (more…)
Curious about Cubs? With cub season coming up, here are 7 things you need to know about snow leopard babies!
A lot of snow leopards share a birthday: From what we can tell so far, snow leopard mating season is in winter and early spring; and almost all wild cubs are born in June or July, turning the mountains of Central Asia into a nursery each summer.
- Like kittens, snow leopard cubs are small and helpless at birth – they do not open their eyes until they are about 7 days old.
For about two or three months, newborn cubs will remain in their well-protected den site, shielded away from predators. Their mother will stays close during that time, frequently returning to the den to nurse the cubs.
- A baby snow leopard will start eating solid food at around 2 months old. Most likely, its first taste of anything other than milk will be rare ibex, or blue sheep that mom has brought home from a hunting trip.
When the little cubs are around 3 months old, they start following their mother as she ventures further and further away from the den site to go about her business of hunting for food. Step by step, they learn all the skills it takes to live on their own in their harsh, mountainous home range.
Young cats disperse from their mother and set out on their own when they’re 19 to 24 months old. Usually, female snow leopards will only have their next litter once the cubs have dispersed.
- Female snow leopards will be ready to have cubs of their own when they are two or three years old – so soon after they leave their family behind, they’ll start their own.
New study: more wild prey for snow leopards may mean more livestock losses, not less!
We’ve all had these evenings, after a long day at work, where we’d just open the fridge and eat whatever we found in there. On a good day, that may have been a pizza. On a bad one, however, all we might find were some leftovers in a somewhat questionable state. But hey, so what, we’d just eat them, for lack of alternatives.
For years, conservationists have assumed that this was pretty much what snow leopards did, too: As wild prey species were disappearing from their habitat, our assumption was that the cats would turn to what was left instead: livestock. Bringing back more wild prey would then equal less livestock depredation and thus fewer conflicts between snow leopards and herders, which looked like a classic win-win situation.
After several weeks of only hearing from one or two cats, we have recent location uplinks from four of the five collared snow leopards. Perhaps one of the most remarkable journeys depicted by this data is that of our newest cat we call M7 (blue). He is a real mover! He was fitted with his collar on February 25th and almost immediately took off on a NE path covering over 30 km in less than a week across extremely rugged terrain (meaning he may have had to walk up to 60 km from point to point when considering the actual terrain). This week was no different. After apparently making a kill on the April 7th he stayed there until the 10th before moving further north. Once he hit the edge of the mountain range he was faced with a vast expanse of steppe/desert in front of him. He opted to turn back to the SW, nearly following in his own footsteps, until he reached and area we call “the badlands”. At this point it is very possible that he skirted this area, as the badlands is an area of low-lying sandstone-like formations we consider to be unsuitable snow leopard habitat (both Itgel and Saikhan have come close to, but seemingly avoided, the badlands as well). He finally turned again, walking back to the SE, covering more than 30 km in just two days. This lengthy and rapid movement pattern is similar to what Aztai exhibited in his initial days after collaring.
Three locations were received from Shonkhor (red), who appears to have set off on yet another one of his trademark expeditions. He has crossed the wide valley separating Toson Bumba and Tost mountains, and based on the uplink from him on the 12th of March, was near the south-western edge of Aztai’s home range.
In contrast to M7 and Shonkhor’s long treks, Aztai (green) continued patrolling the core of his home range.
Orjan also managed to replace Tsagaan’s collar, which was running low on batteries, on the 12 March when he was caught less than 200 m from the camp. Tsagaan seems to have grown in size since he was last caught. He now weighs 44.5 kg and his body length has increased by 4 cm, making him 124 cm long. Unfortunately, since his successful release we have not heard from the collar and so we are waiting to see if there is a malfunction with the collar or if he is holed up in an area where the signal can not reach the satellite. But as each day goes by we are more concerned that the collar has failed to turn on. Hopefully we will hear from his collar soon and then Orjan will head towards the Toson Bumba range where he will focus on replacing Shonkhor’s collar and hopefully catching a female leopard. Given our capture history (5 males have collars on today); it is no exaggeration to say that catching a female will be more than welcome!
You may have noticed a change in the map from last week, when we went from drawing a simple polygon around each cat’s set of locations, to what you see on today’s map – a series of smoothed contour lines around those same points. In the new depiction you will note shaded areas which indicate different concentrations of cat locations and use (the less transparent the area, the higher the intensity of use.) You will see that the center of the home range is the least transparent, and therefore the area of highest use. Both the polygon method and the “kernel estimator” we are using now are very common approaches to depicting home range. Both have their pro’s and con’s, but where the polygon only tells us about the geographic extent of the animal’s range (where they are), the kernel method tells us something about the intensity of use (how much they use different areas). We believe this adds insight to our rapidly growing data on snow leopard movements and habitat use.