Snow Leopard Trust Updates
On June 21st, 2012, our field team made a remarkable visit to the den sites of Anu and Lasya. These two females are part of our long-term ecological study and wear GPS tracking collars that help us identify their movements. With this data, we can learn critical information about snow leopard range, habitat and prey needs. This allows us to better understand snow leopards and the threats they face, and make the most of our resources to protect these endangered cats.
In May, Anu and Lasya began to restrict their daily movements to smaller and smaller areas, which the team interpreted as a signal that both were preparing to give birth. Traveling through steep and rocky mountain outcroppings, the team followed VHF signals transmitted by the collars and finally located the dens.
Only six kilometers apart, both dens were high up in steep canyons. The first den was in a big cave with a man-made rock wall blocking most of the entrance. ‘As we stood outside the den we could hear the cub and smell the cats but not see anything inside the den,’ said PhD student Orjan Johansson.
Orjan and his colleagues, Sumbee Tomorsukh of Mongolia, Mattia Colombo of Italy, and Dr. Carol Esson of Australia (a licensed veterinarian), extended a camera over the wall and were able to film Anu lying tucked against the wall staring at the entrance with a paw over her tiny cub. ‘This is incredible,’ says Brad Rutherford, our Executive Director. ‘Snow leopards are so rare and elusive that people often talk about them as ‘ghosts’ of the mountains.
At the second den (Lasya’s), the team found two male cubs in a narrow crack in a cliff wall. Confirming that their mother was out on a kill, the scientists were able to enter, photograph the cubs and take hair samples that will allow them to establish the cubs’ genetic identification and confirm sex. They also took weights and measurements and implanted PIT tags (tiny tracking microchips similar to those used by pet owners). Both cubs had full stomachs and appeared to be in excellent health. The whole event took less than 30 minutes.
The team handled the cubs with care and took their measurements as quickly as possible. “This was an unprecedented opportunity,’ says Rutherford, ‘We wanted to be as careful as possible and only take the most pressing data.’ The team listened with VHF from a distance to make sure that the females had returned to the dens. Their constant monitoring has confirmed that both females are still with their cubs. The research teams will not be visiting the cubs or the den sites again in order to limit disturbance to the den areas and the cubs themselves.
These findings are incredibly important for snow leopard conservation. Due to the snow leopard’s elusive nature, very little is known about snow leopards in the wild. Birth rates, sex ratios, cub sizes, litter sizes and cub survival rates have never been documented but are critical to understanding—and planning for—the survival of the species. Follow-up assessment of cub survival will enable the Snow Leopard Trust to clarify the potential for snow leopard populations to grow.
This long-term snow leopard study in Mongolia’s South Gobi is a joint project with Snow Leopard Conservation Fund and Panthera, and is in cooperation with the Mongolia Ministry of Nature, Environment and Tourism and the Mongolia Academy of Sciences.
Field researchers conducting our long-term ecological study are watching the movements of our known female snow leopards with fingers crossed. If the females begin to restrict their movements, it could mean that they are looking for a potential den site in order to give birth to cubs. Khashaa, Lasya and Anu are all moving within smaller regions, but have yet to settle on a location that would indicate a den. (more…)
Since 2008, we have been visiting the sites where we seen our collared cats stop for periods of time. We referred to these as ‘clusters’ because we see them as a cluster of data points. Most often the cats stop traveling because they have killed a prey animal and will take a few days to eat. With some detective work, we can gather a lot of information about the animal killed, such as the species, age, sex and general health.
We also survey the habitat nearby to get a better understanding of where the snow leopards hunt. In some clusters the snow leopard has simply laid down to rest, and I have learned that snow leopards prefer to take naps in very, very steep and rugged terrain. Those sites involve a lot of climbing, balancing and telling oneself that vertigo is a highly irrational feeling.
Thank you to everyone who helped us meet our goal!
This incredible accomplishment was only made possible by the generosity of our 260 newest donors and everyone who helped us spread the word! Not only were we able to meet our $13,000 goal, but because we did it by our April 30th deadline, every dollar has been DOUBLED!
This means that $26,000 will go to support conservation programs like Snow Leopard Enterprises, where impoverished families earn additional income and pledge to protect the snow leopards living nearby.
We cannot thank our new supporters enough for taking the leap and making their first contribution!
A new snow leopard has been fitted with a GPS tracking collar in the South Gobi region of Mongolia! As part of our long-term ecological study, we will follow this cats movements for the next year. Field researcher, Örjan Johansson, shares the experience of meeting his 16th wild snow leopard:
Mood in camp got instantly better when the siren started and the LED under “Trap alarm” lit up early evening. We rushed to the ATVs and got to the snare about 50 minutes after it had been triggered. I can’t describe the relief when I looked over a hill and saw a snow leopard lying on the other side. It was extremely windy and he had not heard us coming. The cat crawled back against the wall and lied down looking at us.
We went up to about ten meters from him and except for his eyes, he didn’t move a whisker. I didn’t want to shoot because the wind was coming from the side and the darts can easily fly more than a meter of course in such strong wind. So I took a few steps toward the cat, when I was about seven meters from him he barred all his teeth in a huge grin, saying “that is close enough”, still lying down. So I backed one step and he calmed down again and went back to just glaring at me. Had to wait for the wind to calm down for a second and then shot. We left the site and when we came back a few minutes later the cat was asleep in the same position.
Except for the wind the collaring was uneventful. It is quite difficult to gather all measurements, collect all samples and monitor vital signs when you have to put rocks on all the equipment to keep it from flying away. The cat is a new male (obviously), he weighed a little more than 44 kg and we think that he is 3-4 years old. It will be interesting to see if he is the new dominant male here. Shonkhor, the old dominant male in this range, died in summer 2011.
Now, we are eagerly waiting for the females. Pretty much the same as a lot of other guys on a Friday evening…
Örjan Johansson is a Ph.D. student at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU). He is the field scientist in our Long Term Ecological Study about snow leopards in South Gobi, Mongolia. Örjan’s groundbreaking research is generously supported by Nordens Ark Zoo in Bohuslän, Sweden, and by Kolmården Zoo, in Norrköping, Sweden.
This study is a joint project of PANTHERA, Snow Leopard Trust and Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation in cooperation with the Mongolia Ministry of Nature, Environment and Tourism, and the Mongolia Academy of Sciences.