Ecological Surveys

Detailed ecological surveys of the snow leopard habitat areas provide an important baseline for our conservation efforts. These surveys provide information on the political, biological and cultural factors that influence conservation efforts in the countries where we work. With these data, we can target our efforts to address the unique needs of each specific habitat area.

We regularly survey communities sharing snow leopard habitat in order to better understand their overall knowledge of snow leopard ecology and their attitudes toward conservation. Researchers do this by interviewing community members to determine the threats to snow leopards and the root causes of the human-wildlife conflicts.

It was through this process that we first discovered the low market value of a herding community’s raw wool. This insight led to the creation of Snow Leopard Enterprises, an effective conservation program that dramatically increases the wool’s value in return for the community’s pledge to protect wild snow leopards.

We also conduct detailed surveys of habitat areas to document snow leopard signs like scrapes, scat and scent markings. Called ‘occupancy surveys’, this research helps us determine if there are snow leopards in a particular area, and if so, approximately how many.

This information on occupancy is used to establish where we need to expand, how we need to grow our protections for snow leopards, and if there is any conflict in the region that will impact our efforts. We also conduct occupancy surveys in regions where we already have established efforts to determine if the conservation programs in place are truly benefiting snow leopard populations.

We also use ecological surveys to better understand the snow leopard’s wild prey and the resources they use. Herds of blue sheep, argali, ibex and other prey species are always on the move, making it difficult to get an accurate count. To eliminate this problem, Snow Leopard Trust researcher Kullu (Kulbhushansigh Suryawanshi) standardized a technique in India called the ‘Double-Observer Survey’. In this type of study, two researchers count the numbers of wild prey in a specific area at different times or from different places and compare their findings.

Snow Leopard Trust researcher Sumbee (Lkhagvasumberel Tomorsukh) later adapted this technique for use in Mongolia, and found that it offered far more accurate counts of prey species. This type of collaboration between scientists has a very positive impact on our conservation efforts, and we look forward to seeing more breakthroughs like this in the future.