New Article to our Bibliography

Please find details below of a new article added to our Bibliography:

Title: A One Health approach to investigating the health and prevalence of zoonotic pathogens in snow leopards, sympatric wildlife, domestic animals and humans in the South Gobi Desert in Mongolia

Author: Esson, C. L.

Abstract: The endangered Snow leopard (Panthera uncia) inhabits the high mountain regions through central Asia and is subjected to numerous threats including poaching for traditional Chinese medicine, retribution killing for preying on domestic stock, and habitat fragmentation. However the occurrence and impact of disease on snow leopard populations is unknown. As emerging infectious diseases of wildlife can be an insidious yet important cause of population decline due to mortality or reproductive failure, my study aimed initially to gain knowledge of pathogens circulating among wild and domestic hosts in this region. I used a broad One Health approach to survey a range of species to collect data on disease occurrence that would be useful in improving human and livestock health, as well as snow leopard conservation.
This study is set in the Tost Mountains of the South Gobi Desert of Mongolia and was prompted due to the unexplained deaths of four snow leopards detected within a short timeframe during an ecological study by members of the Snow Leopard Trust. However, investigating disease occurrence in remote, rare and endangered species is a challenge due to inaccessibility of sites, difficulty of capture, and processing samples without facilities.
A One Health approach uses multidisciplinary expertise such as ecological, medical and veterinary, to understand host, pathogen and environmental disease factors. This approach is especially useful for diseases that transfer between people, domestic animals and wildlife. As snow leopards are a rare and elusive species, my surveys were aimed at assessing pathogens circulating in snow leopards as well as in sympatric wild and domestic animals. I collected samples from the following hosts: snow leopards – the target species; rodents which are ubiquitous over the study area and are a suitable sentinel species; ibex which are a native ungulate and natural prey species of the snow leopard; domestic goats which are also a prey species of the snow leopard; free-ranging domestic dogs which interact with the goats. The local indigenous people interact with all these species including snow leopards, mostly via retribution killing. Water samples were also collected from waterholes and wells, w
hich are communal meeting places as drinking sources for all species, hence enabling pathogen exchange. Samples collected included blood samples, faecal samples or rectal swabs and ectoparasites if present. These samples were transported to laboratories in Sweden and Belgium where I conducted diagnostic assays for zoonotic pathogens that are present in other regions of Mongolia and impact the health of humans and animals. I used enzyme- linked immune assay (ELISA), polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and next-generation sequencing (NGS) for pathogens including Coxiella burnetii, Toxoplasma gondii, Leptospira spp., Brucella spp., Yersinia pestis and tick borne encephalitis virus. Serovars of Leptospira were elucidated using microscopic agglutination tests (MAT). The dog blood samples were also tested for canine distemper virus. Ticks, faeces, rectal swabs and water were tested for bacteria, Echinococcus, Giardia and Cryptosporidium using PCR and NGS.
Health records for humans and animals in the region were not available so, in addition to testing animal samples, I used questionnaire surveys to obtain information on perceptions of the herders concerning health of their families, their domestic animals and wildlife. Questions also assessed preventative health management and treatments used.
Over three field trips I caught and sampled twenty snow leopards, 177 rodents (8 species), 41 dogs and 270 goats. I also sampled 11 waterholes/wells, and preserved 18 ticks, hundreds of fleas and collected faecal samples from ibex.
Most animals that were sampled and examined clinically appeared in good health, but the serosurvey revealed a moderate to high level of exposure to serious pathogens: C. burnetii, T. gondii and Leptospira spp. There were no published reports of human infections with these pathogens in the study area, which is likely due to a lack of testing.
Snow leopards had the highest prevalence of C. burnetii antibodies (25%), followed by rodents (16%), dogs (10%) and goats (9.5%). Goats had the highest prevalence of T. gondii antibodies (90%), dogs (66%), snow leopards (20%) and rodents (16%). Rodents had the highest prevalence of Leptospira spp. (34%), followed by snow leopards (20%) and dogs (5%). Serovars interrogans Australis was identified in the rodents and snow leopards and interrogans Ictohaemorrhagiae was identified in the rodents and dogs. Other serovars were also present from the results of the ELISA but did not match those listed in the MAT panel, so could not be identified. Goats were not tested for infection with leptospirosis. Brucella was not identified in the goats even though it occurs at high prevalence in stock in the rest of Mongolia where it is a large health and economic concern. In rodents, the zoonotic Puumala and Seoul hantavirus were identified for the first time in Mongolia. Analysis of data from rodents
showed the pathogens detected (C. burnetii, T.gondii, Hanta virus and Leptospira spp.) differed significantly in prevalence, with a strong year effect driven mainly by Leptospira, which increased in prevalence across the three year study period. Toxoplasma gondii differed slightly in prevalence among rodent species. There was no significant difference in prevalence of interaction of pathogens among years or rodent species.
Poor health was detected in goats with 10 out of the 14 goats tested via haematology and biochemistry being anaemic with haematocrits less than 20%. Haematology and biochemistry values for the other animal species appeared normal. I established haematology and biochemistry reference tables for two rodent species – red-cheeked ground squirrels and jerboas.
Water samples were negative for serious pathogens. Fleas were negative for Yersinia pestis. However, ticks were positive for several genera of potential zoonoses, including Anaplasma, Bacillus, Coxiella, Clostridia, Francisella, Rickettsia, Staphylococcus, Streptococcus and Yersinia. Faecal samples were also positive for genera of potentially zoonotic bacteria including those listed above plus Bacteroides, Bordetella, Campylobacter and Enterococcus.
Results from the two questionnaire surveys revealed the main reported illness in people were colds and flu. However, the local doctor also reported hepatitis as common. She also said that the local people contracted brucellosis whereas I did not identify this pathogen in their livestock. The herders thought their main loss of stock was from predation, with wolves identified as the main predator and snow leopards as the second. Other causes of stock loss perceived as important were adverse climatic conditions such as drought or severe winters while infectious disease was not a concern. Results from these surveys also highlighted gaps in health care for humans and livestock, especially around vaccination and parasite treatments.
In summary, I found that snow leopards and other wild and domestic animals within the study area tested positive for previous exposure to several important zoonotic pathogens. These pathogens were likely circulating among species via contamination of pasture and via predation and have potential to cause illness and reproductive loss. However, I detected no adverse effects on the health of the animals due to infection with these pathogens, and observed no related mortality or illness during my field trips. Hence the deaths of the four snow leopards that were the impetus for my study have not been explained, and monitoring and surveillance of this population should continue.
My findings on wildlife and domestic animal pathogens have relative importance to improving productivity of livestock and the health of the nomadic herders. I recommend improving the health of goats through vaccination and anti-parasite programmes, which will improve their fecundity and survival and thus increase herder income. These programmes will also have flow-on effects to improve the health of the native ungulates that share the grazing areas by decreasing the risk of pathogen transfer between them and also to the snow leopards that prey on them. Demonstrating the importance of herd health may also help mitigate herder wildlife conflict as increased productivity could decrease the perceived importance of predation on herd numbers.
Coxiella burnetii and Leptospires spp are a likely cause of illness in people, despite the lack of reported diagnoses. As rodents had a moderate prevalence of all pathogens tested and inhabit the gers of the local people, it is important to raise awareness of the risk of pathogen transfer to people via rodent excrement contaminating stored food and eating utensils. Risk of human exposure to pathogens during goat slaughter can also be reduced via improved hygiene practices.
By identifying pathogens with broad host ranges in a variety of species in this remote mountainous region, my study provides the basis for understanding health risks to wildlife, domestic animals and humans. Consideration of likely transmission routes for pathogens between species can inform current recommendations to improve health, productivity and hence conservation, of the endangered snow leopard – The Ghost of the Mountain.


Snow Leopards (Biodiversity of the World: Conservation from Genes to Landscapes) 2nd Edition (Published)


by Tom McCarthy (Editor), David Mallon (Editor), Karin R Schwartz (Editor)


Presents the latest information on the elusive snow leopard, including its biology, behavior, and ongoing efforts for conservation

Edited by:

David Mallon

Department of Natural Sciences, Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester, United Kingdom

Tom McCarthy

PANTHERA, New York, NY, United States (Retired)

This second edition of Snow Leopards provides a foundational, comprehensive overview of the biology, ecology, and conservation of this iconic species. This updated edition incorporates recent information from range-wide surveys and conservation projects, technical advances in genetics, camera trapping, use of drones and satellite telemetry. New chapters synthesize the novel methods and analyses used to develop density and population estimates and how they inform conservation and management in the face of emerging threats.

The first section of the book covers the evolution, ecology, biogeography and status of snow leopards. Subsequent chapters describe established and emerging threats, including human-wildlife conflict, illegal trade, infrastructure development, and climate change along with the conservation solutions used to address these threats – including reference to the cultural and religious significance of the species. Status and distribution are fully updated for all 12 countries home to the species. The book concludes with a review of global snow leopard initiatives and a look to the future.

This book features contributions from more than 240 international experts on the species, bringing experience and expertise on all aspects of the snow leopard from every part of its range. The book is a key resource for scientists, researchers, government agencies, managers, and anyone with an interest in the conservation of the snow leopard and the high mountain ecosystems it occupies.

Key Features

  • Offers a complete and thorough update on snow leopard ecology, conservation, research techniques and population trends, among other topics

Presents the results of the latest scientific research and conservation measures

  • Edited by recognized experts with contributions from 240 of the world’s leading experts throughout the snow leopard’s range

This edition is available on Amazon

Climate risk for communities’ livelihoods & its implications for human-wildlife conflict


Climate change is perhaps the overarching threat to snow leopards and their habitat. Knowledge about its impact on the species, its habitat and the people who share that habitat is growing but still remains incomplete and fragmentary. As our understanding of climate change impacts changes over time the Snow Leopard Network hopes to bring together experts and resource persons together to open up perspectives and share ideas for the way forward.

Join us on this 3rd webinar with a focus on climate change as we continue to share the latest thinking and evidence that is emerging on this key issue. We are particularly pleased to welcome Dr. Eirini Skrimizea, a postdoctoral researcher who focusses on the governance of socio-ecological development and the social aspects of climate change.


Towards improved parasite transmission understanding: A case study from the Indian Trans-Himalaya


We are pleased to welcome Dr. Munib Khanyari and Dr. Manvi Sharma. Our guests give a particular focus on how multi-use landscapes, home to both wildlife and livestock-dependent herders, require context specific approaches to addressing disease transmission risks.

During this talk we will travel to the mountains of Spiti, India. Munib and team explored gastro-intestinal nematode (GINs) infections between wild Bharal and domestic livestock. This was done through a socio-ecological lens, integrating parasite transmission modelling with field surveys and local knowledge. The team then evaluated the likely effectiveness of potential conservation and policy interventions. The main aim of the study was to provide a transferable multi-pronged approach to investigating disease transmission, in order to support herders’ livelihoods and conserve wild ungulates.


Tracing the Blue Eyes: The Genetic Ancestry of the Chinese Mountain Cat


Within China’s Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, called the rooftop of the world because it is the highest plateau on the planet, dwells the Chinese Mountain Cat or Chinese Steppe Cat (Felis silvestris bieti). This unique wild cat shares its species designation with the North African Wildcat (F. s. lybica), South African Wildcat (F. s. cafra), European Wildcat (F. s. silvestris), and the Asiatic Wildcat (F. s. ornata). We conducted surveys, collected cheek swabs, blood samples, and fecal samples for genetic analysis from cats in zoos, in the field, and in the homes of families in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau area for research. Our research provided the world’s first genetic evidence of historical and contemporary introgression events between domestic cats (F. s. catus) and F. s. bieti. The results provide genetic evidence that a substantial percentage of the genomes of some Chinese domestic cats are as much as ten percent F. s. bieti. Genome-wide analyses classified the Chinese mountain cat as a wildcat conspecific F. s. bieti, which was not involved in cat domestication of China, thus supporting a single domestication origin arising from the African wildcat (F. s. lybica). A complex hybridization scenario including ancient introgression from the Asiatic wildcat (F. s. ornata) to F. s. bieti, and contemporary gene flow between F. s. bieti and sympatric domestic cats that are likely recent Plateau arrivals, raises the prospect of disrupted wildcat genetic integrity, an issue with profound conservation implications.

Dr. Shu-Jin Luo is a Principal Investigator at the School of Life Sciences, Peking University, China. A conservation and evolutionary geneticist with a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota and a postdoc at the National Cancer Institute in Maryland, Dr. Luo is leading an active research team working on the genetics of wild and domestic cats and is the lead author discovering the new Malayan tiger subspecies Panthera tigris jacksoni, finding the genetic causes of the white tiger, and elucidating the evolutionary histories of various endangered felids including the tiger, leopard cat, and the Chinese mountain cat. Dr. Luo is a member of the IUCN Cat Specialist Group since 2005 and a council member for the American Genetic Association (AGA) since 2020.

Dr. Terry Townshend joins us at facilitator and Ganga Ram Regmi, Founder and Director of Third Pole Conservancy, Nepal, as our discussant.

Watch on you tube –

Drivers of snow leopard poaching and illegal trade in Pakistan


Please join us in welcoming our guest speaker Fathul Bari from the University of Chitral, who shares updates on this prominent threat to snow leopards in Pakistan. This talk is followed by a discussion where we explore ideas to combat this omnipresent threat to snow leopards in greater detail, drawing upon our guests experiences and knowledge from across the world. We will have Dr. Koustubh Sharma share recent developments from GSLEP that curates a collaborative database on poaching and illegal wildlife trade in snow leopards.

Poaching and trade of snow leopards is poorly documented in Pakistan. Pakistan is however ranked for greater poaching incidents as compared to its share in the global snow leopard range. The country is also ranked among the top five countries where 90% of snow leopard poaching occurs, although seizure records for the country are low. During this talk we will discuss the dynamics and drivers of snow leopard poaching and trade from Pakistan.


From climate to carnivores: the transitions of a change

Major climatic changes have occurred on a number of occasions, with over 50 such changes taking place in the Pleistocene epoch alone. Each time climate change events have required ecological and behavioural adaptations to surviving plant and animal species, obliging them to seek refuge in suitable areas or cope with habitat modifications and alterations of local plant/animal communities. This can potentially lead to inter-species competition. Mountains are strongly seasonal habitats, which require special adaptations for wildlife species living on them.

Population dynamics of mountain ungulates are strongly influenced by the availability of rich food resources to sustain lactation and weaning during summer seasons. In turn, well fed juveniles will survive winter rigours more easily. In the case of an increase of temperature – such as in the current ongoing climatic change – plant phenology and nutritional quality will be affected. Predictions have been made on what could happen to populations of mountain ungulates based on how climate change could alter the distribution pattern and quality of high elevation vegetation. In this talk we will explore a case study using the “clover community-Apennine chamois Rupicapra pyrenaica ornata” to explore these relationships. All scenarios suggest a decline of the Apennine chamois in the next 50 years in its historical core range- from about 85% to 99% near-extinction. It is argued that the negative consequences of climate changes presently occurring at lower elevations will shift to higher ones in the future. These effects will vary with the species-specific ecological and behavioural flexibility of mountain herbivores, as well as with availability of climate refugia.

If climatic conditions do continue to change, these are likely to elicit a variation of resource availability for herbivores, and in turn for carnivores. A potential for exacerbation of interspecific competition could follow. Species distribution and abundance will be affected calling for farsighted measures of adaptive management and conservation.

Find out more about our speaker here

SLN Webinar: Snow leopards in the land of mountain deities

Camera trap photo by PNC

We invite you to our next SLN webinar which continues our series on different Science & Conservation perspectives around snow leopards. This webinar will take us to the Tibetan Plateau in China where we will hear from Awang, the founder of the Plateau Nature Conservancy. We will learn about how he and his team are bridging science and traditional knowledge for snow leopard conservation. LingYun, SLN’s Committee Member, will also join us as facilitator, adding insights from her work on the plateau. 

As usual our format will be a talk of 20-30 minutes followed by an interactive discussion. Awang has some remarkable images and stories to share. Please register through the link below and help us spread the word and share the news with your colleagues and those who would be interested in attending.

About the Webinar

Awang will share how the Plateau Nature Conservancy (PNC) is supporting Tibetan herders from the sacred mountain range Amney Machin at the Source of the Yellow River to carry out snow leopard camera trap surveys. He will discuss how his team is working with local herders to combine traditional ways of biodiversity conservation with the concepts of contemporary conservation and regional conservation policy. All of their work is conducted around mountains that are considered sacred in Tibetan Buddhism and around the sacred lakes at the source of the Yellow River. These sacred features of the area provide an opportunity to strengthen and protect these snow leopard landscapes. Awang’s talk will share how such traditional forms of protecting mountain areas are still playing an important role in conservation of alpine ecosystem and wildlife within it.        

Snow leopard camera trap photo by PNC. Can you see the snow leopard?
Phhoto by PNC

About our Guests

Awang is founder and director of Plateau Nature Conservancy (PNC) in China. He is a wildlife conservationist and researcher who has worked in the Tibetan Plateau for 10 years. In 2007, he joined Fauna and Flora International (FFI) and worked on several conservation initiatives including rangeland management, community-based conservation and public environmental education. In 2013, he completed his MSc at DICE, University of Kent, and majored in Biodiversity Conservation and Tourism. He is currently a member of ICCA (Indigenous and Community Conserved Areas) China and China Federation of Youth Committee.

Photo of Awang by PNC


Tuesday, November 16th, 2021 at 16:00-17:00 Beijing time


Zoom: Register through the following link.

Please note

    • If you have never used Zoom before, we recommend that you try the link 10 minutes before the start of the lecture.
    • Please feel free to write questions in the comment area and there will be time for questions/discussion at the end of the talk.
    • Please note that the session will be recorded and later featured on the SLN website. If you have concerns about this please let us know before the session.
Camera trap photo by PNC
Photo by PNC