Possible Snow Leopard Romance
On September 18, 2010, our team caught up with Tsagaan, one of the large adult males we have been following for two years. Tsagaan was re-collared in March 2010. Unfortunately, his collar never switched on and we received no GPS locations from it during the last 8 months. Thankfully, this time around we were able to swap his collar out. Within weeks of placing the new collar we received some astounding information. Simultaneous uplinks separated by just about 16 meters indicate that Tsagaan shared a cluster of GIS locations with Khashaa (a female in the study), and it is likely that they may have shared a meal!
The fact that Khashaa and Tsagaan appear to have overlapping clusters opens avenues to explore what social interactions they might be having, given the lack of knowledge about the breeding biology and demography of snow leopards in the wild.
Another significant milestone was the collaring of a new female named Tenger. Tenger is most likely the mother of another snow leopard in the study named Zaraa. We hope that Tenger and Zaraa will help us understand the dispersal of a young female from her mother, which will be another first for snow leopard research!
Zaraa and her mother also seem largely nomadic with several core areas within their 400 km2 home range. In comparison to Zaraa and Tenger, another female named Khashaa seems to be focused around a small area of just about 40 km2. We hope to understand the factors behind these differences.
Aztai and Khavar seemed to be doing what they do best—patrolling their home ranges and making regular kills. The updates had been regular for these two until the last week of October when we received a mortality signal from Khavar’s collar. If the collar does not detect movement within at least 12 hours, it sends out several mortality signals within a few hours. False mortality signals have been sent rather frequently in the recent past when an individual snow leopard was in fact sleeping for a long enough period of time. This time, when we received the mortality signal from Khavar’s collar, our worries were slightly enhanced because Khavar’s cluster was overlapping in space AND time with that of Aztai. Knowing that Khavar is a young male and Aztai is a scarred, experienced old male, the worries were not completely unfounded.
Upon investigation we found that Khavar is fine, unfortunately it was determined that his collar dropped off– and the drop off was six months too early. The collars are programmed to drop off after 52 weeks; this was a premature drop-off, for reasons unknown as of now. It is unfortunate that we will miss out on information about his movements with respect to those of Aztai, especially around the forthcoming mating season. As we looked at data from the recent location points, Khavar had just started doing what Shonkhor, Saikhan and Devekh did—walk out on expeditions. Hopefully we will meet Khavar again in the future! Until then, we wish him well.