It all started back in 2002 – twenty years ago. The Snow Leopard Survival Summit brought together over 60 experts from 17 countries to develop what was to become the Snow Leopard Survival Strategy. From that meeting the Snow Leopard Network was founded with a Steering Committee of eight elected members. Many of the 2002 Summit participants, are still working in snow leopard conservation today. Now, with over 500 members and 28 organisations, the Snow Leopard Network provides a platform for an increasing number of practitioners across Asia and the world around snow leopard conservation.
We take the opportunity to look back and highlight some key moments and achievements of the Network. We are bringing together 5 distinguished Steering Committee members from different periods of time to share experiences and reflections through photographic images and their accounts. We will also use this opportunity to look to the future of the Network.
Snow leopards named Khorgai and Guta are most likely the world’s oldest known couple of snow leopards living in the wild. Both are at least 13 years old, this is the almost maximum recorded age of the snow leopard in nature. In zoos, with enough food and in comfortable conditions, snow leopards can live up to 21 years. They met at least 10 years ago and have at least two litters of cubs together.
“WWF-Russia is confident in the age of Khorgai and Guta, we, together with our partners, have been camera trapping them since 2011-2012. Such old snow leopards are very rare in the wild. Snow leopards at the age of 13 have been recorded in the wild, for example, in Mongolia, but this is the first time a mating couple of snow leopards of this old age has been recorded. Both snow leopards live on the Chikhachev Ridge in the Altai Republic at the border with Mongolia. Being that old proves the living conditions of these snow leopards, it is an indicator of the well-being of this couple, which underlines the importance of Chikhachev Ridge, as a snow leopard habitat. This mountain bridge on the border with Mongolia allows snow leopards migrate from one country to another”, says Alexander Karnaukhov, Senior Coordinator of Altai-Sayan Branch of WWF Russia.
Guta, female snow leopard
Guta inhabits the Chikhachev Ridge. Camera traps have been monitoring Guta since 2012 when she was captured with cubs, which means that the female was at least 3 years old. She shares the individual sites with Khorgai, male snow leopard, so it is clear for the scientists that they are a mating couples and have litters together. Guta’s tail tip is not black like in most snow leopards, but white. It is also curved like a question mark. Her tail leaves characteristic strokes in the snow, by which Guta is easy to recognize.
Khorgai, male snow leopard
Khorgai is the dominant male. He is also the likely father of the cubs born by the female named Bogusha.The first photographs of Khorgai were taken in 2011.He spends most of the year on the Altai part of the Chikhachev ridge. Without informing the border guards, without a visa, in winter, during heavy snowfalls, Khorgai migrates to Mongolia. It was Khorgai who was the first snow leopard in Altai to be filmed by camera traps in October 2011 on the Chikhachev Ridge; the snow leopard was already at least two years old. Recorded by Khorgai, a senior researcher at the Altai State Biosphere Reserve, Sergei Spitsyn, a legendary Russian researcher of snow leopards. Long-liver Khorgai has become a universal favorite of scientists and spectators. A corn-eared snow leopard, which is easily recognizable by a scar on the cheek and spots on the tail. Khorgai’s tail has a specific pattern of spots: three spots, then two spots and one spot, like symbols in Morse code. Scientists use these patterns to distinguish snow leopards from each other.
Recently each image of Khorgai and Guta is the joy for scientists. It means the snow leopards are alive and safe. The latest images of Khorgai obtained in 2021. Most likely, Khorgai has more offsprings, at least ten, including cubs in Mongolia.
Snow leopard NEWS: SLN Pre-Event to the GSLEP Steering Committee Meeting
This year, 2021, the GSLEP Steering Committee (SC) Meeting will be virtual and take place on October 22nd, 2021. The Snow Leopard Network would like to host a pre-event to the GSLEP SC meeting, on Thursday October 21st, 2021. This will allow us to come together as a Network and join the GSLEP forum, to officially launch Snow Leopard NEWS. We hope this key initiative will allow for greater sharing of knowledge, opportunity for collaboration between members, and feed into stronger and more effective snow leopard conservation efforts in the field.
Opening the pre-event our SLN Steering Committee Chair – Dr. Sandro Lovari – will give a brief introduction to Snow Leopard NEWS and highlight the thinking behind the first Edition. The Editors and members of the Editorial Board will also be present to share what they see as the initiative’s potential. During the discussion period, we hope to hear from you, in terms of how Snow Leopard NEWScan support practitioners and researchers across the range.
Please do join us on October 21st, 2021 (a day before the SC Meeting), to catalyze energy and ideas towards snow leopard conservation at this important annual gathering. We very much appreciate the GSLEP Secretariat for hosting this event on their platform.
When: 14:00 Bishkek time; Thursday October 21st, 2021
More about Snow Leopard NEWS: SLN is excited to announce an annual ‘open-access’ newsletter entitled ‘Snow Leopard NEWS’. Through a series of short notes and research contributions, the aim of the newsletter is to collate and make available the latest information on snow leopard ecology and conservation. Its ambit includes not only the snow leopard, but also its prey and carnivores that share the landscape with this majestic cat. Snow Leopard NEWS is also committed to featuring innovative conservation practices and policies which address threats impacting snow leopard habitats. Snow Leopard NEWS is especially committed to showcasing work that is undertaken by conservation practitioners at different levels across the snow leopard landscapes.