First ever long-term ecological study of snow leopards underway

JUNE 11: The Snow Leopard Trust (SLT) today announced the successful launch of a new long-term study of snow leopards with the establishment of the J. Tserendeleg Snow Leopard Research Center in Mongolia’s South Gobi Province. Located in the Tost mountains, approximately 250 km west of the provincial capital of Dalanzadgad, the research center is situated in some of Mongolia’s best snow leopard habitat. SLT has had
active conservation programs in this area for nearly a decade.

Today the research center consists of a modest 3 gers (yurts) but is already home to an international team of scientists and graduate students from Mongolia, India, USA, and Argentina. A Ph.D. student from Sweden will join the team next month. The center will be staffed year-round. Several local residents will be employed to provide logistical support and serve as field assistants on the various study components.

The research facility is named for one of Mongolia’s most respected conservationists, the late J. Tserendeleg, who was instrumental in establishing the first radio-collaring study of snow leopards in Mongolia in the early 1990s in collaboration with George Schaller and Tom McCarthy. “We can’t think of a better way to honor the man who did so much for snow leopard conservation in our country”, said Bayarjargal, Director of the Snow Leopard Conservation Fund (SLT’s Mongolian affiliate). Over the next 10 to 15 years the research
facility is expected to grow and eventually include an information center for local people and tourists, as well as a training/education center that will host scientists and graduate students from around the region. Despite its remote location the facility will be state-of-the-art from the outset. Already internet capable, the facility will also be fully solar powered by the end of this summer.

The first team of scientists is already busy conducting camera trapping and genetics studies. Methods testing will be a primary task of researchers at the facility and a Mongolian graduate student will be evaluating occupancy surveys as an alternative to ‘SLIMS’ sign transects, that have proven unreliable for monitoring snow leopard numbers, as the subject her thesis research this summer.

The most ambitious undertaking this year will be the initiation of GPS collaring of snow leopards in July. The new generation of collars the team will deploy uses satellite phone technology to uplink multiple GPS locations a day for each collared cat. This technology was selected to overcome problems related to failures of Argos-based uplinks for numerous collared species in the country. The findings from this collaring
project will add greatly to our knowledge of snow leopards, especially when viewed in conjunction with a similar study that will be initiated by the Snow Leopard Conservancy elsewhere in Mongolia later this summer. The two studies are complimentary and will share data for the betterment of the species.

The long-term study in South Gobi is a collaborative effort of the Snow Leopard Trust, Snow Leopard Conservation Fund, the Mongolian Ministry of Nature and Environment, the Mongolian Institute of Biology, Felidae Conservation Fund, Panthera, and the Wildlife Conservation Society.

Regular reports will be posted to the SLN listserve and on the websites of many of the collaborating organizations.

For more information contact: Tom McCarthy, Science and Conservation Director, SLT.

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