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Snow Leopard Presence Confirmed in Western Sichuan

A team of researchers from our Chinese partner organization, Shan Shui, found signs of snow leopard presence in Sichuan’s Ganzi Prefecture, an area that had last been surveyed 8 years ago. However, densities appear to be lower than elsewhere in China.


Shan Shui’s team had long suspected that the mountainous area of Ganzi Prefecture held potential habitats for snow leopards. However, up to now, little information was known, aside from some 2007 camera trap records from Luoxu National Reserve in the west and Gongga Mountain National Reserve in the east of the area.

a wild snow leopard photographed in China's Sangjuangyuan area, one the country's prime snow leopard habitat

a wild snow leopard photographed in China’s Sanjiangyuan area, one the country’s prime snow leopard habitat

Now, a team of Shan Shui researchers conducted a one-month-long survey in the Ganzi Prefecture of Sichuan Province to evaluate the status of and threats to snow leopards. They were joined by the eminent wildlife biologist Dr. George Schaller, who had previously visited the in March of 1998. Mr. Zhou Huaming, Director of Gongga Mountain Natural Reserve, also joined the survey and contributed greatly with his over 20 years of wildlife experience.

The survey covered twelve sites in five counties, including Kangding, Luhuo, Shiqu, Ganzi and Batang. The team divided to check snow leopard signs, count blue sheep and interview communities.

The presence of snow leopards and leopards is now confirmed in Gongga Mountain and Luoxu Township.

However, the researchers only found a few snow leopard spoors during the trip, which may indicate that a lower density of snow leopards inhabit the Ganzi Prefecture than in other parts of China such as Sanjiangyuan and the Qilian Mountain region in Qinghai province.

a map showing Mt. Gongga, where snow lepopard presence was confirmed.

One possible explanation may be the relative lack of prey: The field observations, combined with thirty household interviews, also indicate that historical hunting from the 1950s to 1990s might be responsible for a blue sheep depletion in many areas. Availability of prey has been identified as a key variable for snow leopard densities in other parts of the cat’s range.

However, there are positive developments that give reason for cautious optimism: Forty nature reserves have been established to cover 24% of the land in Ganzi and in each reserve, village rangers are hired to manage wildlife.

A meeting with Sichuan Forestry is scheduled for the end of the month to present our findings and discuss the following plans.

based on a report by Cheng Chen from Shan Shui

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High-level meeting of 12 snow leopard range countries

Press release by the Global Snow Leopard and Ecosystems Protection Program (GSLEP) – Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

Only joint efforts can save endangered animals such as the snow leopard from extinction in the wild


On March 19-20, 2015 in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, Ministers and senior officials of 12 snow leopard range countries will be coming together for the first Steering Committee meeting of the Global Snow Leopard and Ecosystems Protection Program (GSLEP).

The meeting will be an important continuation of the joint actions of the 12 countries following the Bishkek Declaration adopted at the Global Forum on Snow Leopard Conservation held in October 2013 under the leadership of the President of the Kyrgyz Republic Almazbek Atambayev.

The GSLEP Program aims to ensure the long-term survival of the snow leopard in its natural ecosystem. It is a joint initiative of the governments of the range countries, international organizations, civil society and the private sector.

Experts and senior officials from the 12 countries had identified 23 key landscapes to secured for the endangered cat at a workshop at Lake Issyk Kul district, Kyrgyzstan, last June.

A map of the 23 landscapes identified by the snow leopard range countries as key habitats to be secured for the cats.

A map of the 23 landscapes identified by the snow leopard range countries as key habitats to be secured for the cats.

The upcoming inaugural meeting of the Steering Committee of the GSLEP program is a significant milestone where the high level steering committee will be appraised of the progress made till date. The steering committee will also provide direction to take the program forward by helping secure resources and identifying priorities for action at national and international levels.

Snow Leopard Trust Executive Director Brad Rutherford and Science & Conservation Director Dr. Charu Mishra will attend the meeting on behalf of the Trust.

two cats playing (or chasing each other) in Kyrgyzstan's Sarychat-Ertash State Nature Reserve

two cats playing (or chasing each other) in Kyrgyzstan’s Sarychat-Ertash State Nature Reserve

The State Agency for Environmental Protection and Forestry under the Government of the Kyrgyz Republic, along with the GSLEP Secretariat, the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the Global Tiger Initiative (GTI), Union for Conservation of Nature and Biodiversity (NABU), Snow Leopard Trust (SLT), United Nations  Development Program (UNDP), World Bank (WB) and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) are key partners in this upcoming event.

The two-day long meeting will be held at «Jannat Resort» in Koi-Tash village near Bishkek on 19 and 20 March 2015, and the delegates will join the Noorus (Central Asia new year) celebrations on the 21st.

Contact Information:

Mr. Tologon Mamasaliev: + 996-707-008-833, ecopresskg@gmail.com
Dr. Koustubh Sharma: + 996-551-128-116, koustubh@snowleopard.org
Mr. Evgeny Grechko + 996-701-010-154, grechko@akilbirs.com

Secretariat of the GSLEP in Bishkek: + 996-312-564-195, islf.nationalsecretariat@gmail.com

Official website of the Global Snow Leopard and Ecosystems Protection Program: www.globalsnowleopard.org

Kyrgyz State Agency on Environment Protection and Forestry http://nature.gov.kg/

GSLEP on Twitter: #GlobalSnowLeopard

GSLEP on Facebook: www.facebook.com/global.snow.leopard.program

Community to protect the snow leopard: www.facebook.com/TimeToSaveTheSnowLeopard

The Global Environment Facility: www.theGEF.org

Global Tiger Initiative: www.GlobalTigerInitiative.org

NABU – www.nabu.de/en

Snow Leopard Trust: www.snowleopard.org

United Nations Development Program: www.undp.org

The World Bank in the Kyrgyz Republic: www.worldbank.org/en/country/kyrgyzrepublic

World Wildlife Fund for Nature: www.worldwildlife.org

Devekh Is Off the Air

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. 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.

Devekh, photographed in 2014

Devekh, photographed in 2014

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.

Devekh-map

a map of Devekh’s home in Mongolia’s South Gobi. Yellow dots represent Devekh’s locations in November 2014. The purple area is his approximate home range through 2014.

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, about 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.

Anti-Poaching Program Goes National in Kyrgyzstan

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.

KG web 5

a wild snow leopard in Sarychat-Ertash Nature reserve, one of the country’s 19 protected areas and the site of the program pilot

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.

a snow leopard marks its territory in Sarychat-Ertash Nature Reserve

a snow leopard marks its territory in Sarychat-Ertash Nature Reserve

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.

Kuban Jumabai uulu and Sabir Atjadinov, the Director of the Forestry Agency of the Kyrgyz Republic, hand over the first-ever ranger award

Kuban Jumabai uulu and Sabir Atjadinov, the Director of the Forestry Agency of the Kyrgyz Republic, hand over the first-ever ranger award to Toktosun uulu Urmat

“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.

The snow leopard's preferred prey species, ibex (pictured) and argali sheep, are threatened by illegal hunting as well.

The snow leopard’s preferred prey species, ibex (pictured) and argali sheep, are threatened by illegal hunting as well.

“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.

More information

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.
www.snowleopard.org

Photos

Photos of wild snow leopards and prey species in Kyrgyzstan are available for download: Set 1 / Set 2