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Cats Caught on Cam: The Chase

Thanks to the generous support of many of you, we’ve been able to purchase urgently needed research cameras and have begun monitoring the snow leopards of Kyrgyzstan’s Sarychat area systematically last year.

While Kuban Jumabai uulu, our Kyrgyz program director, is out in the mountains setting up the cameras for the next study cycle, we wanted to share a gem from last year’s survey… two almost grown-up cubs, sharing a rare playful moment! Enjoy!

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KG chase

 

 

Individual pics

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UPDATE: New Snow Leopard Equipped With GPS Collar

Good news from the base camp of our long-term snow leopard study in Mongolia’s Tost Mountains: Our team has managed to equip a new male snow leopard with a GPS collar, allowing them to track the cat’s movements in the months to come.

Tsetsen, previously known as M-11

Tsetsen, previously known as M-11, right after being released back into his habitat

[update 4/20/15: The freshly collared snow leopard has a new name! Initially known as M-11 to our scientists - M for male, 11 because he was the 11th male cat to be collared in our study - the cat has been named "Tsetsen". In Mongolian, the name means "ingenious" or "crafty" - certainly a fitting name!]

“The cat weighed 44.3 kg [just under 100 lbs.] and we think he is 4-5 years old”, field scientist Örjan Johansson reported. This is the 20th snow leopard the Trust has been able to equip with a GPS collar since the long-term study began in 2008, and the 11th male.

Groundbreaking Study

With the long-term snow leopard study in the South Gobi region of Mongolia, the Snow Leopard Trust and its partners have been breaking new ground in the research of this elusive, endangered cat. Results from this study have vastly expanded our knowledge of the snow leopard’s behavior, its spatial and nutritional needs, its reproductive cycle and population dynamics.

Lasya, one of the female snow leopards we've been tracking

Lasya, a female snow leopard we’ve previously tracked with GPS in our long-term study in Mongolia

Data gained from the previous 19 cats that had been equipped with GPS collars have yielded insights into snow leopard cub dispersal, migration between mountain ranges, and predation patterns, i.e.

These insights have informed conservation approaches and have been crucial in efforts to protect parts of the cats’ habitat in the area.

It will be interesting to compare the movement patterns of this new cat, which will be named in the coming days, to its predecessors. Analysis of existing research camera photos from the area will perhaps also shed some light on the cat’s history and family connection to other known snow leopards in the area.

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The long-term study is a joint project of the 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.

It’s made possible through the support of:

Cat Life Foundation
Columbus Zoo and Aquarium
Kolmarden Zoo
Nordens Ark
Swedish University of Agricultural Science
Whitley Fund for Nature
David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation
South Lakes Wild Animal Park
Phoenix Zoo
Helsinki Zoo
Safari Club International Foundation
Dakota Zoo
Snow Leopard Trust UK
Edrington Group & Edrington Americas
Tulsa Zoo
La Passerelle/Parc Animalier d’Auvergne

Save Snow Leopards… Sip for Sip

The liquor store may appear to be an unlikely place for you to make a difference for snow leopards. Now, that is about to change – thanks to Snow Leopard Vodka.


First, lets get the obvious out of the way: We’re not encouraging anyone to drink alcohol. But we do want to make a recommendation to those among you who like a drink every now and then, because your choice of spirit can have a big impact on the future of the endangered snow leopard.

The next time you are shopping for vodka, take a look beyond the Stolis, the Smirnoffs, the Skyys and the other undoubtedly fine, well-known brands and see if you can spot a bottle of Snow Leopard Vodka.

snow_leopard_vodka_scenic_landscape

Vodka connoisseurs swear it’s the best of the bunch, and numerous awards prove their point.

More importantly though, Snow Leopard Vodka helps save snow leopards, with 15% of the profits from the sale of every bottle – as well as other fundraising activities – benefiting conservation projects!

Since its launch as a small batch boutique brand in 2006, Snow Leopard Vodka has donated more than $185,000 for the protection of these endangered cats!

It’s a big sum – but Snow Leopard Vodka founder, conservationist and restless enthusiast Stephen Sparrow has even bigger plans: “From day one I had a vision that if Snow Leopard Vodka became a big global brand, it could be a game changer for these cats”, he says.

Our goal is to be able to donate one million dollars annually to snow leopard conservation projects.  The Snow Leopard Trust has told us, that if we can maintain that for a generation then that’s the step change needed to help get the snow leopard off the endangered list.”

These numbers seem daunting, but to Stephen, they’re within reach. “The market leader currently sells 3 million cases per year in the US. To reach our goal, we need to sell one bottle for every 20 they sell. That seems doable, doesn’t it?”

Edrington: the right partner

Stephen on his delivery bike

Stephen on his delivery bike

For years, Stephen has practically ran the marketing and distribution of Snow Leopard Vodka by himself, sometimes riding through London on his bicycle and selling cases to bars and restaurants. Now, he’s found the right partner to scale up with: Snow Leopard Vodka was recently purchased by the Edrington Group; the unfamiliar name behind very familiar spirit brands such as The Macallan, Highland Park, Famous Grouse, Cutty Sark and Brugal Rum.

“I knew I needed to partner with an international drinks company with great international distribution and a strong presence in the USA, and a company which was committed to Snow Leopard vodka from top to bottom. Edrington fits the bill, both in terms of size, and more importantly, in spirit: It has philanthropy and good causes flowing through its veins. It’s owned by a charitable trust and is the biggest donor to charities in Scotland.”

The Edrington Group is putting their resources behind the brand, but they won’t change its heart – the connection to snow leopard conservation.

“15% of profits from Snow Leopard Vodka will continue to go to conservation programs in the field”, Stephen says, “as well as the proceeds from other fundraising activities.”

spelt grain gives Snow Leopard Vodka its smooth taste

spelt grain gives Snow Leopard Vodka its smooth taste

Snow Leopard Vodka is produced in Poland from the rare, expensive spelt grain. Its depth of flavor has been described as “silky smooth” and “clean”, with notes of creamy vanilla and nuttiness. Experts rate the spirit as “exceptional” – and that doesn’t even take into account what the brand does for the endangered cats it took its name from.

Now you can taste Snow Leopard Vodka for yourself. The brand’s been officially launched in the US in the fall of 2014, with the national launch event at Central Park Zoo. It’s available at liquor stores, bars and restaurants in NY, DC, MD, FL, TX, IL, WA, CA, CO, AZ, NV and OR, as well as in select markets in Asia and Europe.

You can find your nearest store at http://www.snowleopardvodka.co.uk/drinks/bars-list

No Signs of Spring: Frozen Traps Slow Down Study

Less than a week ago, field scientist Örjan Johansson and his team managed to equip a new snow leopard with a GPS collar – the 20th cat we’ll be able to track in our long-term snow leopard study in Mongolia’s South Gobi. Since then, the team have struggled with snow, fog and solid ice, as Örjan reports from base camp.


By Örjan Johansson

After our initial success of capturing and collaring a new male snow leopard just four days after we started building traps, things have been rather slow here.

Devekh - the last cat to wear a GPS collar in Mongolia, photographed in 2014

Devekh – the last cat to wear a GPS collar in Mongolia, photographed in 2014

There has been a lot of snow leopard activity in the area, but we haven’t been able to capture and collar another cat. We got hit by a snow storm two days after we’d caught the male, and when the snow finally stopped falling, it was replaced by a thick fog. The snow melted a little; but in the evening it got really cold, rendering our traps frozen solid.

Örjan examining a wild snow leopard right before releasing the cat back into the wild

Örjan examining a wild snow leopard right before releasing the cat back into the wild

In the days it took for the ground to thaw out, we had cats passing by in three of the canyons where we have set up snares. I stepped on one of the traps myself to test it, but it didn’t open, even though I weigh quite a bit more than a snow leopard. For all we know, the cats could have been step-dancing on the traps and they still wouldn’t have worked…

Well, we have hammered away all the ice and frozen gravel from them and replaced it with dry gravel to conceal them again. It took quite some time to gather dry pebbles and I sure hope no one saw us crawling around on the ground and collecting pebbles in bags. Oh, the joy of finding a good spot with nice, dry pebbles of the right size, it’s not possible to comprehend before you have experienced the disappointment of seeing tracks of the elusive snow leopards walking right over your frozen traps.

On a more serious note, I heard today that the central parts of Mongolia were hit much harder by the snow and that they got about half a meter in a short time. There were at least 20 herders still missing, I hope that they are safe.

That’s all for now. I’m leaving for Sweden in five days. This is the shortest trip to the Gobi I’ve done so far, but family and data analysis are waiting for me at home.

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The long-term study is a joint project of the 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.

It’s made possible through the support of:

Cat Life Foundation
Columbus Zoo and Aquarium
Kolmarden Zoo
Nordens Ark
Swedish University of Agricultural Science
Whitley Fund for Nature
David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation
South Lakes Wild Animal Park
Phoenix Zoo
Helsinki Zoo
Safari Club International Foundation
Dakota Zoo
Snow Leopard Trust UK
Edrington Group & Edrington Americas
Tulsa Zoo
La Passerelle/Parc Animalier d’Auvergne

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.

[updated April 1, 2015]

The China team just finished a one-month-long survey in the Ganzi Prefecture of Sichuan Province to evaluate the status of and threats to snow leopards.

Dr. George Schaller, the Vice President of Panthera, initiated this trip to revisit this area after his initial trip in March of 1998. Mr. Zhou Huaming, Director of Gongga Mountain Natural Reserve, joined the survey and contributed greatly with his over 20 years of wildlife experience.

Personnel from Shan Shui and Peking University joined this survey, including Liu Yanlin, Cheng Chen, He Bing, Mei Suonancuo, Xiao Lingyun, Zhao Xiang, Hu Yanan and two volunteers.

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

The mountainous area of Ganzi Prefecture was suggested to hold potential habitats for snow leopards according to Dr. Li Juan’s prediction, but little information was known besides some presence records from camera traps in Luoxu NR in the west and Gongga Mountain NR in the east, respectively since 2007.

This survey covers twelve sites in five counties, including Kangding, Luhuo, Shiqu, Ganzi and Batang. The team was divided to check snow leopard signs, count blue sheep, and interview communities. The field observations, combined with thirty household interviews, also indicate that historical hunting from 1950s to 1990s might be responsible for blue sheep depletion in many areas.

signs of snow leopard presence in Sichuan

signs of snow leopard presence in Sichuan

a snow leopard has left his tracks in the snow

a snow leopard has left its tracks in the snow

 

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 Sanjiangyuan and the Qilian Mountain region in the Qinghai province.

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

A meeting with Sichuan Forestry took place on March 27th. The survey team presented the finding to Mr. Wang Hongjia, Director of the Conservation Office in Sichuan Forestry.  Mr. Wang Hongjia encouraged the team to develop monitoring and conservation protocols on snow leopards.

These protocols could then be used by nature reserves and forestry departments to help train staff and students for snow leopard conservation.

During and after this trip, Dr. Schaller gave three inspiring presentations respectively in Yushu Vocational School, Youth Zone in Chengdu, and Natural History Museum in Beijing.  All three speeches attracted lots of young people, even kids, who were interested in wildlife. Dr. Schaller shared his wildlife research experiences in Tibetan Plateau, China and all around the world, and encouraged people to take part in wildlife conservation.

the team from Shan Shui with Dr. Schaller

the team from Shan Shui with Dr. Schaller

Dr. Schaller also gave his comments in an interview on a controversial TV ape show in China. He said the television station should be blamed for its irresponsibility, but above all we should call for more robust laws and moral principles on how we treat great apes.

based on a report by Cheng Chen from Shan Shui