Devekh Is Off the Air

We have lost contact with the GPS collar worn by Devekh, the male snow leopard we had been tracking in Mongolia’s South Gobi – most likely due to the collar’s battery running out of steam. For the first time in several years, we’re therefore not currently tracking any cats.

Dr. Koustubh Sharma, our Senior Regional Ecologist who leads the collaring project in Mongolia, has summarized the most important insights we’ve been able to gain about Devekh in the last years:

We photographed Devekh for the first time in the summer of 2009 as a nervous male scuttling through scraping sites.

He was subsequently collared in 2010 but the old collar did not function well and we soon lost contact with him.

Devekh was collared again in the spring of 2013, by when he had grown significantly in size and also confidence. In 2013, he became our most photographed cat during the annual summer camera trapping.

During that summer, we were able to observe Devekh and our other collared male at the time, Ariun, live as direct neighbors. They had seemingly divided the Tost-Tosonbumba Mountains into two nearly equal halves with Devekh ruling the east and Ariun making a home in the west.

Both crossed the wide valley between Tost and Tosonbumba via the identified ‘bridge ridges’ regularly – but they largely maintained a clear boundary between their territories that was only very occasionally breached by either cat.

Devekh, photographed in 2014
Devekh, photographed in 2014

We also observed the two cats having close encounters with each other, as well as some of the females they overlapped with.

Devekh’s ranging patterns overlapped with many of our known females including Ariunbeleg, Dagina, Anu and other uncollared females in the Tost Mountains.

Watching these two big boys gave us valuable insight into the territorial behavior of male snow leopards.

In the beginning, Devekh covered a 250-275 sq km range, similar to other male cats we had collared until then. By the end of 2013, however, Devekh’s ranging patterns widened considerably, and he started patrolling more than 400 sq km of the Tost-Tosonbumba Mountains, crossing over between Tost and Tosonbumba on an average once every 10 days.

a map of Devekh’s home in Mongolia’s South Gobi. Yellow dots represent Devekh’s locations in November 2014. The purple area is his approximate home range through 2014.

By January 2014, Ariun’s collar stopped sending signals, so Devekh became our only cat “on the air”. Intriguingly enough, we started seeing Devekh ‘invading’ into what had been Ariun’s range.

By early spring of 2014, Devekh was ruling the entire eastern portion of Ariun’s homerange. We feared that Ariun was dead, which became a near certainty after we found a snow leopard carcass in the mountains with his collar lying nearby.

Later that same year, we saw Devekh reducing his home range again, possibly due to the presence of females on estrus that he was closely following.

By August 2014, Devekh’s ranging patterns once again changed shape: he was no longer patrolling the east of Tost Mountains, but the west, and continuing to patrol the east of Tosonbumba.

We lost contact with Devekh on the 21st of January, about two months before the scheduled drop-off of his collar.

A search party went into his habitat to find the collar, but they weren’t successful – which is a good sign, as it suggests that Devekh’s still walking around wearing the collar, even if it’s no longer communicating with the satellite. It will drop off soon though, and our team will once again head into the mountains to try and retrieve it.

Devekh may be off the air for now, but there is still an urgent need for more research into these cats’ behavior and needs. Our team will be heading back into the Gobi in the coming weeks, and they hope to collar one or several more snow leopards there soon.

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