Unique Dog-Search Engine for the First Time Took Part in An Expedition to Search for Traces of the Snow Leopard

WWF summarizes research on the potential snow leopard habitat in the northeastern part of South-Chu Ridge and Southern Ridge Chikhacheva (Altai Republic), performed by members of the Altai Nature Reserve with the support of WWF in the monitoring program

In Russian: http://wwf.ru/news/article/8806


20 October 2011

Cameras keep eye on snow leopards in Spiti Valley, India

2010-12-29 11:10:00

Shimla, Dec 29 (IANS) The third eye is monitoring the movement of the highly endangered, elusive snow leopard in the cold deserts of Himachal Pradesh. And one of the camera traps has thrown up useful footage – of a pack of dogs attacking and injuring a snow leopard.

With just about 750 snow leopards left in India, the Himachal Pradesh government is using cameras to monitor their movement in Spiti Valley, the state’s northernmost part, running parallel to the Tibetan border.

The state’s wildlife department, in coordination with Mysore-based non-governmental organisation Nature Conservation Foundation, has installed 20 camera traps (automatic cameras) in Spiti Valley.

One of the cameras captured shots of a pack of dogs attacking a snow leopard. The dogs were abandoned by the pastoral communities that migrate from alpine pastures in summer along with their livestock, chief wildlife warden A.K. Gulati told IANS.

‘From this video clip, we came to know that abandoned dogs are also a potential threat to the wild cat. However, in this case, the snow leopard managed to escape with minor injuries on its hind legs,’ Gulati said.

According to wildlife experts, the rise in the population of abandoned dogs might pose a threat to the snow leopards’ food chain.

‘The dogs usually attack in a pack and it’s easy for them to hunt even big mammals like the Himalayan blue sheep. This might reduce the prey base of the wild cat,’ an expert said.

The snow leopard, a graceful golden-eyed animal with thick fur, padded paws and a long tail, is found in rocky regions at an altitude from 2,700 to 6,000 metres (8,900 ft to 20,000 ft). Himachal has adopted it as its state animal.

Not only is the animal extremely elusive but its cold, inhospitable habitat means very little is known about it. Hence the need for technology.

‘Initially, 20 cameras have been installed in a 100 sq km area of Spiti to monitor the movement and behaviour of the snow leopards,’ Gulati told IANS.

Each camera costs around Rs.250,000 and is equipped with a sensor that shoots any movement of any animal in its vicinity. Each camera has a battery backup of 25 days.

‘Placing a camera is really a herculean task. One has to trudge miles of rugged, cold and inhospitable Himalayan terrain. We have to restrict even the movement of the humans as it might develop fear psychosis in the animal or spoil their habitat,’ he said.

The footages also captured some other animals like the Himalayan blue sheep and Asiatic ibex – a wild goat species. Both are important prey for the snow leopard.

He said footage indicated the presence of around 10 snow leopards, but nothing conclusive could be said in the study’s early stages.

‘Right now, we are not in a position to comment on the exact population of the wild cats in Spiti. But we can only say the area supports an impressive population,’ he said.

Apart from Spiti Valley, the wildlife wing also plans to install 20 camera traps in the Pin Valley National Park, the Kibber Wildlife Sanctuary, the Great Himalayan National Park and the Pangi and Bharmour areas of Chamba district, which has a sizeable population of the snow leopard.

Gulati said under the Project Snow Leopard, the state had sent a proposal to the central government to set up a snow leopard research institute in Spiti at a cost of Rs.5.5 crore. He said a major portion of the amount would be spent on improving the habitat of the animal.

The Himachal project is part of the central government’s Project Snow Leopard that was launched Jan 20, 2009, as part of efforts to conserve the globally endangered species.

The government had estimated the number of these wild cats to be around 750, but this is the first time an extensive study is being carried out to substantiate the figure.

The project is also operational in Jammu and Kashmir, Uttarakhand, Sikkim, and Arunachal Pradesh with support from the Wildlife Institute of India and the Nature Conservation Foundation.

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at vishal.g@ians.in)


Tools that leave wildlife unbothered widen research horizons

By Jim Robbins New York Times

Posted: 03/10/2009 10:19:39 PM PDT

You may remember Sen. John McCain’s criticism of a study of grizzly bear DNA as wasteful spending. You may have wondered how the scientists got the DNA from the grizzlies. The answer is hair. The study, which McCain referred to during his run for president, was a large one, and it provided an estimate of the population of threatened grizzly bears in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, in and around Glacier National Park. The researchers did not trap the bears or shoot them with tranquilizers. Instead, they prepared 100 55-gallon drums with a mixture of whole fish and cattle blood that was allowed to ferment until it had the aroma of grizzly bear candy. They built 2,400 hair corrals — 100 feet of barbed wire around five or six trees — and placed the fish and blood mix in the center. When bears went under the wire to check it out, they left hair behind. The team collected 34,000 hair samples in 14 weeks this way. The population estimate from the study, announced late last year, was 765, a figure 2.5 times the estimate based on sightings of females and cubs, the previously used method. “Hair snaring has given us a much more precise number,” said Katherine Kendall, a research ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey who designed and implemented the study. The results were just published in The Journal of Wildlife Management. It also gives a glimpse of a growing trend in wildlife biology toward research methods that are gentler — and cheaper — than the classic “capture, mark, recapture.” In that process researchers trap an animal, sometimes drug it and fasten on a radio collar or implant or attach a transmitter. Then, they follow the radio signal or catch the animal again to see where it goes. Such tools are powerful. Some high-tech collars beam an animal’s whereabouts to a satellite every 20 or 30 minutes, giving researchers unparalleled data on movement and habitat. But the techniques can create animals that are either “trap happy” or “trap shy.” There is concern that contacts with humans can reduce an animal’s wildness or lead to its death. Some research shows that bears may suffer long-term impacts from being drugged. In national parks, visitors often complain when they see a wild wolf or bear with a large radio collar around its neck. As a result, new noninvasive techniques are evolving, some that use hair and others that use animal scat. Such methods can be useful in countries that lack access to expensive technology. “You don’t need a vet, you don’t need an airplane, you don’t need training,” said Megan Parker, assistant director of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s North America Program, based in Bozeman, Mont. In Bhutan, for example, biologists are gathering scat to study snow leopards, which are extraordinarily difficult to see, let alone trap. The problem is that there are a lot of different kinds of scat on the ground that cannot be differentiated visually. Out of 100 fecal samples gathered, often only two belong to a snow leopard. Lab testing to find those two samples is expensive. The scat is shipped to Bozeman, where Parker is training a dog, a Belgian Malinois named Pepin, to tell snow leopard scat from other kinds. Once Pepin’s sniff test weeds out the false samples, the right scat can be sent to a lab. Because of technological advances, a fragment of DNA found in scat can identify the species and sex of the animal that produced it. By collecting numerous samples across a territory, critical migration corridors can be identified as well as the abundance of a species. Stress hormones in the sample may be an indicator of the animal’s health. Diet and parasites can be assessed. “The genetic code is a mystery novel, a history book and a time log in a single hair,” said Michael Schwartz, a research ecologist at the U.S. Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Research Station in Missoula, Mont. L. Scott Mills, a professor of wildlife population ecology who teaches the techniques at the University of Montana in Missoula, said noninvasive methods “opened the door for abundance and density estimates that are very hard to do with live trapping.” “We can sample so many more animals,” Mills said. “With live trapping you might trap three animals in two years. With scats we can find 15 or 30.” Another noninvasive technique involves the use of still and video cameras triggered by heat and motion. Kerry Foresman teaches in the wildlife biology program at the University of Montana in Missoula, which emphasizes noninvasive techniques. He studies the fisher, wolverine, lynx and pine marten, all secretive carnivores, leaving a remote camera trained on the hanging hindquarter of a deer. Tracking plates are another tool. Animals are lured by bait across soot-covered metal plates and onto contact paper. “They leave behind exquisite images of their track s,” Foresman said. The setup costs $12.