The Sarychat-Ertash Reserve is a 1341 km2 protected area and a key component of the Issyk Kul Biosphere Reserve. Sarychat was declared a Zapovednik (Nature Reserve) in 1995 to conserve the rare mountain species that occur here, especially the snow leopard and argali (Ovis ammon).
As a Nature Reserve, Sarychat-Ertash has not been used for any commercial activities in over 20 years. No livestock grazing or hunting is allowed in the core zone, while seasonal grazing is allowed in the buffer zone.
The neighboring Koiluu Hunting Concession, located between Sarychat-Ertash Reserve and the newly established Khan-Tengry National Park, has intensive livestock grazing, with over 10 herders using the valley year around to graze their sheep, goats, horses, cows and yaks. It is also a licensed hunting concession for Asiatic Ibex (Capra sibirica).
“Ibex and argali and the key prey species of snow leopards in Kyrgyzstan. The more of these ungulates there are, the more snow leopards can live in an area”, says Kuban Jumabai uulu, the Snow Leopard Trust’s country director in Kyrgyzstan.
“This fall, we conducted a survey to get a good estimate of the ibex and argali populations in Sarychat-Ertash and Koiluu”, says Kuban Jumabai uulu, Director of Snow Leopard Foundation Kyrgyzstan. “We wanted to see how many of these prey animals there are, but we were also interested in comparing the results from the two sites. They form an interesting contrast – they’re part of the same landscape and have very comparable natural characteristics, but a very different history of land use.
To estimate populations, Kuban and his colleagues used the so-called Double Observer method, where two observers survey a defined area independently of each other, but at the same time. In Sarychat, they worked in partnership with the Nature Reserve rangers from the State Agency for Environment Protection and Forestry, while the work in Koiluu was carried out with the support of the Kyrgyz Hunting Department.
“In Koiluu, we estimate that there are little over 200 ibexes, or about 0.5 individuals per km2. That’s comparable to ibex densities recorded in places like Pin Valley National Park in India, or Tost Nature Reserve in Mongolia”, Kuban says.
“But in the Sarychat-Ertash Nature Reserve, the numbers were more than four times higher! There were more than two individuals per km2, and around 1,300 in total! That’s a remarkably high number, and should be capable of supporting quite a large snow leopard population.”
Based on camera trap studies he has done over the last few years, Kuban estimates that there are around 18 snow leopards living in the Sarychat Reserve. He does not have a solid estimate for the Koiluu Hunting Concession, but based on the number of available prey and preliminary camera trap studies, it’s reasonable to assume that Koiluu’s snow leopard population is quite a bit smaller than that of Sarychat.