“Irby,” named after the Irbis snow leopard, is the official mascot of the seventh Asian Winter Games.

January 30, 2011

Asian Winter Games Open In Kazakhstan

It may not be the Winter Olympics, but Kazakhstan is hoping that the 2011 Asian Winter Games will promote its status as a world-class sporting venue with future Olympic potential.

The Asian Winter Games, which kick off today, will bring together more than 1,100 athletes from 27 Asian countries for a week of competition in Kazakhstan’s two main cities of Astana and Almaty.

The event is considered highly prestigious among many Asian states, with countries like China, Japan, and South Korea all sending their leading athletes.

Today’s opening ceremony will be held at a newly build 30,000-seat arena in the capital, Astana. Another arena in the city will host competitions in speed skating, while two other skating stadiums will be the venue for figure skating and ice hockey.

Kazakhstan, along with Japan, China, South Korea, and Taiwan, are considered the likeliest medal contenders in hockey.

Almaty, meanwhile, is hosting the bulk of the outdoor events, including cross-country skiing, biathlon, freestyle and alpine skiing, and ski jumping.

Kazakhs Hope For Third

Kazakhstan, exercising its right as host, has introduced two unusual disciplines to this year’s games: ski orienteering, a form of cross-country skiing that tests both endurance and navigational skills; and bandy, a form of ice hockey played on an outsized ice rink the size of a soccer field.

The hosts are among the favorites to win in both sports.

It is unlikely that Kazakhstan will come in ahead of the region’s two sporting giants, China and South Korea. But Kazakh sports authorities say they are hoping to win up to 25 medals and a third-place finish this year.

The previous Asian Winter Games were held in 2007 in Changchun, China. The host country took first place, with Japan and South Korea finishing second and third.

Kazakhstan, a rising power in Central Asia thanks to rich energy reserves, has sought to boost its standing on the international stage, and recently completed its chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, becoming the first member of the Commonwealth of Independent States to hold the year-long post.

It has invested nearly $300 million in sporting infrastructure ahead of the games.

The country’s sports minister, Temirkhan Dosmukhambetov, said his country had a “serious chance of winning the right to host the Winter Olympics in the near future.”


Press release from Snow Leopard Foundation, Pakistan: Three snow leopards snapped in a single capture in Khunjerab National Park

Three snow leopards snapped in a single capture in Khunjerab National Park

Snow leopards are so cryptic in nature and reside in one of the harshest and inaccessible milieus of our planet that encountering with snow leopard in the wild is like a dream. This elusive nature of snow leopard led one of the eminent wildlife biologists of the world to attribute this as “Imperiled Phantom”.

A total of 643 photographs including a group of 3 snow leopards (probably 2 sub adults with a mother) were photographed during an intensive camera trapping session of 560 nights in KNP during Nov-Dec. 2010, conducted by the Snow Leopard Foundation, Pakistan in collaboration with the Directorate of KNP and Gilgit-Baltistan Forest and Wildlife Department. The cameras captured many other wild species as well.

The Snow Leopard Foundation (SLF) is a non-profit organization dedicated to conserve viable populations of snow leopards and other wild carnivores as an integral part of landscapes across Pakistan, while improving the socio-economic condition of the people who share the fragile mountain ecosystem with the wildlife. The SLF works in partnership with the Snow Leopard Trust and Panthera, the two leading international wild cat conservation organizations, and operates in three core sectors: research and monitoring, community based conservation programs, and conservation education and awareness. It has
pioneered state-of-the-art research tools in Pakistan and operating in Gilgit-Baltistan, Khybger Pakhtunkhaw, and Azad Jamu and Kashmir.

The current study was undertaken in KNP from November, 23 to December 31, 2010 and was aimed at assessing the status of snow leopard as well as other carnivores, their key prey species, and human-carnivore conflict. The study also tested affect of different kinds of baits on camera trapping success.

In addition to camera trapping, more than 1400 km² area was scanned during occupancy surveys and 150 fecal samples were collected for genetic analysis. The study provided a rare learning opportunity to the staff of the Wildlife Department, and students from national and international universities, who were engaged. Once data analysis is completed, the study will provide more reliable estimates of snow leopard in the park besides highlighting existing management/monitoring limitations and ultimately help better manage the park resources in the longer run.

Panthera provided financial support for this study.

The snow leopard: ghost of the mountains – Snow Leopard Trust/Panthera Mongolia research

Friday 17 December 2010

Snow leopards face the threats of poaching, habitat loss and diminishing prey. In remotest Mongolia, a research team is keeping tabs on this iconic and elusive species

By Nigel Richardson 7:00AM GMT 16 Dec 2010

The trail bike kicked up a plume of dust as it approached across the high desert steppe of south-west Mongolia. Orjan Johansson dismounted, unclipping the body protectors that made him look like the action hero of a computer game. ‘There was a leopard in the valley last night,’ he said. ‘I put my finger in the pee this morning and it was wet.’

Nobody said anything, we just thought it: if the traps had been built yesterday, we might have got one. We might have joined the tiny number of people alive on this planet who have seen a snow leopard in the wild. This most elusive and mysterious of big cats comes along only slightly more often than a unicorn, and if you are not prepared you can regret it for the rest of your life.

The one person not troubled by regret was Johansson himself, for in the history of biological research into Panthera uncia no one has had more physical contact with wild snow leopards than this 33-year-old PhD student from Sweden. From 1982 to 2008 biologists succeeded in capturing only 15 snow leopards (for the purpose of attaching radio or GPS collars) in their natural habitat. In the past two years a further 12 have been caught by one man, Johansson, a research associate at the Grimso Wildlife Research Station, which is affiliated to the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Uppsala. He is, in the words of Dr Koustubh Sharma, the conservation biologist supervising the Swede’s groundbreaking work in Mongolia, a ‘snow leopard catching machine’.

Johansson represents the sharp end of the world’s first long-term ecological study into the charismatic leopard, about which far less is known than any other of the big cats. Co-sponsored by two US-based non-profit organisations, the Snow Leopard Trust and Panthera, the programme is now in its third year and scheduled to run for at least 15 years. In late August of this year – as summer in the high desert shaded into chilly nights and misty dawns – I joined Johansson and his backup team in their remote mountain camp.

The J Tserendeleg Snow Leopard Research Centre is located in a mountain range in Mongolia’s South Gobi province. In the far south-west of the province the Gobi Desert rises and crumples into a series of east-west ridges and valleys known as the Tost Mountains. This area, 75 miles long and 10 to 20 miles wide, is hardly classic snow leopard country, being neither particularly high – about 7,000ft – nor heavily snowbound in winter. But, for reasons that are not entirely understood, it sustains a high density of snow leopards. Based on his work of the past two years, Johansson puts the figure at more than 20.

The research centre comprises a base camp, where the ancillary team of biologists, researchers and volunteers stay a few days at a time and where I made my home for a week, and Johansson’s camp, which moves around depending on where he is working. At the end of August his camp was located nine miles from base camp (hence the trail bike) among a complex of flat, narrow valleys and jagged ranges of rock.

Here golden eagles and lammergeyer vultures soar above the ridge lines, and snow leopards descend from those ridges under the cloak of night to cross from one range to another. ‘There’s a lot of sign here,’ Johansson said, meaning the various indicators that betray their presence – not only urine, as he had seen that morning, but also images caught on automatic cameras, scrapes (in the ground, created when they kick their back legs), pug marks (paw prints), and scat (faeces).

Today was the start of a new collaring season for Johansson. The collars, equipped with GPS and costing more than £2,500 each, are highly sophisticated but they are programmed to drop off the animal when the batteries die after about one year. Only three of the collars he had previously attached were transmitting properly so it was time to capture and collar more cats. By mid-December he hoped to have 10 fully functioning collars beaming back the location and movement of snow leopards for many miles around.

This ongoing programme, the first of its kind, is yielding invaluable data on snow leopards’ home ranges (now known to be hundreds of square miles), kinship, genetic diversity and seasonal movements, and represents some of the most important and dramatic animal conservation work being undertaken anywhere on the planet in the early 21st century. The irony is that, bar Johansson himself, few of the biologists and researchers involved in it had even caught a glimpse of a snow leopard (and neither, of course, had I).

These snow leopard virgins included Koustubh Sharma, who has worked with tigers in India and completed his PhD on the rare four-horned antelope, the SLT’s conservation programmes director Jennifer Snell Rullman, and Bayarjargal Agvaantseren, who for the past 11 years has been at the forefront of community-based efforts to save the snow leopard and whose name in Mongolia is practically synonymous with the big cats. This omission may strike you as analogous to the Barcelona fan who has never set foot in the Camp Nou stadium, but the difference is that you can’t just buy a ticket. You have to get seriously lucky. And on the morning that Johansson rode up to tell us of the snow leopard presence the night before, even hardbitten scientists felt their luck had just tiptoed past them in the dark wearing a grin as wide as the Cheshire Cat’s.

T here are compelling reasons why the snow leopard is seldom seen. For a start there are not many of them left. In the past half-century their numbers have steadily diminished because of erosion of habitat and depletion of prey. During last winter, the worst in Mongolia for decades, some 10 million head of livestock died, and the effect on the snow leopards’ prey base (chiefly a wild goat called ibex, and argali sheep)
is not yet known.

But by far their biggest problem is depredation by man, despite their being an officially protected species. Poachers hunt them for their skins and for various body parts that are used in traditional Chinese medicine, while herders kill them in retaliation for the killing of their livestock. And in Mongolia a new threat looms. The government has granted a tranche of licences to foreign mining companies to look for coal in the district that includes the Tost Mountains. Should coal mining proceed there – as it already has on the plain nearby – the effect on the local snow leopard population will be catastrophic.

Estimates put the number currently living wild in the world at between 3,500 and 7,000 – far fewer, for example, than the population of domestic cats in a medium-size British town. Snow leopards are included in the Convention on Inter­national Trade in Endangered Species Appendix I, which is the critical list of 800 species threatened with extinction, and classified as ‘Endangered’ on the Inter­national Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species.

Their inaccessible and inhospitable habitat casts them further into the shadows and margins. The snow leopard, which weighs between 55 and 100lb, generally lives at altitude along the horseshoe of high peaks that encircle central Asia, from the Altai Mountains in the north to the Himalayas in the south. Nominally belonging to a dozen countries, including Pakistan, India, Nepal and China as well as Mongolia, this is a realm that has more affinity with clouds than with nation states. Not only is its natural habitat remote but the snow leopard is also nocturnal and crepuscular and its camouflaged fur is highly effective – they are next to invisible to the human eye from any kind of distance.

The snow leopard’s coat – shading from smoky yellow to silver-white and overlaid with grey-black markings – seems to have a certain shape-shifting quality. ‘When I’ve worked with them close-to, they’re white, but from a distance they blend in with the rock,’ Johansson told me with a shrug. ‘I don’t know how it works.’ To enable them to cope with the altitude and mountainous terrain, nature has bestowed upon snow leopards deep chests that house powerful lungs, large nasal cavities, short, strong forelegs, long hind legs and the longest tail, in relation to its body, of any cat.

The tail – 35-40in long, as soft as pashmina and as heavy as rope on a galleon – is a wondrous appendage, used as both scarf and counterweight. Courtesy of this tail the snow leopard in motion is as finely balanced as a gyroscope, and as stealthy as mist. Dr Sharma showed me footage of one walking. Inadvertently it sets a stone rolling with one paw, and in the same movement bats the stone to a standstill so as not to make the slightest noise.

This combination of extreme rarity, striking physique and ghostlike grace gives the snow leopard unique cachet with humans. Western conservationists rally to its power as a ‘flagship species’, a charismatic presence around which awareness of wildlife issues can be raised, and the computer giant Apple even considered it sufficiently hip for ‘the world’s most advanced operating system’ to be named in its honour.

It has also given its name to one of the great English-language travel books of the past 30 years, Peter Matthiessen’s The Snow Leopard, in which his quest to see one in the mountains of Nepal becomes a metaphor for an inner, Buddhism-inspired journey of the soul. It is often forgotten, in the clouds of acclaim that have swirled around the book, that Matthiessen failed in his quest. He did not see a snow leopard. His rationale for this failure was something I had been trying to take on board while in Mongolia, in anticipation of my own failure: ‘If the snow leopard should manifest itself, then I am ready to see the snow leopard,’ he wrote. ‘If not, then somehow (and I don’t understand this instinct, even now) I am not ready to perceive it… and in the not-seeing, I am content.’

Orjan Johansson was aware of the semi-mystical aura surrounding the snow leopard, and the irony was not lost on him that a by-product of this long-term research project will be a certain demystifying of the ghost of the mountains. ‘We don’t know anything about them,’ he exclaimed. ‘How many cubs they have. How long they stay with their mothers. What they eat, even. We need this basic ecological knowledge as a base for good conservation practices. In a way we’re taking away the romantic picture, the mystique, which is sad, of course. But we can’t have them be like the unicorn, that nobody ever sees.’

Johansson was talking in his camp, where I was helping him build his snares. His camp was a ger – a traditional Mongolian nomad’s yurt, circular and made of felt. They can be surprisingly luxurious inside, with carpets, televisions and stoves. Johansson’s was a utilitarian space. Stacked in boxes were the tools of his trade: camera traps (triggered, like burglar alarm sensors, by heat and movement), GPS collars and the ironmongery needed to make snares.

A calendar featuring portraits of the Swedish royal family hung from a wall (August was Queen Silvia, but it wasn’t a decorative choice, he said, just the only calendar he could find in Sweden at short notice). A bowl of pet food betrayed the presence of Felis catus (a domestic cat), though she was currently out hunting in the mountains. ‘The cat’s called Friday,’ Johansson said, ‘because I feel like Robinson Crusoe out here.’

From the moment he builds the first trap of a new collaring season his life becomes by necessity ascetic and exhausting. Each trap is connected to a transmitter tuned to its own VHF frequency. When a trap is sprung it sounds an alarm in Johansson’s ger – always at night, for the wild creatures of the mountains are nocturnal. There are plenty of false alarms – a fox or goat – but in any case he must get to the trap site without delay in order to minimise the time the animal spends in the snare. As autumn turns to winter, and temperatures nosedive to -25C, the routine leaves him increasingly lonely, cold and sleep-deprived. ‘I’ve done 31 days with no one around, and that sucks,’ he told me. ‘Your face muscles don’t work properly because you haven’t been speaking. I have conversations with myself: Shall I have spaghetti today? Yeah, that’d be good.’

He usually has some contact with base camp, though the biologists and researchers there tend to come and go, and he does have neighbours. Lower down the valley, and in adjacent valleys, live a scattering of herder families in gers who graze small flocks of goats and sheep on gruel-thin pastureland. Every herder I spoke to had lost goats and sheep to snow leopards. ‘At least four or five a year,’ one of Johansson’s neighbours, 35-year-old Battur, reckoned. ‘But since the Snow Leopard Trust came we do not trap [and kill] them any more.’

The SLT has been doing sterling work in creating disincentives for the killing of snow leopards. Last year it inaugurated a livestock insurance scheme, and since 1999 Bayarjargal Agvaantseren has been coordinating an initiative called Snow Leopard Enterprises. Women from about 400 households are now involved across Mongolia, producing handicrafts that are sold at zoos and conferences in the US and in Europe. Last year sales exceeded £80,000, and all funds flow back to the herders. A condition of payment is that if a snow leopard is trapped and killed, the women living in the administrative area where it happened will forfeit a bonus. The scheme has already proved itself: last year a herder who killed a snow leopard was pressurised by the local community into compensating local women for the loss of that year’s windfall. He also faces a life-destroying fine of thousands of pounds.

As a result of such initiatives herders are getting the conservation message. Down the valley, Johansson negotiated with another neighbour, Garaa, over the proposed location of his new snares. ‘If it’s no trouble I will stay and build the traps here,’ the Swede told his neighbour. ‘Otherwise I will return in October when you have moved down the valley to your winter pasture.’ But the herder said it was no trouble. He promised he would keep his goats away from the snares – and would it be possible, he asked shyly, to come and have a look if a snow leopard was captured?

Trap building is an art and a science. First of all you have to find evidence of traffic, in particular the urine sprays that snow leopards leave for others to pick up. If you were facetious you might refer to these sprays as wee-mails and this is precisely the analogy chosen by Dr Sharma to describe the valley where Johansson had decided to build his traps. ‘It is like a very active Facebook page right now,’ he said.

Stalking along a wall of rock on one side of the valley, Johansson said, ‘All cats like following walls – think of your cat at home. It’s a good place to scout the valley from. So let’s follow this wall.’ He stopped where the rock wall turned sharply inwards. On the corner was an overhang. On the underside of the rock he indicated the dark urine stain and dropped down on all fours, turning himself into a snow leopard. ‘They will sniff this and rub their face in it.’ He pointed out the faint prickle of white hairs clinging to the rock. ‘And then they turn round and pee.’ He reversed up to the rock and raised his backside to demonstrate. ‘So this is a good place for a trap.’

He remained within the psyche of the snow leopard for several minutes while deliberating on the precise spot to site the trap, then worked with delicacy and method, like a bomb disposal expert in reverse, to build it. When the leopard steps on the trigger it throws up a snare that tightens in a noose around its leg. Made of semi-rigid steel aircraft cable, the snare cannot tighten beyond a certain point and will not cut into the leg. It is in turn attached to a steel spring that is firmly anchored in the ground, and to the transmitter that sends out the alarm signal.

The welfare of the animal is Johansson’s absolute priority. The throwing arm of the trigger is positioned so it cannot fly up and hit the leopard. There are swivels and a limiter on the spring so it cannot entangle the leopard nor spring back in a whiplash effect. And he takes a hammer to any sharp rock edges that the leopard might cut itself on as it twists and turns in its efforts to escape.

When he had completed our first trap he stood back, narrowed his eyes and stared at the snare site. All I could see was a faint, craterlike outline in the dirt. ‘What do you think?’ he said. ‘Shall I move that rock?’ Without waiting for a reply he bent and moved it – half an inch – like a painter squinting at a canvas and making minute brushstrokes of adjustment. By 7pm the sun had gone from the valley, the wind had got up and we had built four traps.

Johansson ate at base camp that evening. He had not seen Cat Friday for two days, and feared she had been killed. He did not appreciate the fearful symmetry inherent in the idea of the little cat being taken by the big. ‘I liked Friday. I had her for two years. It kind of sucks,’ he said gloomily, contemplating a lonely autumn.

After supper he clipped the body protectors back on and rode back to his ger. The arrangement was that if a trap was sprung in the night he would call base camp on his satellite phone and we would drive over to the valley in the camp vehicle. I went to sleep with my socks on. At midnight the satellite phone sounded deafeningly in our ger. My legs were out of the sleeping bag and into my trousers before Dr Sharma answered it. Sharma listened and then said, with admirable calmness in the circumstances, ‘We’ve got a snow leopard.’

It was a female and she had been caught in the first trap we had built. Johansson had darted her by the time we got there. She lay unconscious and blindfolded on a camouflaged survival blanket beneath a perfect half-moon and nine bobbing head-torches. I saw what Johansson meant about the coat. It glowed white, seeming to return with interest the light that beamed down on her.

For seven of the nine of us present it was our first wild snow leopard. We hovered in awe, taking photographs and not believing our luck. I stroked the tail and scooped a hand under it to feel the heft. In the chiaroscuro effect of the light from our headlamps and the looks of rapt attention on our faces, the scene resembled Rembrandt’s painting The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp.

Meanwhile, Johansson and Sharma worked deftly and quietly on the body on the blanket, measuring and weighing her, taking blood and hair samples, cleaning up minor wounds and fitting the GPS collar, while keeping her eyes moistened and checking her vital signs every 10 minutes. Johansson, who was in his element, said at one point, ‘This is like a family reunion.’

Two hours after being detained in our world the snow leopard melted back to her own, having received the antidote to the knockout dart. For the record, she weighed 79lb, her body was 45in long and her tail 38½in. Her age was put at between four and six, she had suckled, though not recently, and the data now being sent back by her collar will be of untold benefit to the long-term conservation of this beleaguered species. But she kept some secrets to herself. You can’t hang beauty on a weighing scale, nor hold up a tape measure to grace.

Postscript Johansson’s cat, Friday, was alive after all. He found her living with a herder family in the next valley and claimed her back. The collared snow leopard was named Khashaa. You can follow her progress at snowleopard.org (see under Blog) where you can find out more about the Snow Leopard Trust and make donations. See also panthera.org.

Nigel Richardson flew to Mongolia on Korean Air (koreanair.com), via Seoul, and is indebted to Panoramic Journeys (01608-811183; panoramicjourneys.com) for arranging his travel within Mongolia. Additional reporting by S Bolortuya


Altaisky Zapovednik press release: snow leopard habitat study in the Argut River Valley (Altai Republic)

PRESS RELEASE – Altaisky Zapovednik
Mikhail Paltsyn, paltsyn@mail.ru

09 December 2010

On November 30, Altaisky Zapovednik finished an expedition to study snow leopard habitat in the Argut River Valley (Altai Republic). The expedition was organized as part of the UNDP/GEF project. Zapovednik staff, local residents from Inegen, and two Mongolian snow leopard specialists participated in the work.

Field work occurred in the lower portion of the Argut River watershed to the Shavla River, as well as the left bank of the Argut River between the mouths of the Shavla and Koir Rivers. The main goals of the expedition were to search for evidence of snow leopard activity and to survey population numbers for Siberian mountain goats in the given area. During the work, both traditional means (searching evidence of life: claw-rakes, scrapes, scent-markings, and pugmarks) and camera-trapping were used. Ungulate population levels were assessed visually on study routes. Across the entire research area, over 600 Siberian mountain goats were counted, numbers that are comparable to data gathered in 2007 and 2008 at this same site.

Over the course of the study more than 18 camera-traps installed in early October along the left bank of the Argut River between the Koir and Shavla Rivers were checked. The camera-traps were set up along intersections of mountain paths (narrow, low ridges, cliff ledges, and ravine passages) that are unavoidable for local species passing through the area. It should be noted that in these specific places the team found traces of old poaching snares. In addition to numerous mountain goats, the camera-traps recorded images of practically all the animal representatives of the Argut Valley including maral deer, musk deer, sable, and foxes. The automatic cameras photographed four different lynx and even captured three instances of the extremely cautious wolf. However, no snow leopard was photographed. The camera traps were distributed at optimal density for discovering the existence of snow leopard (1 camera per 10-16 sq. km) and they were left in place for over 30 days. For these reasons, we are confident that there are essentially no snow leopards in the research area between the mouths of the Koir and Shavla Rivers. The absence of snow leopards in the given area is further supported by the fact that no verifiable traces of this predator’s life activities were discovered here either.

The right banks of the Argut River between the Shavla and Koir Rivers were not yet possible to study, because the river ice is not yet thick enough, rendering a crossing there either impossible or extremely dangerous. This area, as well as the the Koir and Yungur Rivers basins, will be studied using camera traps in December 2010-March 2011. To date since October 2010, only a small portion of snow leopard habitat in the Argut watershed has been studied (the area below the mouth of the Shavla River and the left bank of the Argut River between the mouths of the Shavla and Koir Rivers). The rare predator has not yet been found in the region despite excellent snow leopard habitat and high populations of Siberian mountain goat – a primary prey animal for snow leopards.

The fieldwork was supported by WWF, Panthera Foundation, Altai
Assistance Project, and The Altai Project.

Snow leopard sighting/poaching increase in Kazakhstan 2010

In Russian-language newspapers, there were accounts of a snow leopard sighting in the Dzhungarian Alatau area of Kazakhstan earlier this year. It was reported in an October 26 2010 article by reporter Aliya Akhmedieva at www.centrasia.ru for Radio “Azattyk” and also in Guns.Kz- a website for gun clubs in Kazakhstan. The person who saw and photographed the snow leopard was Renat Minibaev and it was Jan. 11 2010. He took several impressive photos of the cat. Both articles expressed concern that poaching was increasing in the area.

Here is a paragraph in Russian with the account from Minibaev and the link to the ecological page with a photo: http://ekocenter.kz/news/2010-10-23-211 .

№ 196 (17068) от 22.10.2010
Лариса ШТОППЕЛЬ, Алматинская область
Одна случайная встреча с редким животным сделала текелийца Рената Минибаева знаменитым на весь мир. Уникальные фото снежного барса он выложил в Интернет, и его тут же приняли во Всемирный фонд дикой природы, а потом и в казахстанский фонд Snow Leopard Fund, созданный год назад ученым-биологом Олегом Логиновым.
Ренат Минибаев приехал в январе этого года на юбилей Георгия Михайловича Чупринова. Этот старичок-боровичок много лет живет на пасеке в Коринском ущелье, напрочь позабыв про цивилизацию.
– Мы с собакой Дружком решили прогуляться. С собой я взял только фотоаппарат и на всякий случай петарду, – говорит Ренат. – Вдруг справа от меня легла тень. Рядом стоит шикарный зверюга с огромным пушистым хвостом. Пес залаял, а барс тихо зарычал, оскалившись. Я испугался, конечно, и зажег петарду. Когда понял, что зверя я не интересую, то вспомнил про фотоаппарат. Начал снимать. Ирбис лег под елкой на солнышке, развалившись, как домашний кот. Несколько кадров отлично получились, остальные – мимо. Когда стали возвращаться на пасеку, увидели его следы. Он шел за нами почти от самой речки!

P.S. Численность ирбиса в Казахстане в среднем составляет около ста особей.

Another page that has Minibaev’s photos of the wild snow leopard is: http://bigcats.ru/index.php?bcif=irbises-vstrecha.shtml. The link at the end of this paragraph in Russian is to another article that claims there are about 100 snow leopards left in Kazakhstan.

Ренат Минибаев приехал в январе этого года на юбилей Георгия Михайловича Чупринова. Этот старичок-боровичок много лет живет на пасеке в Коринском ущелье, напрочь позабыв про цивилизацию. – Мы с собакой Дружком решили прогуляться. С собой я взял только фотоаппарат и на всякий случай петарду, – говорит Ренат. – Вдруг справа от меня легла тень. Рядом стоит шикарный зверюга с огромным пушистым хвостом. Пес залаял, а барс тихо зарычал, оскалившись. Я испугался, конечно, и зажег петарду. Когда понял, что зверя я не интересую, то вспомнил про фотоаппарат. Начал снимать. Ирбис лег под елкой на солнышке, развалившись, как домашний кот. Несколько кадров отлично получились, остальные – мимо. Когда стали возвращаться на пасеку, увидели его следы. Он шел за нами почти от самой речки!

P.S. Численность ирбиса в Казахстане в среднем составляет около ста особей.

China and India called on by scientists to collaborate on conservation

Biodiversity knows no ‘national boundaries’ and nations must protect species from rising consumption, dams and industry

Jonathan Watts, Asia environment correspondent
guardian.co.uk (http://www.guardian.co.uk/), Thursday 18 March 2010 18.00 GMT

Mount Kanchenjunga in the Darjeeling mountains in the Himalayas, a particularly environmentally sensitive area. Photograph: Frederic Soltan/© Frederic Soltan/Corbis

China and India could together decide the future of the global environment, a team of senior scientists warn today in a call for closer collaboration on conservation by the world’s two most populous nations.

Writing in the journal Science, the eight coauthors — including zoologists from both nations — warn of the security and biodiversity threat posed by rising consumption, dam construction and industrial emissions.

The ecological footprint of the two fast-emerging Asian economies has already spread beyond their borders and with future economic growth rates likely to continue at 8% for several years, the experts say the pressure on borders, resources and biodiversity could reach dangerous levels.

“The degree to which China and India consume natural resources within their boundaries and beyond will largely determine future environmental, social and economic outcomes,” say the co-authors headed by Peter Raven, director of the Missouri Botanical Garden.

The report notes that the two countries import 9m of crude oil a year and 64% of all the roundwood pine produced in Asia, adding to the problems of global deforestation and warming.

The impacts are becoming more obvious in the strategically sensitive Himalayan border area, where the authors say large numbers of troops are damaging the environment. Resources in the mountain region are so scarce, they note, that soldiers sometimes eat rare plants.

Melting glaciers that supply meltwater for half the world’s population and the constriction of rivers by hundreds of dams are also major problems, they say.

With the demand for energy in both nations growing, they predict a further rise in construction of hydroelectric plants and exploitation of other Himalayan resources, with alarming implications for regional security.

“The synergistic effects of decreasing water resources, loss of biodiversity, increased pollution and climate change may have negative social and economic consequences and, even worse, escalate conflicts within and between the two countries,” they warn.

Despite their growing global importance, China and India have conducted little joint research and engaged in only modest collaboration to mitigate the impact of their rapid development. There have been small signs of progress in recent years, including agreements to jointly monitor glaciers and study the interaction between the atmosphere and the ocean. But the authors say much more collaboration is necessary.

“More earnest cooperation between the world’s two most populous countries will be vital for mitigating biodiversity loss, global warming and deforestation,” the authors say.

They suggest turning disputed territory into trans-boundary protected areas, fostering scientific collaboration, working with the United Nations to manage natural resources and encouraging regional forums, such as Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), to focus more on the environment.

One of the authors — Zhang Yaping, the president of the Kunming Institute of Zoology — said it was rare for biodversity protection to span the two nations.

“We should certainly strengthen cooperation in this field,” he said. “China and India have done a lot of conservation work inside their own nations. What we need now is a joint effort. There should be no national boundaries in biodiversity protection.”

Myanmar a gateway for wildlife trade to China: report

(AFP) – 11 hours ago
15 March 2010

DOHA — Demand in China is stoking a black market in neighbouring Myanmar in tiger-bone wine, leopard skins, bear bile and other products made from endangered species, a report released on Tuesday said.

“China’s border areas have long been considered a hotbed for illegal trade, with remote locations often making surveillance difficult in sparsely populated areas,” Xu Hongfa, top China investigator for environmental group TRAFFIC, said in the report.

Enforcement efforts within China appear to have curtailed the open sale of many animal parts and products taken from species banned under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), he said.

Market surveys in 18 Western Chinese cities in 2008 found only two sites where tiger and snow leopard skins were on sale, far less than in previous years, said Xu.

But transactions may have simply moved underground and onto the Internet, and Myanmar has emerged as a fast-growing supply node.

“There is clearly ongoing demand for leopard and tiger products, but the trade appears to be becoming less visible year-on-year,” Xu said.

“The current trade is more covert, organised and insidious, making it harder to detect and crack down on.”

TRAFFIC said that in December 2008, its investigators checked three markets on the Chinese side of the border in Yunnan Province, and one in Mongla, a town in Special Region 4 of Myanmar’s Eastern Shan state.

Markets on the Chinese side were legal, but one and a half kilometres (a mile) across the border they found a grim range of wildlife products sold by Chinese merchants.

These included a clouded leopard skin, pieces of elephant skin, batches of bear bile extracted from live animals, a dead silver pheasant, a monitor lizard and a bear paw, which is considered a delicacy in Chinese cuisine.

Nearby, another shop specialised in “tiger-bone wine” costing 88 dollars (64 euros) for a small bottle.

The shop owner said buyers were mostly Chinese tourists, and customers could order the supposedly health-boosting tonic by phone for delivery to Daluo, a river-port town in China.

Like China, Myanmar also had national laws forbidding trade in endangered species.

“But enforcement is non-existent in Special Region 4 as it is an autonomous state… controlled by the National Democratic Alliance Army,” a rebel group, said Xu Ling, the China programme officer for TRAFFIC, who did the survey.

The 175-member CITES, meeting in Qatar’s capital Doha until March 25, will review measures to boost enforcement of wildlife bans already in place, as well as proposals to halt or limit commerce in species not yet covered by the Convention.

Copyright © 2010 AFP.

The first snow leopard was successfully photographed in Tuva, Russia

RIA Novosti, translated by Heda Jindrak
March 12, 2010

permanent link: http://en.tuvaonline.ru/2010/03/12/5400_snowleopard.html

The participants in the first Russian-Mongolian expedition for the study of groupings of irbis (snow leopard), which took place from February 20 to March 7 on the Tsagan-Shibetu ridge (western Tuva), made the first photos of this rare predator in the republic, as announced by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) of Russia.

During the field research the members of the expedition, which included specialists from the “Uvsu-Nur depression” nature reserve (Russia), from the administration of especially protected natural territories of the Ubsu-Nuur lake basin (Mongolia), and from the Institute of Biology of Mongolian Academy of Sciences, searched practically the entire Russian part of the Tsagan-Shibetu ridge, discovered 14 tracks of snow leopard and collected fecal specimens of irbis for clarification of their numbers by DNA analysis.

The scientists successfully tracked some irbises and discovered areas of active range of the predators. The members of the expedition also discovered a family group of three irbises, apparently a female with two older kittens; they also were successful in photographing the animals for the first time in Tuva.

“In the future, it is planned to set up photo-traps in these locations, to study the spatial structure of the groupings of this species on Tsagan-Shibetu,” the report notes. After preliminary evaluation of these new data, the population of snow leopard on the Russian part of the ridge is estimated at 8-9 individuals. The scientists hope to get a more accurate picture of the numbers of sex-age composition of the population after DNA analysis of the predators’ fecal samples at the IPEE RAN laboratory.

As a result of DNA analysis of biomaterials collected on the Mongolian part of the ridge Tsagan-Shibetu in 2009, the numbers of the population of this species on this territory is estimated at 9 individuals. In this way, the total numbers of the trans-border population in this center of distribution is no fewer than 17-20 individuals. In April 2010, the work on the study of trans-border groupings of irbis on Tsagan-Shibetu will be continued on Mongolian territory. The obtained data will allow not just to estimate the condition of this group, but also to offer soundly-based suggestions for its protection. The development of eco-tourism in the irbis ranges based on reports by local people in Western Tuva with support of WWF should have a positive impact on the protection and development of the population of this predator. The action is planned to start already in May of this year.

The snow leopard, or irbis, lives in the mountainous heights of the Himalayas, Hindukush, Pamir, Tian-Shan, Altai and Western Sayans, Greater Caucasus and adjacent mountains. In the summer the animals prefer not to descent below the border where trees begin to grow, and live in the high rocky regions and mountain meadows, ascending all the way to six thousand meters. In winter the snow leopard find shelter in the forests located at the elevation of two thousand meters above sea level.

Illegal but lucrative hunting for snow leopard furs has substantially reduced the population. A snow leopard skin can bring in about sixty thousand dollars on the black markets of Asia. Snow leopard is under government protection in all the countries of its range, but poaching threatens its numbers just like before. Lately the number of the snow leopard has increased somewhat, and currently there are about six thousand individuals in existence.

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Next round in New Delhi: Gross National Happiness Seminar

GNH (Gross National Happiness) Seminar 14 March, 2010 – The first ever
seminar between Bhutan and India on GNH concluded on March 12, with
participants from both sides acknowledging the need for more discussion
and study for the development philosophy to be successfully implemented.

Dasho Karma Ura, the president for the centre for Bhutan studies (CBS),
said that the “rich dialogue” had “enriched” the understanding of GNH
for both Bhutanese and Indian participants. The seminar saw, what a CBS
press release described as, “influential minds in India” talking to
Bhutanese counterparts on various topics related to GNH. The Indian
delegation included young politicians, sociologists, environmentalists,
conservationists, and health activists.

“GNH offers potential that needs to be unlocked,” said Peter DeSouza,
director for the institute of advanced studies in India. He added that
GNH is relevant today, as it offered a framework within which the ideas
contained offered a counter discourse to the western development model.
“GNH shows how Bhutan thinks ahead of time, it’s an evolved state of
thinking, a brilliant concept,” said Koustubh Sharma (PhD), a regional
field biologist with snow leopard trust, the largest organisation
concerned with the conservation of the endangered snow leopard. He said
that India is now suffering the consequences of a fast paced development
policy based on the western model.

Koustubh Sharma said the dialogue on GNH showed that it did not exist to
hide Bhutan’s underdevelopment as skeptics might observe. But he added
that some aspects have to be addressed, such as ensuring minor details,
such as the needs of specific groups of people are not undermined, when
using only one value to express the people’s happiness and development.
“A pivotal issue is whether GNH offers an alternative framework for
evaluation of policy or a state imposed prescription,” said Akhil Sibal,
a lawyer. “I’m definitely convinced that GNH is really a more of a
useful prism through which to look at policy rather than a dogma to be
imposed.” He added, “It’s an ideal worth working towards, to apply not
only within Bhutan but abroad.”

“Ideas and ideologies keep evolving so it’s never sufficient, but for
now, yes,” said Latika Dikshit, a social development consultant on
whether the seminar had provided a thorough understanding of GNH. On
whether GNH is too Utopian, she said, “All dreams start off Utopian,
it’s the path that leads to it that has to be realistic.” Latika Dikshit
said she hoped she would be invited again for another dialogue on GNH.
Comments were also made that perhaps GNH needed to be modernised to
include younger generations.

Dasho Karma Ura said Bhutan could certainly do with more discourses on
GNH and that the dialogue would be continued in India in August this
year. He also added that more discussion on GNH is needed among
Bhutanese, particularly one that includes all three branches of the
government and private sector.

The seminar was jointly organised by CBS and Malvika Singh, the owner
and publisher of Seminar magazine in India.

By Gyalsten K Dorji