Transboundary reserve to be established in Altai

14 Jan 2011

The Russian Federation’s Cabinet of Ministers approved an agreement between the governments of Russia and Kazakhstan to establish the “Altai Transboundary Reserve.” A corresponding decree was signed by Vladimir Putin, Russia’s Prime Minister, on 27 December 2010.

The draft agreement states that the Altai Transboundary Reserve is being established with the goals of protection wildlife and landscape diversity in mountainous Altai, facilitating bilateral cooperation in environmental conservation and rational natural resource use with the consideration of ecological, social, and cultural perspectives.

RIA Novosti reports plans for conducting environmental monitoring and research on natural habitats and sites in Altai, increasing environmental education outreach to the local population, and ecotourism.

The transboundary reserve will include Katunsky State Biosphere Reserve (Russian Federation) and Katon-Karagaysky National Nature Park (Republic of Kazakhstan).

Translation by Jennifer Castner

Initial hearings take place in the argali hunting case (Altai Republic)

13 Jan 2011

The rare species argali hunting case will begin on January 26. This decision was taken at a hearing held on 13 January presided over by Nikolai Lubenitsky, chairman of the Kosh-Agach Rayon court, which is hearing this case.

The subject of these preliminary hearings (generally used for hearing processual questions, evidentiary issues, etc.) is not known. All of the accused traveled to Kosh-Agach to participate in these hearings – businessman and former vice-governor of Altai Republic Anatoly Bannykh, general director of Ineko Boris Belinsky, and vice director of the Moscow’s Institute of Economics and Law Nikolai Karpanov.

They stand accused under Part 2, Article 258 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code (collusion to illegally hunt by a group for animals whose killing is completely forbidden, with the infliction of gross harm and the use of airborne transport), the penalty for which ranges from a fine up to two years’ imprisonment. The accused in the case are pleading not guilty to the charges.


Translation by Jennifer Castner

“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.”

Snow leopard tourism in Pakistan

Go see Snow Leopards for yourself

ISLAMABAD, Jan 16 (APP): In a unique move to tapping country’s flora and fauna aimed at promoting tourism, an adventurous cum joyous safari has been organised to enable the visitors have glance at Snow Leopards through closequarters at sky-touching mountains of Gilgit-Baltistan.A private tour operator, Himalayan Holidays, is organising this spectacular event to enthrall the visitors with rare scenes of this wild animals descending into the dense forests at altitude of 1,200- 2,000 m (3,900 to 6,600ft).

It would perhaps be the first ever programme to explore the county’s wildlife species in the tall mountains ranges in the north.

“By organising this event we could amuse the visitors with not just wildlife, but there would be much more to see like gushing rivers, diverse cultures, serene valleys and snow capped mountain peaks,” Najib Ahmed Khan, who own Himalayan Holidays told APP.

He, however, said focus would be on Snow leopards as the wildlife sector has so far not figures in tourism activities in Pakistan.

Elaboration details about Snow Leopards, he said the big cats prefer broken rugged terrain and travel without difficulty in snow up to 85 centimeters(33 in) deep, although it prefers to use existing trails made by other animals.

Himalayan Holiday, which is holding this ever-remembering event, would take the wildlife lovers from Islamabad to Gilgit, where the journey starts by jeeps to Ramghat via Partabpul and Bunji.
BBQ dinner and joyous sun set on Nanga Parbat would wind up the day one.

Next day starts with hike to Neelidar, going as high as about 600 meters in 5 hours to discover the Snow Leopards roaming freely in their habitats.

Third day’s hiking leads to Akalotamo where the local guides tell the visitor places for filming of fantastic scenes of big cats playing, preying jumping and resting.

Day four would get the visitor to another enchanting destination of Misikhandgah.

An individual snow leopard lives within a well defined home range, but does not defend its territory aggressively when encroached upon by other snow leopards.

Home ranges vary greatly in size, like other cats, snow leopards use scent marks, scent to indicate their territory and common travel routes.

These are most commonly produced by scraping the ground with the hind feet before depositing urine, but they also spray urine onto sheltered patches of rock.

Snow leopards are crepuscular, being most active at dawn and dusk they are known for being extremely secretive and well camouflaged.

The diet of the snow leopard varies across its range and with the time of year, and depends on prey availability.

In the western Himalayas it preys mostly Himalayan blue sheep, Markhor, ibex and smaller prey consists of marmots, woolly hares and birds such as the snow cock and chukar.

It is not averse to taking domestic livestock which brings it into direct conflict with humans.

Snow leopards have not been reported to attack humans, and appear to be among the least aggressive of all the big cats.

As a result, they are easily driven away from livestock, they readily abandon their kills when threatened and may not even defend themselves when attacked.

Snow leopards prefer to ambush prey from above, using broken terrain to conceal their approach, and can leap as far as 14 meters.

They will actively pursue prey down steep mountainsides, using the momentum of their initial leap to chase animals for up to 300 meters.

Snow leopards usually breed in winter January to mid March and have a gestation period of 90-100 days, so that the cubs are born between April and June.

The mother gives birth in a rocky den lined with fur shed from her underside. Litter sizes vary from one to five cubs but two or three is more usual. The cubs are blind and helpless at birth with a thick coat of fur, and weigh from 320 to 567 grams (11 to 20.0 oz).

The eyes open at around seven days, and the cubs can walk at five weeks and are fully weaned by ten weeks. Also when they are born they have full black spots and turn into rosettes as they grow up.
The cubs leave the den at around two to four months of age, but remain with the mother until they become independent after around 18-22 months.

Once independent, they may disperse over considerable distances, even crossing wide expanses of flat terrain to seek out new hunting grounds.

This likely helps reduce the inbreeding that would otherwise be common in their relatively isolated environment. Snow leopards normally live for 15-18 years, but in captivity they can live for up to 21 years.

Estimated population of snow leopards in Pakistan is 420 to 500 with their habitat stretching over 80,000 Sq miles in Skardu, Astore Bunji (Nanga Parbat region), Khunjran Borogil and Chitral.

See and Help Save the Snow Leopard in Ladakh (Snow Leopard Conservancy trip featured in Luxury Travel Magazine)

January 12, 2011

Baobab Expeditions, a tour operator of extraordinary, conservation–based journeys to remote and exotic locales, is offering a 17-night expedition to India to see the crucially-endangered Snow Leopard in support of the Snow Leopard Conservancy Trust.

The expert-guided trips are available leaving March 26 and December 3, 2011, include moderate to strenuous treks, and cost $4,397* per person, sharing. (Guests must be in Delhi, India by Day 1). Every booking results in a monetary donation to the Snow Leopard Conservancy.

The Snow Leopard is one of the most beautiful animals in the world. Secretive and shy, it is poached for its bones, skin and organs, used in traditional Asian medicine. The Snow Leopard Conservancy is dedicated to promoting innovative grassroots measures that lead local people to become better stewards of these rarely-seen creatures, their prey and their habitat. It offers material support and planning assistance in exchange for a community’s agreement to assume the primary responsibility for protecting Snow Leopards and other wildlife.

The exciting journey to discover the Snow Leopard includes visits to Delhi, capital of India, and to Ladakh, a region of Jammu and Kashmir, India’s northernmost state. Ladakh is a high-altitude desert, as the Himalayan Mountains create a rain shadow denying entry to monsoon clouds. Before setting off in search of the Snow Leopard, guests will acclimatize in the capital of Ladakh, Leh, sometimes called Little Tibet, which sits at the base of the 11,500 foot Karakoram Range, once a major commercial hub on the Silk Road. Highlight of the journey will be trekking in the mountains of Ladakh (aka Snow Leopard Country) guided by experts in the field. Adventurers will fly over the Himalayas, “Roof of the World”; experience the local Buddhist culture; visit ancient monasteries and palaces; and trek through Hemis National Park to ferret out the mysterious Snow Leopard. Along the way, trekkers will see many indigenous and endangered animal species including the Himalayan Snowcock, the Himalayan Wolf, the Wild Dog, Pallas’s Cat, the Red Fox, the Tibetan Argali, and the Bharal or blue sheep upon which the Snow Leopard preys. Using spotting scopes, guests will collect information on the Argali for the local Wildlife Department and for the Nature Conservancy Foundation.

Naturalist Peter Matthiessen’s 1978 book The Snow Leopard brought to the public’s attention the elusiveness of the big cat and the myths that have grown up around it. After seeing incredible wildlife but no Snow Leopard, Matthiessen’s companion in the search, zoologist George Schaller, mused, “We’ve seen so much, maybe it’s better if there are some things that we don’t see.” Matthiessen himself felt that the journey into the last enclaves of pure Tibetan culture on earth was also a quest for “being.”

According to Wikipedia, “Snow Leopards show several adaptations for living in a cold mountainous environment. Their bodies are stocky, their fur is thick, and their ears are small and rounded, all of which help to minimize heat loss. Their paws are wide, which distributes their weight better for walking on snow, and they have fur on their undersides to increase their grip on steep and unstable surfaces; it also helps to minimize heat loss. Snow Leopards’ tails are long and flexible, helping them to maintain their balance, important in the rocky terrain they inhabit; the tails are also very thick due to storage of fats, and are very thickly covered with fur which allows them to be used like a blanket to protect their faces when asleep. The Snow Leopard has a short muzzle and domed forehead, containing unusual large nasal cavities that help the animal breathe the thin cold air of their mountainous environment.”

For a detailed itinerary or more information visit

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.