May 12, 2010 from Tuva Online
According to the research data of WWF, the conflict between the snow leopard and the residents of Western Tuva remains active. The leopards are in danger of getting shot by the herdsmen in revenge for attacks on domestic livestock. WWF continues to actively work with the herdsmen. The conflict between irbis and people originated when the local shepherds took their herds to graze in areas where this predator lives, and the normal population density of hoofed animals dropped off because of poaching.
Lacking their natural prey, the snow leopards started to attack domestic livestock. The leopards attack goats and sheep; only rarely do they attack large animals like yaks and horses, in which case they concentrate on young animals. However, a case was documented where a female leopard and two grown cubs killed a large 8-year-old yak.
According to the collected evidence from 2000-2007 yrs, in Western Tuva (Mongun-Taiga and Bai-Taiga districts of Republic Tyva), every year about 80-100 heads of small horned cattle and 10-30 horses and yaks fall prey to snow leopards. Especially massive losses of sheep and goats – up to 80-90% of the total number of killed animals – occur when a leopard gets into the koshara, a roofed stable where the cattle spends the night.
According to the census carried out by WWF specialists on the Tsagan-Shibetu ridge in the spring of 2010, during the period from November 2009 to February 2010, there were 6 cases of snow leopard attack on livestock. Defending the livestock, which, in these regions, is the only source of subsistence, Tuvans often shoot the leopards in revenge for their savaged cattle. Considering that many shepherds suffer from irbis attacks, there is a potential threat that they may act as accomplices to the poachers who hunt the snow leopard for profit on order.
In the evaluation of experts, the total snow leopard population in Western Tuva is at least 18-20 individuals. The preservation of this grouping of the species who live on the Shapshal and Tsagan-Shibetu ridges, Chikhachevo and Mongun-Taiga, is one of the priority tasks of the snow leopard protection in the Russian Federation.
Altai-Sayan project of WWF invests a great effort to defuse the conflict between herdsmen and the snow leopard. For example, in October 2007, using data from WWF, the staff of the “Ubsunur depression” nature preserve together with the local residents worked on strengthening the stables as a means to prevent incursions of snow leopards at the Tsagan-Shibetu ridge ( as part of the project PROON/GEF).
Ventilation openings in the kosharas, as well as windows and openings above doors were covered over by strong wire netting, which successfully prevented snow leopard incursions into the stables. This simple expedient allowed the losses from snow leopard attacks on livestock in the kosharas to decrease by 80-90%, and also prevented deaths of the predators at the hands of the herdsmen. In that way, during the period from November 2007 to the present time, there was not a single case of an irbis getting into a koshara at the Tsagan-Shibetu ridge.
In 2009, a special Buddhist calendar was published with photos of the irbis and Kamby-Lama’s appeal to the residents of the mountains to protect the snow leopard and the areas of his range. Such a calendar can now be seen in many yurts and houses of herdsmen in Western Tuva.
Currently a co-operative project of WWF and PROON/GEF is being realized, working out a trans-border eco-tourism route “The country of the snow leopard”, whose core task is to involve the herdsmen of Tuva and Altai in tourist activities within the irbis range. The irbis will be used as the main attraction of Western Tuva for tourism, with the aim to show the local population the value of this species for development of tourism. Motives of traditional souvenir production will also involve the snow leopard.
In this way, the protection of snow leopard will become a direct source of income for the population from eco-tourism, and its development could become an effective instrument of protection of rare species in Western Tuva.
In 2010, with support from WWF, an evaluation of the numbers of a trans-border grouping of snow leopard on the Tsagan-Shibetu range (Russia and Mongolia). The total numbers of this grouping was calculated at 15-20 individuals, and its condition was appreciated as stable. In June 2010 the A.N. Severtsov Institute of Problems of Ecology and Evolution RAN, together with WWF of Russia, are planning to start a project of observing this group of snow leopards with the use of satellite collars and automatic photo cameras. These works should bring many new findings about the snow leopard in Western Tuva, and to suggest new actions to be taken for protection of this species.
Tatiana Ivanitskaya, translated by Heda Jindrak