Below is a tribute to Sumbe, written on behalf of all of us here at the Snow Leopard Trust by his friend and colleague, Dr. Koustubh Sharma.
The Mountain Climbing Machine that went away too soon…
He climbed the mountains like an ibex. He ran on steep slopes where most of us would barely manage to crawl. He cared for snow leopards and ibexes as if they were his own. He helped his colleagues and communities selflessly. He was a young promising researcher who hailed from the water-rich Khuvsgul province, but had taken to the arid Gobi desert as his second home. He was our treasured Mountain Climbing Machine. We had never imagined we would need to use past tense while describing Lkhagvasumberel Tumursukh, fondly known as Sumbe.
Sadly and shockingly, we lost Sumbe last week. Sumbe’s death is currently being investigated. His body was found in the Khuvsgul area last week and the funeral was held at his home earlier this week.
We met Sumbe for the first time in 2009, when he joined our camera trapping team as a student intern in the South Gobi to assist with the long-term ecological study on snow leopards (LTES). He was a young, honest and strong lad who didn’t speak much English, but had the passion to work in the mountains. He worked with a diverse team of Mongolian and non-Mongolian researchers and volunteers.
Within days he understood what it took to look for appropriate sites and set up camera traps, and soon enough he learnt how to set up camera traps in the field on his own. Everyone was so impressed with him that he was almost immediately absorbed into the team at Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation (SLCF) led by Bayara Agvaantseren, Mongolia Program Director. Sumbe was hired full time in 2012 and became the primary Research Associate for Snow Leopard Trust’s Long-term Ecological Study (LTES) in Mongolia, and also conducted research throughout Mongolia for Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation (SLCF), the partner organization to Snow Leopard Trust. Coming from a family with deep connections with nature, he was a natural with all the new tasks he undertook.
Sumbe became an indispensable member of our team. He was our key researcher in the field conducting prey surveys using double-observer methods, helping with camera traps set up, tracking down snow leopard collars whose satellite communication was broken or expired, managing the research centre, maintaining good relationship with the local communities, and assisting with collaring snow leopards
He began assisting with surveys and conservation programs in other parts of the country where Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation was operating. He also enrolled for his Master’s degree in the University, and as part of his dissertation conducted valuable surveys in the Tost Mountains in South Gobi using the method of double-observer counts. One of the finest papers on prey abundance using this methodology in the field came recently with Sumbe as the lead author. He also co-authored other scientific papers that focused on snow leopard population dynamics and snow leopard diets. He was developing into a fine scientist.
Sumbe had a never diminishing flame in him to learn and improve his skills. He spent several weeks in India, honing his statistical skills and knowledge about ecology while staying and studying with colleagues at Nature Conservation Foundation. This is when he also took a formal course in English.
In July 2014 Sumbe was awarded a grant from CREOi to travel to the United States to increase the capacity within Mongolia for snow leopard research and animal handling and care based on practices utilized by Sound Equine Veterinary Hospital Director, Dr. Cary Hills and Fish and Wildlife Department cougar experts as well as veterinarians at the Woodland Park Zoo. Sumbe eagerly developed and built upon his own skills and understanding of animal care including the safe handling of large mammals, helping him increase his ability to assist in the long-term ecological study with his ungulate studies as well as to assist in the snow leopard collaring project.
Sumbe was to present his work at the upcoming Student Conference on Conservation Science in the coming spring. His paper for oral presentation was selected by the conference organizers. He had also earned a spot to spend a month in UK to intern with some of the finest zoos, honing his skills on handling wild animals.
Sumbe will be missed sorely. Thinking of him will continue to bring a smile to us forever, but will also pain our hearts, for he left us much too early. His never-ending energy, unfailing enthusiasm and unmatched compassion will inspire us always.