Snow Leopard Prey
Because snow leopards are the top carnivore of their ecosystem, supporting a healthy population of prey species is vital to our conservation efforts. To better understand the snow leopard’s prey base, we use two important techniques.
Ecological surveys to determine population sizes
Just like the snow leopard, the animals they hunt are constantly on the move. This makes it difficult to accurately estimate the number of individual animals in a particular area. Our research team worked internationally to overcome this challenge, and standardized a new field technique called the Double Observer Survey. This method accounts for the snow leopard’s rough mountain terrain. With this, we created the first estimates for snow leopard prey populations.
Genetic research to understand the snow leopard’s diet
Researchers also evaluate snow leopard fecal samples to gain an understanding of the snow leopard’s diet. By analyzing the genetic material found in snow leopard scat, we can determine what animals the snow leopard depends on the most.
These studies are taking place in all 5 countries where the Snow Leopard Trust works. As a result, we now know that the key prey species are ibex, markhor, blue sheep and argali. Snow leopards depend on these species as a primary food source, but they have been known to hunt smaller animals like marmots, hares, and large birds.
This knowledge helps us focus our efforts on protecting the prey species snow leopards rely on the most. Our ecological surveys have shown that one of the biggest threats to snow leopard prey is competition for food from domestic herbivores such as sheep, goats, cattle and yaks. Herding communities living in snow leopard habitat areas graze their herds on the same plant material that wild animals eat. As these domestic herds continue to grow, wild ibex, markhor, blue sheep and argali populations continue to dwindle.
Additionally, these wild prey animals are poached for meat and sport hunting, decreasing population sizes even further. In order to protect these animals, the Snow Leopard Trust is working to create conservation programs that address the issues of over-grazing and poaching.