The Night of The Leopards: Orjan recounts his exciting night meeting M7 and Aztai

Orjan is a Swedish PhD student who works at the base camp of our long-term research project in Mongolia. These are his adventures…

I ended my last blog entry with “Time for the 11 p.m. trap check, perhaps we have caught something now”.

Well, one of the trap transmitters was indeed on fast pulse, so I checked too see if I could pick up the signal from any of our collared cats, and I heard Tsagaan. That was good news, his collars needs to be changed.

We rapidly loaded all the gear in the car. Forty-five minutes later we were near the snow leopard. I looked around the cliff wall and saw spotted fur and a pair of eyes looking at me. Though it was not Tsagaan, which I kind of knew, I hadn’t heard any growling, and my headlamp was not reflected in white, long teeth. Instead it was an un-collared cat. The cat was very calm, which led me to believe that it was a female. Nothing macho about the comment; snow leopard females seem much calmer than males do.

The collaring and release were successful, except that I was wrong – it was another male… I still haven’t figured out how to catch females.

He weighed 39.5 kg and didn’t have any scars in his face, which all our adult males have. I think that he is a young male, probably 2.5 years old. We monitor the animals’ breathing, pulse, and temperature every tenth minute through the collaring process to make sure that they are doing fine. We have never had any problems with a cat, but in case any of the vital signs move to a un-normal level, we have a safe routine, and equipment to handle the situation.

Soon after the collaring, the cat had scaled a ridge and disappeared from our view. At 2:30 AM we returned to camp. Marhaan checked the trap signals, and I cleaned the capture gear so that everything would be good to go.

When I checked the trap signals at 6 a.m. we had another alarm, 300 meters from where we encountered the last cat. I thought that perhaps it was him again, but to my surprise it was Aztai.

He was calm and behaved nicely, as he usually does. This might sound like a contradiction of what I said earlier about the behavioral differences between male and female snow leopards, but with the exception of Aztai and M7 (the new cat), all the males are much more aggressive. We didn’t have to measure Aztai or change his collar, so after weighing him we put him in the sleeping bag with a warm water bottle at his chest. It was still windy but not too cold, perhaps 5-8 degrees C below zero. Still, ten minutes after we had put him in the bag, his temperature had raised from 37 to 37.5 degrees C. Quite interesting that despite their extremely thick fur, they still benefit so much from the sleeping bag and water bottle. Perhaps that is why they like my sleeping bag so much that sometimes they seem reluctant to leave it.

It was a big night with lots of work, and it took a while for me to recover from it. Two snow leopard encounters in one night was not something I thought possible. It’s always good to be prepared and keep the gear in order…

Our GPS tracking equipment showed that Tsagaan was in the same area at the same time, and I wonder what these three males were doing in the same area. The only explanation that I can find is that there was a female somewhere around. My guess is that she was pretty good looking.

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