By SLN member Stefan Michel*
At the 8 February 2011, approximately 2:30 pm a young dead snow leopard was found in Darvaz district of Tajikistan’s GBAO province.
The area south of village Zighar, located immediately at the Pyanj River at the border with Afghanistan is since several years managed as a private conservancy “M-Sayed” and with a population of estimated 250-300 animals has become a stronghold of Tajik markhor Capra falconeri heptneri. The managers of the conservancy during the last weeks complained about increasing losses of markhor which they attributed to snow leopards as well as about depredation on domestic goats. A female markhor, obviously freshly killed and partly eaten by a snow leopard was just found by the author at 23 January 2011 in this area, immediately at the roadside of the Dushanbe-Khorog road. One more markhor, allegedly killed by snow leopard was detected by the managers of the area few days later. They told as well about several observations of snow leopards close to the road. As markhor are seasonally concentrated at the lower belt of the mountains they are not only frequently observed by people passing the road, but they seem to attract as well snow leopards.
The dead snow leopard cub, probably born in spring/summer 2010, was detected by the author after he observed a concentration of Himalayan vultures accompanied by two golden eagles and two lammergeyers. After climbing a talus of about fifty meters height, at the bottom of a several hundred meters high cliff he found the corpse of a snow leopard. The corpse was already opened by the birds but the blood was not yet coagulated. The position was N 38°3’55.2’’ // E 070°23’0.3’’, altitude approx. 1100 a.s.l.
The snow leopard was taken to Khorog and after inspection by the State nature protection authorities carefully investigated and skin and skull saved for the collection of the Institute for Zoology and Parasitology of the Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Tajikistan. The measures of the snow leopard were: total length: 159.5 cm; head and body without tale 74.5 cm, head (with skin). As large parts were already missing the weight was not taken. The necropsy showed a heavy trauma at the skull indicated by large haematomas and completely broken skull. Further haematomas were found at the neck. The musculature was well developed, little fat was found under the skin, particularly at the neck; and teethes were intact. The vultures had caused ruptures of the skin and the inner organs; parts of the bones were already eaten. Despite this shape, the author is sure that there were no indications of poacher’s impacts.
So it seems that just few hours before the cub accidentally had fallen down the cliff and died immediately. Interestingly, around one week before, the managers of the conservancy at this place found the remnants of a 3 years old male markhor, which had fallen down the same cliff and was partly eaten by snow leopard. They as well reported that nearby an adult snow leopard was observed during an unsuccessful hunting attempt on markhor.
The high frequency and numbers of markhor observed immediately from the roadside as well as the abundance of snow leopard can be seen as indicators for the efficiency of the protection measures of the private conservancy, especially if compared to neighbouring areas unprotected or even assigned as protected area by the state. For the future, controlled trophy hunting on markhor is thinkable and would provide strong incentives for private and community based conservation and wildlife management. Requirements are that Tajikistan becomes a party of CITES and appropriate benefit sharing is in place. There is a risk that under profitable markhor management snow leopard could be seen as a pest and become pursued. Talks with the managers of the private conservancy showed that despite some level of annoyance, they are ready to accept the snow leopard as a part of the ecosystem.
*Stefan Michel, Wildlife Management Expert, Nature Protection Team; 77 Lenin Street, Khorog, 736000, GBAO, Tajikistan; email: email@example.com, www.wildlife-tajikistan.org