Cubs Have Been Spotted!

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…

Two days ago, Bo and I went with Miji to visit a family whose livestock had been raided by a female snow leopard with two cubs. This was the first sighting of cubs in long time, and all that tiredness I wrote about last time disappeared when I heard this news.

Bo left with Miji for Dalandzadgad this morning. I wasn’t sure of what to do today, but after a while, I got too eager to check the area where the female with cubs had been spotted. I packed my bag and took off.

We’ve had ten warm days with lots of sightings of migrating birds and insects. This morning was sunny and warm, and I behaved like an amateur: I took the motorbike on dirt tracks to a place 30 km away (as the bird flies) without proper equipment. When I was about two km from the mountain range, I noticed that I couldn’t see the mountains anymore. A few minutes later, I was in the middle of a snow storm, and I couldn’t see much at all anymore. I always carry tools to repair the bike, in addition to water, food, and matches (though I don’t know what to build a fire with out in the treeless desert), a headlamp, and a thin down jacket in the backpack. What I didn’t bring were my gauntlets (big mittens with a windproof layer on the outside). My hands are my weak point when it’s cold. It didn’t take long for my gloves to get wet, or for my hands to go numb. I turned towards base camp; there is a “road” going there, and it’s closer than our trap camp.

To make matters worse, the only maps we have are A4 printouts with contours of the topography – each line represents a 10-meter difference in altitude, so they are not very accurate. I can usually navigate using the sun and my watch, which is fine, when you can see the sun. The mountains contain a lot of iron ore, so our compasses don’t work very well out here. I do have a GPS, but since our maps don’t have gridlines, I can only use it to find stored positions. So…

I checked the GPS every time I stopped to get some blood back into my hands, to be semi-certain that I was going in the right direction, and I eventually got back to Base Camp. To my disappointment, no one was there, and I didn’t have the keys to our ger. Well, nothing to do but drive to the trap camp, and in the end I just hung on to the bike without shifting or changing the throttle. Our neighbor was herding livestock just outside our camp when I got there, and I invited him in to thaw out over a cup of tea.

Tomorrow, I will pack more clothes and find that female…


  1. How much stress do you believe the collar causes to the animals health? There was a jaguar collared in our area that died 2 weeks later, some say due to the stress of being collared.

  2. Hi Linda,

    this is a very good question, and we did hear of the collared jaguar that passed away. I will run this question past our biologists, but for the moment what I would like to say is that this is a primary concern of ours as well.

  3. Thank you for the reply. It was indeed heartbreaking to lose the only Jaguar known to be living wild in the US. Investigations have found that alot of the tagging and such was not done properly. I would like to know what your biologists say about this subject.

  4. I am also curious about the risk. There was a cheetah that was shown on Big Cat Diary some years ago that died from being darted — she died the day after being darted. It seems there is risk with both collaring and darting, and it would be good to know the actual percentages.

  5. Last saturday SVT (Swedish television) had a wolf-theme. Among other wolves we could follow the leader of the pack, “Ulrik”, who was sedated, collared and recollared a couple of times but after a few times (this was done over a period of several years and due to limited lifetime of the collars) they chose not to sedate him again due to the risks.

    In the beginning they used collars that could be traced by hunters (probably wolfhaters or maybe livestock owners) but later on they got new equipment that´s safer for the animals.

    In my opinion the collaring procedure is harmless if done properly.

  6. Sorry for the delay, but I have finally posted a page called “Collar FAQs” under the About Us section on the right. Check it out. There is a lot of general info about the collars, and also we address your questions about risk. I hope this helps!

  7. As for the darting, and I would imagine the stress induced from collars, each animal will react differently. Just as in humans, and indeed all animals, our tolorance for sedatives can vary greatly, and the after-effects of such drugs are no different. The same can be argued for stress levels, if there is indeed any correlation between the collars and stress or death.

    The fact remains that these instances known so far represent a very small figure, out of countless tracked animals of all types over many years. The proceedures, when practiced by trained personelle, should not be considered risky or dangerous. It is a tragedy none the less.

Leave a Reply