Since 2008, we have been visiting the sites where we seen our collared cats stop for periods of time. We referred to these as ‘clusters’ because we see them as a cluster of data points. Most often the cats stop traveling because they have killed a prey animal and will take a few days to eat. With some detective work, we can gather a lot of information about the animal killed, such as the species, age, sex and general health.
We also survey the habitat nearby to get a better understanding of where the snow leopards hunt. In some clusters the snow leopard has simply laid down to rest, and I have learned that snow leopards prefer to take naps in very, very steep and rugged terrain. Those sites involve a lot of climbing, balancing and telling oneself that vertigo is a highly irrational feeling.
We have now found more than 200 prey animals by visiting clusters and can for the first time start looking at new aspects of predation patterns. All previous studies have gathered feces to determine the proportion of different prey species snow leopards typically eat. With our cluster data, we can describe how often a snow leopard kills a large prey, if there are differences in predation between males and females, if the cats select different prey species during different seasons and so on. In addition to the prey counts that Sumbee is conducting, we can calculate how the cats affect the prey populations and what size prey population is needed to sustain the snow leopards in the Tost region of Mongolia. We intend to begin analyzing the data near the end of this year and use the results to extrapolate into other regions.