We have lost contact with the GPS collar worn by Devekh, the male snow leopard we had been tracking in Mongolia’s South Gobi – most likely due to the collar’s battery running out of steam ahead of schedule. For the first time in several years, we’re therefore not currently tracking any cats.
Dr. Koustubh Sharma, our Senior Regional Ecologist who leads the collaring project in Mongolia, has summarized the most important insights we’ve been able to gain about Devekh in the last years:
We photographed Devekh for the first time in the summer of 2009 as a nervous male scuttling through scraping sites.
He was subsequently collared in 2010 but the old collar did not function well and we soon lost contact with him.
Devekh was collared again in the spring of 2013, by when he had grown significantly in size and also confidence. In 2013, he became our most photographed cat during the annual summer camera trapping.
During that summer, we were able to observe Devekh and our other collared male at the time, Ariun, live as direct neighbors. They had seemingly divided the Tost-Tosonbumba Mountains into two nearly equal halves with Devekh ruling the east and Ariun making a home in the west.
Both crossed the wide valley between Tost and Tosonbumba via the identified ‘bridge ridges’ regularly – but they largely maintained a clear boundary between their territories that was only very occasionally breached by either cat.
We also observed the two cats having close encounters with each other, as well as some of the females they overlapped with.
Devekh’s ranging patterns overlapped with many of our known females including Ariunbeleg, Dagina, Anu and other uncollared females in the Tost Mountains.
Watching these two big boys gave us valuable insight into the territorial behavior of male snow leopards.
In the beginning, Devekh covered a 250-275 sq km range, similar to other male cats we had collared until then. By the end of 2013, however, Devekh’s ranging patterns widened considerably, and he started patrolling more than 400 sq km of the Tost-Tosonbumba Mountains, crossing over between Tost and Tosonbumba on an average once every 10 days.
By January 2014, Ariun’s collar stopped sending signals, so Devekh became our only cat “on the air”. Intriguingly enough, we started seeing Devekh ‘invading’ into what had been Ariun’s range.
By early spring of 2014, Devekh was ruling the entire eastern portion of Ariun’s homerange. We feared that Ariun was dead, which became a near certainty after we found a snow leopard carcass in the mountains with his collar lying nearby.
Later that same year, we saw Devekh reducing his home range again, possibly due to the presence of females on estrus that he was closely following.
By August 2014, Devekh’s ranging patterns once again changed shape: he was no longer patrolling the east of Tost Mountains, but the west, and continuing to patrol the east of Tosonbumba.
We lost contact with Devekh on the 21st of January, a good two months before the scheduled drop-off of his collar.
A search party went into his habitat to find the collar, but they weren’t successful – which is a good sign, as it suggests that Devekh’s still walking around wearing the collar, even if it’s no longer communicating with the satellite. It will drop off soon though, and our team will once again head into the mountains to try and retrieve it.
Devekh may be off the air for now, but there is still an urgent need for more research into these cats’ behavior and needs. Our team will be heading back into the Gobi in the coming weeks, and they hope to collar one or several more snow leopards there soon.
Press release. Bishkek / Seattle, 3/3/2015.
Government agencies, INTERPOL, and NGOs join forces with rangers and community members to confront illegal hunting of endangered species.
Less than a year after launching a pilot program to fight poaching of endangered snow leopards and their prey in Kyrgyzstan, the Snow Leopard Trust and its partners are ‘going national’ to cover all 19 of the country’s state parks and nature reserves – thanks to a grant from the UK government’s Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund.
The project, known as the Citizen-Ranger Wildlife Protection Program (CRWPP), trains, publicly honors, and financially rewards park rangers and local community members who successfully apprehend illegal hunters.
It addresses one of the most persistent threats to snow leopards and their prey species in the Central Asian countries: poaching by outsiders.
The Snow Leopard Trust has been working in Kyrgyzstan since 2002 with a dominant focus on community-based conservation, and more recently, with the Kyrgyz President for catalyzing range-wide governmental action for snow leopard conservation.
The organization’s longest-running program in Kyrgyzstan, Snow Leopard Enterprises, has helped address the problem of hunting of snow leopards and wild ungulates by local community members. However, for many years, community members and rangers have expressed frustration at preventing poaching by outsiders.
“Our existing community-based conservation programs are not as effective against this outside threat,” says Brad Rutherford, Executive Director of the Snow Leopard Trust.
A Porous System Exploited by Illegal Hunters
Due to entrenched problems such as an under-resourced and underfunded wildlife conservation sector, lack of trained personnel and equipment, and low salaries for park staff, rangers and local people often feel socially and economically disenfranchised to control poaching in and around protected areas. In the past, this has supported a porous system easily exploited by illegal hunters.
In response, the Snow Leopard Trust, local NGO partner Snow Leopard Foundation in Kyrgyzstan (SLFK), and the Government of Kyrgyzstan developed CRWPP.
When cases of illegal hunting are recorded and filed by citizens, rangers, or teams of community members and rangers, CRWPP honors them in a public ceremony with certificates and a small cash reward.
CRWPP cash rewards provide incentive to rangers to apprehend poachers and follow-through filing cases. National recognition raises social profile and respect for rangers while publicly celebrating and positively reinforcing community collaboration and best practices.
“Although it involves a cash reward, recognizing the rangers’ and community members’ effort is an even more important aspect of the program,” says Whitley Award winner Dr. Charudutt Mishra, Science and Conservation Director for the Snow Leopard Trust.
Arrests and filling cause hassles and costs for poachers as an added deterrent, and placing cases on record is a critical first step towards stronger law enforcement.
In 2014, the Snow Leopard Trust signed a 10-year, three-way agreement with SLFK, and the Government of Kyrgyzstan to help manage this program into the future, and later that same year, inaugural awards were conferred on a ranger-community member team that had apprehended a hunter with a gun in Sarychat-Ertash Nature Reserve .
Major Expansion Thanks to UK Grant
Now, a new grant received in 2015 from the Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund through the UK Government will enable us to begin massive nationwide expansion starting this spring. The grant will help provide for an endowment to support the program’s financial awards into the future, including a roughly $250 US reward for cases involving endangered species.
“Park rangers are working hard under difficult circumstances to protect endangered wildlife in Kyrgyzstan. I’m very pleased that we’ll now be able to assist and empower them in their efforts across all 19 Protected Areas of the country”, says Kubanych Jumabai uulu, director of the Snow Leopard Foundation Kyrgyzstan.
Britain’s Animal Welfare Minister Lord de Mauley says:
“Poaching threatens the very existence of globally endangered species like snow leopards and damages the communities in which it takes place.
“Through this fund we are working with Kyrgyzstan to stamp it out by building up a national network of state rangers and supporting local communities to fight against the trade. This approach has already shown itself to be successful at reducing poaching in and around protected areas.”
One of the most exciting outcomes of the grant will be to enable a partnership with INTERPOL, the international police organization, to deliver quality training for rangers in law enforcement and investigative techniques.
“Despite their limited resources, park rangers in protected areas as well as our partner communities work hard to stop these outside poachers – but their efforts too often go unrecognized,” says Dr. Mishra. ‘This project therefore will be a huge enabler. We’re excited to grow this program and start a new chapter in conservation in Kyrgyzstan.
Snow Leopard Foundation in Kyrgyzstan
Leading the fight for the future of the endangered snow leopard in Kyrgyzstan, the Snow Leopard Foundation partners with international organizations such as the Snow Leopard Trust to better understand and protect this cat in this key range country.
Snow Leopard Trust
The Snow Leopard Trust, based in Seattle, WA, is a world leader in conservation of the endangered snow leopard, conducting pioneering research and partnering with communities as well as authorities in snow leopard habitat to protect the cat.
The Snow Leopard Trust’s work in Kyrgyzstan is in collaboration with Woodland Park Zoo, Seattle, with special support from Partnership Funding by Fondation Segré, managed by the Whitley Fund for Nature.
Nothing touches us quite like a good story. Get ready for a roller coaster ride of heartbreak and hope then; brought to us by 13-year old Aisha Jamal from Chennai, India
Shadows – a story by Aisha Jamal
I heard pitiful whines from behind the rock. Creeping up, I peeked over. Two snow leopard cubs were curled up together, mewling softly. Gazing at them I remembered……`
I was born on a cold, misty April morning. My mother, my siblings and I lived in a large cave. We played or slept, but on no account did we leave the cave. My mother had warned us about the dangers of the Outside.
At five months, we emerged from the cave for the first time and saw snow; a wonderful, feathery, powder covering the ground and wetting our paws when we stepped on it. Mother caught a pika and let us sniff and bat it around before eating. “When you are hunting,” she said, “make sure you’re approaching downwind. Creep up quietly,” she demonstrated, “Then jump quickly. Land on it and bite down on its neck.”
She smiled at our puzzled faces and said, “Don’t worry, I’ll teach you.”
She never did.
A few weeks later, while I was sleeping, my mother and siblings disappeared, with only the scent of Humans, fear, pain and death left behind. I searched blindly for them, behind rocks, in crevices, even in the snow where their smell was strongest. But I searched in vain; the only sign were a few clumps of fur and still wet spots of blood.
Dragging myself back to the cave, defeated and exhausted, I waited two days for them, growing weaker from hunger, before accepting the hard truth. Hunger taught me to hunt. After a thousand attempts, I caught a fat marmot. Hunger taught me to hunt. After a thousand foiled attempts, I caught a marmot. It was busy stuffing its mouth when I crept up behind it, a few more steps, a quick leap, and I was on it. Though the marmot was plump, my ravenous hunger was more than a match for it. In a few minutes all that was left was a pile of cracked bones, blood, a little fur and one full snow leopard cub.
Time passed – years of hunting, running, and stalking.
In my sixth winter I met another snow leopard, a handsome, adventurous male. We had a pair of cubs and I took care of them in my mother’s den; where she had her first and last litter. A few days after the cubs were born, my mate left as is the custom. He had stayed far too long already.
I cared well for my cubs: fed them; kept them warm; taught them; and when they grew I brought them well-softened meat. I doted on them, far more, perhaps, than I would have if my siblings had survived. We went exploring everyday. I took them on territory patrols, hunting expeditions, night-time walks, and taught them running, jumping and stalking.
One day, I chanced upon a herd of goats and captured one. Shouts mingled with rocks followed me. Humans! Narrowly escaping, I made my way to the den, where we had a good feast.
But the Humans had not given up and they hit back with unimaginable cruelty.
I had had a good hunt that day, the bharal hadn’t noticed me until it was too late. Trotting home happily I thought how my cubs would bound out of the cave, nuzzling me with pleasure, how we would sit down together for a feast, and retire purring to our den afterwards. Nearing the cave, I called out to my cubs, but they didn’t answer. Then I smelled it: the dreaded scent of Humans, combined with my cubs’ fear and terror.
I raced into the den. It was desolate, abandoned, empty. I stared wildly around, the nightmare of my cubhood wasn’t happening again? I called to my cubs. No answer. Slowly, methodically I started searching. Every rock, every crevice, gaps in the snow, everywhere possible I searched, with each step, each sniff, my hope died a little.
The scent trail led to the Humans’ colony. Suppressing my hatred and fear, I followed the trail as far as I could, but the hundreds of Humans’ scents covered up my cubs’ trail as effectively as snow covers the ground. I kept searching, until I had to flee from a Human.
How I survived the next few days I do not know. At times my spirits were so low that there seemed no point in existence. I had lost everything. Humans had taken my only litter of cubs and I hadn’t stopped them. However my optimistic side reasoned with me: I had survived as a cub; I had become self-sufficient; there would be more litters.
But it took me a long time to get over my misery. Often, while hunting, I would turn to warn my cubs, before realising they were no longer there, sometimes I would see a faint shadow in the distance, trotting towards me, but it was a mere dream. I never had more cubs; there weren’t any snow leopards in my territory anymore, though I searched.
Now, for the first time in uncountable years, I was seeing cubs. Where was their mother? Gone like mine? Were the cubs hungry? Did they need me to care for them? I felt a new feeling well up in me: Hope.
By Aisha Jamal, 13, Grade VIII, Al Qamar Academy, Chennai, India.
Aisha is a 13-year old cat lover from Chennai, India. “Snow Leopards caught my attention especially; their lives in the mountains,their beauty, their plight,their amazing abilities”, she says. “They live in an extremely dangerous and harsh habitat, yet they are perfectly built to cope with all their trials -except humans.”
Aisha’s mom, Aneesa, had first contacted us through our Facebook page to share this wonderful story. We immediately knew it deserved as large an audience as possible – and if you agree, please share Aisha’s story and help raise awareness for all the snow leopard cubs left in the wild.
a wild snow leopard cub in Spiti, India
Buy a limited edition snow leopard t-shirt from FLOAT until February 22 – and $8 will go directly to conservation projects for these endangered cats!
We’re excited to present the brand-new “King of the Mountain” t-shirt! Available for ONE WEEK ONLY!
Designed exclusively for the Snow Leopard Trust by conservationist apparel company FLOAT, this unique t-shirt is available now at www.float.org/snowleopard - but for one week only!
$8 will be donated to snow leopard conservation projects for every “King of the Mountain” t-shirt that’s purchased through Sunday, February 22 – so when you buy one, you won’t just look; you’ll DO good!
The “King of the Mountain” is available in men’s and women’s cuts as well as a women’s tanktop in a variety of colors.
Order your t-shirt now and wear the rare “King of the Mountain” as soon as the sun comes out this spring!
Rare footage of wild snow leopards taken in the Tost mountain range in Mongolia’s South Gobi province shows a vibrant population of these endangered cats – including a mother with three cubs.
The Tost mountains are home to more than a dozen snow leopards. These cats are part of what may be the most studied snow leopard population in the world. The area has been the focal point of the Snow Leopard Trust’s pioneering long-term ecological study since 2008.
Thanks to research tools such as GPS collars and remote-sensor research cameras, Trust scientists have been able to observe Tost’s snow leopard population in unprecedented ways. They’ve found wild cubs in their dens. They’ve tracked and photographed cats as they migrated to neighboring mountain ranges across the steppe, and they’ve revealed fascinating population dynamics.
This research has helped convince Mongolian authorities to grant parts of Tost “Local Protected Area” status – a first step to saving this important snow leopard habitat for future generations.
Despite these efforts, led by the local community and our Mongolia team, Tost remains under threat: Various mining licenses had already been issued for the area before it was granted a minimum level of protection – and some of those have yet to expire.
This new snow leopard footage, taken in 2014, is further proof of the urgent need for better protection for Tost! Our Mongolia team currently helps lead an effort to upgrade the protection status of the area to “Nature Reserve”, a designation that would prevent any future mining activities
a map of the Tost mountain range in Mongolia’s South Gobi province