Ecologists see increasing snow leopard population in Tuva
Mar 22 (dateline below listed differently)
Moscow, 17 March – RIA Novosti WWF’s Altai-Sayan Program announced that the snow leopard population along the southern part of the Shapshal’sky Ridge and on the Tsagan-Shibetu Ridge in Tuva Republic is in good condition and that the female snow leopards are reproducing.
Snow leopards are one of the least studied large cat species in the world. This is related in part due to the inaccessibility of their habitat as well as the species’ rarity.
Aleksandr Kuksin, Ubsunurskaya Kotlovina staff, is quoted as saying, “The snow leopards here are successfully reproducing, and we are constantly seeing signs of females with offspring along the Tsagan-Shibetu Ridge. This means that the predator’s population is being complemented with young individuals, and that overall the group of snow leopards in the southern part of Shapshal’sky Ridge and on Tsagan-Shibetu Ridge in Tuva can be called favorable. It can be assumed that the snow leopard population even slightly increased between 2004 and 2011.”
Signs of snow leopard activity were discovered in all river valley studied, including the Khemchika and Shuya headwaters and the Toolaylyg and Barlyk Rivers watersheds. Researchers identified 19 signs of snow leopards belonging to 17 different snow leopards, and there was a single encounter with the rare predatory. In 2004 in that same region, 13 snow leopard spoors were found, belonging to 8-10 individuals. Staff from Ubsunurskaya Kotlovina Zapovednik staff and Tuva’s state Hunting and Fishing Committee staff conducted field research to assess snow leopard and Siberian mountain goat populations concluded on March 6
In addition to finding the spoor of this rare predatory, expedition participants found numerous sites showing ongoing marking activities by snow leopard, which like any cat, they use to indicate individual territories.
Approximately 40 scat samples were gathered and will be sent to the Severtsov Institute for Ecology and Evolution Problems (RAS) for DNA analysis, which will permit determination of the population’s size, their gender, and age.
Evidence of snow leopard on Shapshal’sky Ridge and Tsagan-Shibetu
Moreover, snow leopard excrement is needed to train scent dogs, an activity now being conducted with WWF-Russia support in Barnaul. In the future Erik the German shepherd, now being trained to locate and identify snow leopard spoor by scent, will support Tuvan and Altai conservationists in fieldwork.
“Today, Erik is training using excrement from zoos, but using material collected in the snow leopard’s natural habitat will significantly increase the dog’s competence, because the dog will be working in this predator’s actual habitat, “ explain WWF-Russia experts.
In addition, expedition participants observed 148 mountain goats (Siberian mountain goats), which, in comparison with past years, indicates the stability of this grouping. A low-snow winter has left grazing areas accessible to mountain goats in the high mountains, where over the course of the winter a significant portion of ungulates remained. The main threats to snow leopards remain shepherds that lose sheep to predator attacks and local snare poachers, according to WWF-Russia. One to two local snow leopards are lost every year as a result of an animal accidentally ending up in a snare trap. The inspectors that participated in the expedition succeeded in arresting three poachers from Ovyursky Rayon for illegal mountain goat hunting along the Eldig-Khem River.
Translation courtesy of Jennifer Castner.