Did “The Dude” Set a Snow Leopard World Record?

Field researcher Örjan Johansson shares the story of “The Dude”, the biggest, heaviest snow leopard he’s come across in a decade of field studies.

Since 2016, we’ve had a big snow leopard male visiting the area where we try to capture and collar these cats. This guy has the rather irritating habit of eating our trap cameras, which are set out to monitor the population.

“The Dude” approaches research trap camera…

In at least four instances, the last photos taken by a specific camera before its untimely destruction shows this big dude as he spots the camera and walks over to it – and then everything goes black.

He spots the foreign object and decides to “investigate”…

A few weeks ago, we picked up a camera set out to monitor one of our collared snow leopards, a female we refer to as F10, and her cubs. We found the camera on the ground, batteries taken out and spread out on the ground. Even the memory card had been removed (which takes some effort if one doesn’t have thumbs) and was nowhere to be found.

… he approaches…

A few days later, we caught the perpetrator of these wanton acts of vandalism only 200 meters from our camp. He had stepped into one of the cat-friendly snares we use to trap and then equip snow leopards with GPS collars. We didn’t target him specifically, of course – but we were nonetheless excited when we examined him.

… and the camera is doomed!
There goes our monitoring! Thanks, Dude!

He weighed 53.8 kg, which is almost 8 kg more than the previous biggest male recorded. His scientific ID is M15 (the 15th male in our study), but we’ve nicknamed him The Dude at first.

When we caught him, he had a huge belly full of meat. He must have taken down and devoured an ibex shortly before. When he isn’t full of ibex, I’d estimate that he weighs around 52kg.

As far as we know this is the biggest snow leopard ever caught and weighed – the Dude might be a World Record holder.

Örjan Johansson collaring M15, aka “The Dude” – the biggest, heaviest snow leopard we’ve ever measured.

The Dude is a confident cat, when we came up to him as he was caught in the snare, he didn’t try to escape or hide. He just sat there looking at us. When we came close he lay down – maybe getting ready to pounce. Lucky for us, he wasn’t able to move, and we immobilized and collared him.

An hour later, The Dude was back on his four paws, growled at us in a slightly displeased manner, and set out into the early morning – probably looking for the next camera trap to take out! He’ll be on the air for the next 18 months, providing us with valuable insights into snow leopard behavior!

While “The Dude” has a nice ring to it, his size, confidence and skill (in dismantling camera traps) has since made us think of other possible nicknames. I suggested naming him Zlatan, after Swedish soccer star Zlatan Ibrahimović, who is certainly as big, confident and skilled as anyone out there – and he can pounce on the ball like a snow leopard pounces on an ibex. Plus Zlatan is one rare cat himself.

Gustaf favored “Sudden”, the nickname of Mats Sundin, his all-time favorite hockey player – another big, confident and skilled dude (and a wildlife lover).

If anyone out there has a way to contact either of these two iconic athletes, please let them know they’re in the running to have the biggest, most badass snow leopard ever named after them – whoever sends us a signed jersey first wins!

8 Comments

  1. Hello!
    Thank you for the wonderful story & photos of the big male snow leopard. Excellent news about the cessation if mining!!

    I suggest doing some research and choosing a name that reflects his habitat or the language of the indigenous people who live near his habitat.
    Surely they have a word for “Dude.” Or perhaps something that relates to the mountain preserve? Or local lore about the Snow Leopard?

    Although it’s great that the researchers are hockey fans, it doesn’t seem like a great idea to name this wild animal in Asia after a European hockey player…
    Thanks for considering my viewpoint!
    Yours,
    Sandra Kammann
    Cultural Anthropologist

    1. Dear Sandra

      Thank you so much for your comment. You’re absolutely right – the most appropriate name for a snow leopard in Mongolia will be Mongolian, and will reflect the local tradition and nature. That’s in fact how we’ve named all previous cats in this study (24 before “The Dude” – cats like Ariun, Anu, Zaraa, or Devekh). Some names were chosen by donors, others by our Mongolian team members, but all were Mongolian. But before “officially” naming each cat, we usually refer to it by a nickname, in this case “The Dude” (or Zlatan/Sundin). But this cat will eventually get its Mongolian name as well 🙂

  2. Naming “the Dude”:

    How about naming him Luvsan, after the Mongolian herder and conservation advocate Surenkhuu Luvsan, who has been named the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation’s 2018 Conservation Champion?
    I’m not sure if one or both of her names are gender specific, but I could find out if there’s interest!
    Sandra Kammann

  3. Thank you for this exciting report on the snow leopard. I agree with Sandra Kammann that the name “Luvan” would be quite appropriate and would honor Surenkuu Luvan. Linda Peters, Woodland Park Zoo, Seattle, WA.

  4. Absolutely agree with Sandra, The Dude should most definitely have a Mongolian name. Is it possible to have some sort of contest among the people closest to his territory? Perhaps, first round would be possible names and then the second round they get to vote on the preferred name? Submitter of the winning name gets something they need or would cherish? World records don’t happen every day and they should be proud of such a magnificent beast in their neighborhood!

  5. Wonderful story. I also thought that this magnificent snow leopard should have a Mongolian name, perhaps something equivalent to “king” or “chief”?

  6. I agree with Chris and Sandra. There must be a Mongolian name for “Dude” as this magnificent cat embodies it. Giving the local people a chance to name him is a great idea too!

  7. Earth Calendar: Year 26, month 9, day 16 …. Being a 2 legged Indigenous to the Earth myself, I agree that an Indigenous name for the 4 Legged Snow Leopard would be most appropriate ….. beautiful caring 4 legged …. you could see and feel the kindness and love for his territory and his relatives both 2 legged and 4 legged that he has ….. big lilililili for you for sharing and to the 4 legged Snow Leopard entity for sharing his breath with us now on Mother Earth …..lililililililililililililililili

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