In order to protect wild snow leopards, we first need to understand where they live. Since snow leopard habitat is typically rocky cliffs at high altitudes, it can be a challenge to answer important questions like:
- How much space does a snow leopard typically use?
- Where do snow leopards hunt and find water?
- Where are the biggest threats to snow leopards located?
In order to gain a better understanding of these cats, we began a long-term ecological study in the South Gobi region of Mongolia. This study uses GPS tracking collars to follow snow leopards as they move around the landscape.
GPS is a technology that allows a device on the ground to upload a location to a database via satellite. We implant this device in a collar, along with a battery that will last an entire year, and fit it on a wild snow leopard. But finding the snow leopard can be quite tricky.
Our snow leopard collaring expert Örjan Johansson spends an entire season at the Mongolian base camp setting snares in areas he knows snow leopards to be. These snares do not hurt the cats, and once a snare is tripped, an alarm sounds that instantly alerts our researchers to investigate the site.
The collar is programmed to release a year or 18 months after it is first set, and for every 1 uplink set to the researchers, 4 locations are stored in the collar. After the collar drops, researchers locate it and download the additional information.
This groundbreaking study has offered us a rare look into the lives of 20 wild snow leopards since the study first began. We use the data from these collars to better understand snow leopard behavior and habitat needs.