Getting to my new home

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…

As we checked in at the airport it turned out that together, the four of us (me, Tom, Kim and Namshur our Mongolian veterinarian) had about 65 kg of overweight. Part of this was due to all scientific equipment and part was because Nadja misunderstood Tom when he asked her to buy some uncut cheese, as in, not sliced cheese.  She bought a whole cheese, as in, not cut at all. Well, at least we will not run out of cheese in a while. And there was really not much of a problem, besides us, it was just three more people on the plane.

In Dalandzadgad we were picked up by Biamba, a Mongolian who has worked as driver for the crew who stayed in the camp during summer. We loaded all luggage in the Russian van (which was already full of all the stuff we sent down by truck two days earlier and headed to the market to but vegetables, bread and some other stuff. Before we could leave the Mongolians were really keen on lunch (I have understood that eating is very important to them).

Unfortunately, the power had been out for three days so it took a while to find a restaurant that was open. With our stomachs full and our minds set on a long drive we took off. I knew that the roads would be bad but I hadn’t expected them to be that bad. Took us a bit more than 10 hours to get to camp with just two short stops. I checked the speed a few times and according to the meter we were doing between 70 and 90 km/h, I agree with the meter cause both we and some of the luggage were flying around in the van a couple of times. Eventually we got to camp, and what a camp!

The sleeping ger contains five bunk beds and some shelves. The Kitchen is really nice with a gas stove and a little table with chairs. There’s sausages and dried sheep meat hanging from the ceiling and all around the walls there are food stashed up. The office has a U-shaped desk with computers, electronic gadgets and boxes with equipment piled up wherever there is room. Everyone have told me that the food in Mongolia is horrible but our cook is fantastic. Considering where we are and what supplies she has, she cooks delicious food.  The cook and the caretaker (the Mongolian couple) lives in a ger about 30 meters behind the camp.

Around the camp there are small stone walls (very small) which make it really cosy. We have a great toilet (a little house built over a hole in the ground) and a shower is under construction. Together with the surrounding this must be if not the best place, than at least top three that I have lived in.  The camp is situated at the mouth of a canyon going into a valley, hard to describe but it means that we see mountains on all sides.  And what mountains. The summits are realy pointy and dramatic. We have seen ibex, owls, falcons lammergeier and lots of other birds from camp.

We spent the first day here unpacking all the gear and I filled up the capture backpack with all the stuff we will need. In the afternoon we went for a short hike o check some trap cameras (hidden cameras with motion sensors) The cameras have been out for two months partly to fascilitate finding good trap sites. There are scrape markings (the snow leopards pee on a cliff and scratch together some pebbles for a visual mark) all over these mountains, there is actually one 200 meters from camp. We found some good places. Man, the mountains are so beautiful and the feeling that there are so many leopards around is thrilling.

Setting a trap takes a few hours, I think that I will describe it in detail when I can upload some pictures but in short, first you nail the trap mechanism to the ground and dig a hole for the trigger. Then you cover the hole with a cloth and lay your snare on the cloth. Then you put dirt on the cloth and sharp stones around it so the leopard will step in the snare. To make sure that the leopard can’t get away you need to attach the snare to a rock (with a spring coil between so the snare will have some resistance instead of being totally numb). Last thing we do is attaching a transmitter that will send a radio signal in case something gets caught in the trap. In case there are no rock around to tie the snare to, you will need a weight of some kind. So day two, we went to Gurvantes, the village nearby to get some scrap metal. As we’re driving around Tom yells out “thats what we want”! In a yard, there’s all sorts of yunk lying around, we negotiate a price and load the van full of transmission parts, generator, wheel rims etc.

For the past days, we have been carrying tools, snares, wire, trap mechanisms and really heavy metal parts up the mountains and setting snares. Today, we have ten traps set.

I could write so much more but it is my time to climb one of the mountains to listen if any of the transmitters has changed signal, in that case, we will be busy tonight. We climb the mountain every morning at five and every evening at eight.

Orjan

A note from SLT about the use of snares: snare are being used to capture snow leopards so that GPS radio collars can be placed on them. To see what the collars do, look under the “Categories” section of this website and read the story of Bayad. To learn more about the snares and how they work, read the comment attached to this post.

7 Comments

  1. Other than snares, there really is no other reliable or safe way to capture snow leopards. They will not go into box traps or cages of any kind. Other researchers have tried that in the past, and even placed meat or live bait inside. The leopards that came to the trap walked around it many times, but always departed without going in, despite the free meal being offered.

    The snares being used are built with several safety features. First, the snare loop that actually holds the animal’s leg has a lock on it that prevents it from over-tightening. The snare cable is of a diameter that will not cut the cat’s skin. Also, it can only close to about the diameter of the cat’s foreleg and no farther. So the loop gets small enough to not slide off over the paw, but can’t close tight enough to damage the leg or cut off circulation. We then place one or more swivels between the leg loop and the cable that holds it to a tree or other anchor. The swivels allow the animal to roll over freely without tangling the cable, which could break the cable or tangle the animal. One of the most important safety features is a large spring that is between the leg lop and the anchor. This allows the animal to pull against it and only meet with flexible resistance, not a solid jolting stop which could injure its leg.

    Sensors accompany the snares to alert researchers as soon as a snow leopard is caught, so that they can immediately attend to the cat.

    1. Thanks Sandra–that means a lot to us. I am just about to post more update now in Follow the Cats. So I hope you keep checking back and sign up for our RSS feed.

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