Sad news from the South Gobi: Earlier this month, Mongolian field researcher Sumbee Tomorsukh discovered the carcass of a dead snow leopard. Next to the body, he found the missing GPS radio collar that Ariun, one of the male cats in our study, had been wearing.
Sumbee saw no obvious signs of foul play, and the collar, which was undamaged, had dropped off as programmed. The carcass was not in a condition where it could be identified. Sumbee took tissue and bone samples for possible DNA, but analyzing them might take a very long time. Until then, we unfortunately won’t know for sure if the dead cat is Ariun.
Collar had been missing since October
In 2013, some of our GPS collars we use to track snow leopards in the South Gobi had stopped sending location data to the satellite, so these cats, including Ariun, dropped off our radar (read more here).
However, their collars continued to emit radio signals that can be detected from a short distance with radio antennas. Our field teams kept listening for these signals in the areas of these cat’s last known locations, but didn’t find anything – until this month, when Sumbee finally heard a faint signal; far from where we had initially been looking.
He tracked it down to a ravine in the Tosonbumba mountains. There, he found Ariun’s missing collar, next to a snow leopard carcass.
“Unfortunately, the cat must have been dead for quite some time, and couldn’t be identified through visual cues”, Sumbee says.
The location is almost 20km from where Ariun’s collar had last transmitted its position in December 2013, so we know he must have worn it for several days after it stopped communicating.
Some Missing Cats Have Shown Up on Camera
In addition to Ariun’s collar, we’ve also stopped receiving location data last fall from the collars worn by Agnes, Ariunbeleg and Dagina, three female cats in our study. Two other cats, Aztai and Khashaa stopped communicating abruptly in the winter of 2012-2013.
Agnes, Ariunbeleg and Dagina have appeared on research camera photos from Tosonbumba this spring and autumn, still wearing their collars. We don’t know anything definitive about Ariun’s, Aztai’s and Khashaa’s whereabouts though.
We’ll keep looking for all these cats.