Russia starts expedition to track snow leopards 2011-10-21 19:29:51

IRKUTSK, Russia, Oct. 21 (Xinhua) — Russian scientists started Friday an expedition to track the endangered snow leopards in southern Siberia, the RIA Novosti news agency reported.

A research team will travel to the Altai-Sayan mountainous region to collect data on the snow leopard population and its habitat range.

This is the third phase of the expedition “On the Trail of Snow Leopards.” The results will be presented in late November.

In 2010, Russia launched a five-year program to study and monitor the snow leopard population in southern Siberia.

Under the program, a reserve will be set up in the western Sayan region for the conservation of the snow leopard.

The snow leopard is a rare and quickly vanishing animal, which ranks as Category 1 — critically endangered — on Russia’s list of threatened species. The number of snow leopards in Russia was 150 to 200 in 2002. The number might have been further reduced as a result of poaching.

Editor: Wang Guanqun

Unique snow leopard captured on video during an international expedition in the Altai-Sayan Ecoregion

This is a release put out by Altaisky Zapovednik. Here’s a link to the video on YouTube if you can’t make the link below work:


Unique snow leopard captured on video during an international expedition
24 May 11

A joint Mongolian-Russian expedition to study transboundary populations of snow leopard in the Altai-Sayan Ecoregion recently finished its work. The expedition took place May 5-18, 2011 with support from WWF-Russia and WWF-Mongolia. Participants in the int’l expedition surveyed transboundary snow leopard habitat – the Mongolian side of Tsagan-Shibetu Ridge (in Tsagaan-Shuvuut Zapovednik) and Chikhachev Ridge (park of Silkkhemin Nuruu National Park), adjacent to the Russian border. Staff from Altaisky Zapovednik, the Mongolian Academy of Science’s Institute of Biology, WWF-Mongolia, Irbis Video Studio (Altai Republic), the Irves Anti-poaching Brigade (Mongolia), and the Administrations of the Uvs-Nuur and Mongolian Altai protected areas participated in the international expedition.

Several of the areas surveyed by the scientists indicated a high density of evidence of snow leopard spoor and markings. A group of snow leopards live in this transboundary area, and their study is extremely important for protecting these rare predators in Russia and Mongolia. The predator’s scrapes, scent markings, paw prints, and prey remains were found in as many as thirty sites per kilometer of the route. This number is comparable to the best snow leopard habitat in India and Nepal. The experts also gathered 50+ scat samples for future DNA analysis to determine the gender and number of animals in this group.

During the expedition and almost atop the Russian international border, the group was able to collect unique video images of snow leopards. The scientists installed camera traps on Chikhachev Ridge in a place where snow leopards were active and after just a few days – success! A snow leopard jumped from a large rock immediately in front of the camera, and unhurriedly walked way along a narrow canyon. Link to the video here, on Altaisky Zapovednik’s website:

The data gathered as a result of this study show that snow leopards live permanently in this area, and that the population is stable. WWF experts estimate the snow leopard population along Chikhachev Ridge to be about 10-12 animals, with an additional 20 animals on the Tsagaan-Shibetu Ridge (both the Russian and Mongolian sides).

Despite their seemingly small number, snow leopards living along the Russian-Mongolian border are a connecting link between the few remaining Russian groups and the population nucleus in western Mongolia.

In Mongolia, snow leopards are protected within Tsagaan-Shuvuut Zapovednik and Silkkhemin Nuruu National Park. On the Russian side, Chikhachev and Tsagan-Shibetu Ridges unfortunately fall outside of any officially protected area.

Today, WWF experts are assessing the possibility of creating an additional cluster in Sailyugem National Park, along the southern side of Chikhachev Ridge in Altai Republic, as well as a cluster for Ubsunurskaya Basin Zapovednik in the southern part of Tsagan-Shibetu Ridge (Tuva Republic).

Follwoing their analysis, the materials gathered on the expedition will permit a more precise estimate of the population of snow leopards living in the study area (Shapshal – Tsagan-Shibetu – Tsagan-Shuvuut and the southern Chikhachev Ridge) as well as to identify genetic links with other snow leopards in Russia.

Materials from WWF-Altai-Sayan and Sergei Spitsyn (Altaisky Zapovednik) were used to prepare this press release.


Translation by Jennifer Castner

Ecologists see increasing snow leopard population in Tuva

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.

Land of the Snow Leopard is preparing to receive tourists (Altai)

29 Oct 2010

Master classes and a practical seminar on felted souvenirs took place in Kosh-Agach at the end of September. This event was hosted by the Fund for Sustainable Development of Altai as part of its project
“Development and marketing of the transboundary Land of the Snow Leopard route. The project is aimed in part at involving local Altai and Tuva residents in the protection of rare species in the Altai-Sayan Ecoregion and is conducted with support from UNDP/GEF.


23 people participated in the training, residents of Kosh-Agach, Ulagan and Ongudai rayons, where the Land of the Snow Leopard project is underway…. Some participated in the training for the first time…. People also participated who already work with felt but lacked experience and expertise.


Moving ahead, each point along the Land of the Snow Leopard route will be provided with original and locally-produced souvenir production. Similar trainings are planned for the Mongun-Tayginsky rayon in Tuva Republic, which will also be part of the Land of the Snow Leopard route.

[translation Jennifer Castner]

29.10.2010 Земля снежного барса готовится к приему туристов

В конце сентября 2010 г. в с.Кош-Агач в рамках проекта Фонда устойчивого развития Алтая «Разработка и продвижение на рынок трансграничного маршрута ‘Земля снежного барса» как механизм вовлечения местных жителей Алтая и Тувы в охрану редких видов Алтае-Саянского экорегиона’ при поддержке Проекта ПРООН/ГЭФ прошли мастер-классы и практический семинар по изготовлению сувениров из войлока.

Для проведения мастер-классов были привлечены опытные мастера Центра развития народно-художественных промыслов «Энчи» (четыре мастера под руководством директора Бабрашевой Татьяны Кундучиновны). В ходе занятий мастера сделали основной упор на изготовление сувениров из войлока: маленькие коврики сырмаки, войлочные игрушки, сувениры, – с использованием образов ирбиса и аргали.

В ходе семинара и мастер-класса было обучено 23 заинтересованных жителей из Кош-Агачского, Улаганского, Онгудайского районов (районы реализации проекта «Земля снежного барса»). Участников можно было разделить условно на новичков и тех, кто был уже знаком с этой отраслью народного промысла. Некоторые принимали участие в таких мастер–классах впервые и им было очень интересно познакомиться с первыми шагами создания войлока. Их учили, как валять шерсть, какие технологии применять. Как они потом признались, они даже представить не могли, сколько интересного можно узнать и научиться всему всего за пару дней. Были и люди, которые уже занимались войлоком, но им не хватало опыта, знаний. Они в основном интересовались методами оформления продукции. Например, мастер из Улаганского района Юнчакова Нина Кирилловна познакомила с методом фильцевания (наложения рисунка, орнамента), также показала с помощью каких инструментов можно работать. Она также оформила два коврика с эмблемой ПРООН/ГЭФ.

В течение двух дней участники семинара научились валять шерсть, делать различные сувениры, коврики, башмачки. Участники и мастера делились опытом, знаниями, раскрывали свои секреты при работе с шерстью. Кто-то из участников вспоминал, как давным-давно делали войлок их мамы и бабушки, какие методы применяли. Бабрашева Татьяна Кундучиновна отметила, что данное мероприятие прошло очень успешно, по сравнению с другими мастер-классами, которые они проводили раньше. Участники были очень заинтересованы в получении новых знаний и опыта в этом нелегком деле. Женщины из с. Курай принесли показать на семинар свои работы. Несколько участников уже собираются открывать свое собственное дело по изготовлению сувениров из войлока, и даже обучать других желающих.

Итак, в дальнейшем каждая точка маршрута «Земля снежного барса» будет обеспечена оригинальной сувенирной продукцией местного происхождения. Подобное выездное мероприятие планируется и для Монгун-Тайгинского района Республики Тыва, где также будет проходить часть трансграничного экотуристического маршрута ‘Земля снежного барса’.

[This was paid for by a grant from Altai Assistance Project.]

Wind power is our future!


As part of the Land of the Snow Leopard project, a wind power installation (1 kw) has been installed at the Otok Obshchina’s tourist camp on the shores of Lake Tarkhatinskoye.

The installation is in addition to the solar panels and electrical batteries installed in 2009. Otok Obshchina’s camp, which was established with funding support from the Project, now has around-the-clock electricity for use around in camp, in the bathhouse and a nearby cafe. The camp is located 30 km from Kosh-Agach. Funding for these renewable energy sources for Ukok Nature Park and obshchinas in Kosh-Agach rayon are provided by the Fund for Sustainable Development of Altai as part of the international Land of the Snow Leopard project. [….]

[translation Jennifer Castner]

Press Release from UNDP/GEF press office & WWF: Land of the Snow Leopard Project, Russia, 20 October 2010

Beginning on October 5, 2010, a 12-day expedition took place along the middle stretch of the Argut River as part of a project jointly funded by WWF, Altai Assistance Project, and The Altai Project to monitor the snow leopard population in the Argut River valley. During the expedition, Sergei Spitsyn, an employee of Altaisky Zapovednik, together with two Inegen residents, Aduchy Beletov and Viktor Samoylov, set up 18 Reconyx RapidFire and HyperFire camera traps along the middle Argut River in key habitat home to the largest population of snow leopard – on land between the mouths of the Shavla and Koir Rivers. Evidence of snow leopards has been found along the middle Argut from 2003-2009, and red maral deer and Siberian mountain goat population densities here are one of the highest in Southern Siberia. This landscape is immediately adjacent to the Argut Cluster of Sailyugem National Park, established for the protection of key groupings of argali and snow leopard in Russia in February 2010.

Earlier on 23-28th of August, during a UNDP/GEF-funded seminar on the use of camera traps for snow leopard monitoring, 7 cameras were set in place in potential snow leopard habitat along the lower Argut River valley. Over a month’s operation, the cameras collected over 1000 images of various resident species in Argut: bears, maral red deer, musk deer, foxes, Siberian mountain goats, Altai snowcocks, and even lynx. Despite this, the researchers’ cameras were unable to record images of snow leopard in this portion of the valley, easily accessible from local villages. No evidence of snow leopard was found along the lower stretch of the Argut River during expeditions led by Altaisky Zapovednik during the years of 2003-2008. Local residents report that snow leopards had been eliminated as early as the 1980s and 90s in this region; one can still find the remnants of old abatises, where poachers snares for the predator. No snares have been set in those places since 2000, but snow leopards have yet to return to these places, despite the excellent habitat and a wealth of prey: Siberian mountain goats, red maral deer, musk deer, and Altai snowcock. This is hope that with proper protection, snow leopard will return to these parts in the near future.

Despite the lack of snow leopard, the lower Argut basin is an ideal place to conduct ecotourism with the participation of local residents. The area is readily accessible and boasts beautiful scenery and rich wildlife. By inviting tourists to operate camera traps, visitors have the experience of hunting, but instead of pelt or horn trophies, they come away with unique pictures of living animals and birds and learn about the secret lives of Argut’s ancient residents. For all of these reasons, Argut is one of the most attractive places along the transboundary «Land of the Snow Leopard route, developed jointly by UNDP/GEF and WWF. The Land of the Snow Leopard project is actively engaging local residents in Altai, Tuva, and Western Mongolia in ecotourism development and rare species conservation in the Altai-Sayan Ecoregion.

5-17 октября 2010 г. в рамках совместного проекта Всемирного фонда природы, Altai Assistance Program и Altai Project по организации мониторинга снежного барса в долине р. Аргут были проведены полевые работы в средней части бассейна этой реки. В ходе работ Сергей Спицын, сотрудник Алтайского заповедника, и два жителя с. Инегень – Адучы Белетов и Виктор Самойлов установили 18 автоматических камер Reconix RapidFire и HyperFire в средней части бассейна р. Аргут, в ключевых местообитаниях крупнейшей в России группировки ирбиса (территория между устьями рр. Шавла и Коир). В средней части Аргута следы снежного барса отмечались регулярно в 2003-2009 гг., а показатели плотности населения марала и сибирского горного козла здесь одни из самых высоких в Южной Сибири. Эта территория непосредственно прилегает к участку «Аргут» национального парка «Сайлюгемский», созданного для охраны ключевых группировок аргали и снежного барса в России в феврале 2010 г.
Напомним, что 23-28 августа в ходе семинара по использованию фото-ловушек для мониторинга ирбиса, организованного в рамках Проекта ПРООН/ГЭФ, семь автоматических камер были установлены в потенциальных местообитаниях этого вида в нижней части долины р. Аргут. Более чем за месяц работы камер было получено около 1000 снимков различных обитателей Аргута: медведя, маралов, кабарги, лисиц, сибирских горных козлов, алтайских уларов и даже рыси. Однако, обнаружить снежного барса в этой части долины, легко доступной из ближайших населенных пунктов, исследователям не удалось. Следы присутствия ирбиса в нижней части Аргута не были найдены и во время экспедиций Алтайского заповедника в 2003-2008 гг. По словам местных жителей, ирбис в этой части Аргута был истреблен еще в 80-90-е годы прошлого века, когда его отловом занимались чабаны, зимовавшие на стоянках на этой территории. До сих пор на острых горных гривах – излюбленных местообитаниях ирбиса – можно найти остатки старых засек, где браконьеры ставили петли на этого хищника. В 2000-2010 годах петли в этих местах уже не устанавливали, однако, снежный барс до сих пор не вернулся в эти места, не смотря на хорошие местообитания и обилие его объектов питания: сибирских горных козлов, маралов, кабарги и уларов. Сохраняется надежда, что при надлежащей охране ирбис вернется в эти места в течение ближайших лет.
Не смотря на отсутствие ирбиса – нижняя часть бассейна р. Аргут является идеальным местом для организации экотуристических туров силами местных жителей. Эти места легко доступны, имеют удивительные по красоте ландшафты и богатый животный мир. Использование автоматических фотокамер для работы с туристами позволит клиентам почувствовать себя настоящими охотниками, но вместо шкур и рогов животных получить уникальные снимки живых зверей и птиц, раскрыть тайны скрытных обитателей древнего Аргута. Все это делает Аргут одной из самых привлекательных частей трансграничного экотуристического маршрута «Земля Снежного Барса», разрабатываемого совместно Проектом ПРООН/ГЭФ и Всемирным фондом природы. Проект «Земля снежного барса» активно задействует местных жителей Алтая, Тувы и Западной Монголии в развитие экотуризма и охрану редких видов Алтае-Саянского экорегиона.

In Western Tuva, the conflict between the snow leopard and local residents remains active

May 12, 2010 from Tuva Online

According to the research data of WWF, the conflict between the snow leopard and the residents of Western Tuva remains active. The leopards are in danger of getting shot by the herdsmen in revenge for attacks on domestic livestock. WWF continues to actively work with the herdsmen. The conflict between irbis and people originated when the local shepherds took their herds to graze in areas where this predator lives, and the normal population density of hoofed animals dropped off because of poaching.

Lacking their natural prey, the snow leopards started to attack domestic livestock. The leopards attack goats and sheep; only rarely do they attack large animals like yaks and horses, in which case they concentrate on young animals. However, a case was documented where a female leopard and two grown cubs killed a large 8-year-old yak.

According to the collected evidence from 2000-2007 yrs, in Western Tuva (Mongun-Taiga and Bai-Taiga districts of Republic Tyva), every year about 80-100 heads of small horned cattle and 10-30 horses and yaks fall prey to snow leopards. Especially massive losses of sheep and goats – up to 80-90% of the total number of killed animals – occur when a leopard gets into the koshara, a roofed stable where the cattle spends the night.

According to the census carried out by WWF specialists on the Tsagan-Shibetu ridge in the spring of 2010, during the period from November 2009 to February 2010, there were 6 cases of snow leopard attack on livestock. Defending the livestock, which, in these regions, is the only source of subsistence, Tuvans often shoot the leopards in revenge for their savaged cattle. Considering that many shepherds suffer from irbis attacks, there is a potential threat that they may act as accomplices to the poachers who hunt the snow leopard for profit on order.

In the evaluation of experts, the total snow leopard population in Western Tuva is at least 18-20 individuals. The preservation of this grouping of the species who live on the Shapshal and Tsagan-Shibetu ridges, Chikhachevo and Mongun-Taiga, is one of the priority tasks of the snow leopard protection in the Russian Federation.

Altai-Sayan project of WWF invests a great effort to defuse the conflict between herdsmen and the snow leopard. For example, in October 2007, using data from WWF, the staff of the “Ubsunur depression” nature preserve together with the local residents worked on strengthening the stables as a means to prevent incursions of snow leopards at the Tsagan-Shibetu ridge ( as part of the project PROON/GEF).

Ventilation openings in the kosharas, as well as windows and openings above doors were covered over by strong wire netting, which successfully prevented snow leopard incursions into the stables. This simple expedient allowed the losses from snow leopard attacks on livestock in the kosharas to decrease by 80-90%, and also prevented deaths of the predators at the hands of the herdsmen. In that way, during the period from November 2007 to the present time, there was not a single case of an irbis getting into a koshara at the Tsagan-Shibetu ridge.

In 2009, a special Buddhist calendar was published with photos of the irbis and Kamby-Lama’s appeal to the residents of the mountains to protect the snow leopard and the areas of his range. Such a calendar can now be seen in many yurts and houses of herdsmen in Western Tuva.

Currently a co-operative project of WWF and PROON/GEF is being realized, working out a trans-border eco-tourism route “The country of the snow leopard”, whose core task is to involve the herdsmen of Tuva and Altai in tourist activities within the irbis range. The irbis will be used as the main attraction of Western Tuva for tourism, with the aim to show the local population the value of this species for development of tourism. Motives of traditional souvenir production will also involve the snow leopard.

In this way, the protection of snow leopard will become a direct source of income for the population from eco-tourism, and its development could become an effective instrument of protection of rare species in Western Tuva.

For information:

In 2010, with support from WWF, an evaluation of the numbers of a trans-border grouping of snow leopard on the Tsagan-Shibetu range (Russia and Mongolia). The total numbers of this grouping was calculated at 15-20 individuals, and its condition was appreciated as stable. In June 2010 the A.N. Severtsov Institute of Problems of Ecology and Evolution RAN, together with WWF of Russia, are planning to start a project of observing this group of snow leopards with the use of satellite collars and automatic photo cameras. These works should bring many new findings about the snow leopard in Western Tuva, and to suggest new actions to be taken for protection of this species.

Tatiana Ivanitskaya, translated by Heda Jindrak

WWF Russia released a report on attitudes toward hunting and poaching in the Altai-Sayan region

WWF Russia released a report in English by Agnieszka Halemba  and Brian Donahoe of the University of Leipzig and Max Planck Institute respectively on attitudes toward hunting and poaching in the  Altai-Sayan region, including some material on attitude toward hunting of snow leopard. The report can be downloaded at  The Altai press also reports that Kazakhstan and Russia are planning for a transboundary reserve in the Altai region and that a 2008 conference took place in Kazakhstan on the project. Additionally, WWF Russia is planning to initiate ecotours into snow leopard habitat along the Argut River. ( Feb 13, 2009)

Thanks to SLN member Kathleen Braden for this update.