Orjan is a Swedish PhD student who bought a one-way ticket to Mongolia to work at the base camp of our long-term research project. These are his adventures…
[This is an excerpt from a longer article; some sections have been edited down or reordered. To read Orjan’s original letter, click HERE]
We caught our first snow leopard today!
He is a 36 kg male, about three years old and his name is Aztai which means lucky in Mongolian.
We have had some very busy days, hiking and climbing to check for good trap sites and setting the last traps. We had 17 traps ready. Chris, the Austrian vet, came two days ago and we have rehearsed capture procedures, drug dosages etc. I must say that I have learned so much from Tom, Chris and Kim the last week. I am really glad that Tom and Kim are here and it feels great to have them leading this project. Two days ago the alarm on a trap was released for the first time and we were all excited as we were sitting in the van, heading for the trap. Yesterday morning we had our second false alarm, both these times it seems as if a rodent have tripped the wire to the transmitter. Even though everyone was disappointed that there was no snow leopard in the traps, both occasions served as good rehearsals at the same time as they took the edge of the first “panic” when the alarm went.
Yesterday afternoon my stomach started cramping and I got a bit sick, couldn’t even drink water so I headed for bed and stayed there. I woke up this morning hearing that Namshur, who had checked the transmitters from the mountain, had heard that one alarm was on. Apparently, it was the one across the valley. I felt quite weak and was trying to decide whether I could get up or not so to be honest, I was kind of hoping that it would be a false alarm. Pursee and Pujii, our two Mongolian biologists went over to check the trap and after a while I heard Tom shouting “they are running” and a little later “Irbis”, which is Mongolian for snow leopard. I crawled out of bed, mind set that I will try, but maybe let Tom or Chris run the capture in case I felt too weak. (Chris later told me that there was no chance that I was staying in bed and that he would have carried me to the trap if necessary).
Well the rest of the [collaring] was more or less standard and everything went good. We gave Aztai the antidote [to help the anesthesia wear off] and walked away a bit so he wouldn’t be stressed. As he got up and started moving around I decided that I will stop looking for snow leopards in the mountains. Even with binoculars it was almost impossible to see him. Snow leopards are truly magnificent animals and it was a stunning moment to be so close to one.
As we got back to camp, I sorted out the samples we had collected and then passed out in bed. This afternoon, Chris [a visiting vet] taught Kim and me how to suture in case any of the staff, or a leopard, gets injured. We used a hamster that was caught in a mouse trap in the office ger last night as a patient but despite our greatest efforts, we where not able to revive the poor fellow.
So, that’s what happened today. I can’t think of what more to write, nothing seems important compared to the capture, though I have missed to write some things.