Survival of snow leopards – Mongolia

Survival of snow leopards endangered: expert 2011-10-17 23:50:51

ULAN BATOR, Oct. 17 (Xinhua) — Poaching, mining and invasion of herders are threatening the survival of the snow leopard, one of the world’s most endangered animals, an official of the World Wildlife Fund in Mongolia warned Monday.

“Big threats for the snow leopard are poaching and conflicts with local people because of attacks on livestock of herders by snow leopards in the last few years as herders moved to mountain areas in the winter season and occupied the habitat of snow leopards,” said Onon Yo.

Illegal trade of skins and skulls of snow leopards and a new trend of mining operations in the snow leopard’s habitat also pose big threats to the big cats.

Onon issued the warning on the sidelines of an international conference on snow leopard conservation here.

Snow leopards are restricted to the high mountains of Central Asia with a population of fewer than 2,500.

Many measures have been taken to protect this extremely endangered animal. About 27.5 percent of snow leopards’ potential habitats are put in protection areas and many monitoring programs had been launched in certain habitats, said Onon.

The researchers use many different methodologies, for example, GPS collars for determining the movement and migration of snow leopards, Onon said.

Mongolia revokes decision to allow leopard hunting for science 2011-03-23 20:45:12

ULAN BATOR, March 23 (Xinhua) — The Mongolian government had revoked a decision it made earlier this month to allow foreigners to hunt leopards for scientific purpose, local media reported Wednesday.

Mongolian Environment and Tourism Minister L. Gansukh canceled the permission to kill four leopards for scientific purpose this year, after meeting researchers and representatives of non-government organizations to discuss the issue.

The researchers opposed the decision made by the cabinet on March 2. They said genetic research and other modern technologies made it possible to do scientific research without killing the highly endangered species.

The decision to allow four leopards to be hunted incurred opposition worldwide. Snow Leopard Network, a major organization aimed at protecting the species, sent a written appeal to the government, urging it to reverse its decision.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, an international agreement which entered into force in 1975 to protect wild animals and plants, has listed the snow leopard as one of species threatened with extinction which are or may be affected by trade.

Snow leopards normally live between 3,000 and 5,500 meters above sea level in the rocky mountain ranges of Central Asia. According to a survey conducted in 2009 and 2010, there are more than 1,200 leopards in Mongolia.

Editor: Fang Yang

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 (see under Blog) where you can find out more about the Snow Leopard Trust and make donations. See also

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

SLN member Tom McCarthy honored by Mongolian government

28 October 2010
Snow leopard researcher and conservationist, Dr. Tom McCarthy, was recently recognized by the Mongolian government for his long-term contribution to wildlife science in that country. At a ceremony in the office of the President, he was awarded the State of Mongolia Friendship Medal, the highest award given by the Mongolian government to a non-Mongolian to recognize outstanding contributions to Mongolia and its people. Tom started working in Mongolia in 1993 when George Schaller selected him to lead a snow leopard study in the Altai Mountains. As a Ph.D. student with the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, he spent the next 6 years studying snow leopards, Gobi brown bears and wild Bactrian camels in and around the Great Gobi National Park. His research into livestock-snow leopard conflicts led to the establishment of Snow Leopard Enterprises, one of the most successful community-based conservation programs for the species. From 2000 – 2009 he led the Snow Leopard Trust’s programs in Mongolia, and currently as Panthera’s Executive Director of Snow Leopard Programs he co-manages a long-term ecological study of snow leopards in Mongolia’s South Gobi Province. Speaking of the award Tom stated, “I have just been very fortunate to work alongside some of Mongolia’s most dedicated scientists and conservationists for nearly two decades. It is very humbling to receive this award for doing something I have always considered to be a privilege.”

More on the award can be found at:

WWF Altai-Sayan Newsletter issue #13: July – September, 2010

WWF Russia and WWF Mongolia share the main achievements of both offices in Altai – Sayan Ecoregion regarding species conservation, protected areas, ecotourism, public awareness, education, eco clubs, fresh water. For the full version of the newsletter in pdf format,
click here
. Several articles reference snow leopards:

WWF Russia
Camera Trapping in Argut River Valley

Snow Leopard Camera Trapping project started in August in Argut Valley – the largest snow leopard distribution in Russia located in the very heart of Altai Mountains. Over the next six months (October 2010-March 2011), a pilot monitoring project of the Argut snow leopard population will take place in this region, thanks to support from WWF, UNDP/GEF, Panthera Foundation, Altai Assistance Project and The Altai Project.

With support from UNDP/GEF a seminar for local residents took place in the Argut Valley village of Inegen on August 23-28, 2010.

Rodney Jackson of the Snow Leopard Conservancy (USA), a leading international snow leopard expert was invited to serve as the seminar’s instructor. During the training in Inegen, two local residents already involved in snow leopard population counts in the Argut River valley and Sergei Spitsyn, a rare species expert at Altaisky Nature Reserve, were trained in the use of digital Reconyx RapidFire and HyperFire cameras, as well as their implementation in snow leopard habitat and techniques for conducting camera-trapping population surveys for snow leopard.

The seminar took place in snow leopard habitat and concluded with the installation of the first seven cameras along the main transit routes of this rare predator. In October the number of camera traps, purchased with support from Panthera Foundation and the Altai Assistance Project, will be increased to twenty in the Argut Valley. The project will be implemented by local Inegen residents under the leadership of experienced staff from Altaisky Nature Reserve. As a result of the project, the development of a method for estimating snow leopard populations in the Argut Basin is planned. The active participation of local residents in this project engages them in snow leopard protection as a part of their natural and cultural heritage.

Another project goal is the development of a unique camera-trapping ecotourism route in the Argut River valley as part of a transboundary tourism route known as “Land of the Snow Leopard”.

On this route tourists can see not only unique landscapes along the Northern Chuisky and Katunsky Ridges, but they can also photograph local fauna, including the snow leopard, using camera traps. Local Inegen residents will organize the entire tour as part of Irbis-Ecotour’s tourism package, a project that has been underway in the Argut River valley for two years with support from WWF and UNDP/GEF. Finally, another planned aspect of this project is the establishment of a Snow Leopard Museum, meant to contain both scientific information about the species as well as the traditional knowledge of Altaian peoples about this charismatic predator of the high mountains. The museum will be a popular attraction not just for tourists traveling along the route, but also for local residents interested in protecting the snow leopard as a symbol of Altai.

WWF Russia
Community inspection is established in Republic of Altai to take part in anti – poaching activities in the key territory for argali and snow leopard conservation

Establishing of community inspection in Kosh – Agachsky Region near the Mongolian border is aimed to involve local indigenous people into nature conservation and rare species monitoring. Along with the government agencies the inspectors can remove illegal nets, snares and traps, help struggle poaching and conduct propaganda of nature conservation among the local villagers. They can monitor the situation and report to the law-enforcement agencies about the violations found. WWF provided the inspectors with the necessary equipment (cameras, means of communication, binoculars).

In July the representatives of nature conservation governmental organizations, law-enforcement agencies of Republic of Altai and the members of ten communities of indigenous people – telengits – gathered together to discuss the issues of public inspections. Ere – Chui – the Association of telengit communities was the organizer of the workshop supported by UNDP/GEF project.

At the workshop local people learned about the rights, obligation, duties and constraints of the public inspection, discussed the possibilities of the joined cooperation.
In whole the inspection is planned to consist of 15 telengit communities (30-35 inspectors), distributed all across Chuy valley and surrounding mountains. Every Telengit community is responsible for protection of its native mountain ranges and valleys and has real ability to decrease poaching in the habitats Argali and Snow Leopard – sacred animals for telengit people.

WWF Russia
“Land of Snow Leopard” Ecotourism Project as a tool to protect Irbis and Argali by local communities

“Land of Snow Leopard” project is a joint initiative of WWF and UNDP/GEF Project to involve local communities of Altai, Tuva and Western Mongolia to ecotourism development in the habitats of Snow Leopard and Altai Argali. The project will develop a transboundary ecotourism route based on local communities in South-Eastern Altai, South-Western Tuva and Western Mongolia, so local people will be able to have good income from tourist.

One of the most attractive features of “Land of Snow Leopard” route is an excellent opportunity to watch wild animals – Altai argali, Siberian Ibex, wolves, marmots, raptors and water foul. So, the protection of biodiversity by local communities will attract ecological tourists in the area and provide support for local people. Local people can work as tourist guides, souvenir makers and homestays providers. Due to WWF support last summer two ecotourist camps were established in Sailugem range by local communities of Telengit people. This area is the habitats of the largest Altai argali population on the border of Russia and Mongolia (about 500-600 individuals) and an excellent place to watch and film this endangered animals. In July 2010 the established camps opened the doors for the first visitors – WWF experts from Russia and Mongolia.

In September local people of Sailugem range participated in good training on tourist guiding and developed several routes for ecotourism excursions in argali and snow leopard habitats. The workshop was conducted by the trainers of Teaching Centre of Protected Areas in Republic of Altai organized with the support of WWF “Protected Areas for a Living Planet” Project. The Land of Snow Leopard route will start to operate next year conserving unique species of Altai-Sayan.

WWF Russia
Snow Leopard and Argali inspired the Masters of Felt Making of Republic of Altai

On September, 23 – 24 the workshop on felt making was organized by Fund of Sustainable Development of Altai (FSDA) with the support of UNDP/GEF Project in Kosh – Agach District. The main goal was not only to teach felt making but also inspire the locals to use the images of argali and snow leopard for the souvenirs.

In 2009 year the resurrecting of felt making in Republic of Altai became an important part of alternative livelihoods development programme for the people living close to protected areas for “Protected Areas for a Living Planet” project of WWF in Altai – Sayan Ecoregion. This kind of traditional craft has been almost forgotten in the area but it could be a good source of income for local people living in the habitats of rare species and a means of raising their livelihoods.

WWF concentrated on providing the local people with a chance to learn the new skills of felt making and experience share. “Marketing Commonwealth” festival in Mongolia was a starting point for Altai women to learn the basis of felt making. The number of new felt masters have been growing like a snow ball and at the moment there are about hundred of felt masters in Republic of Altai who continue teaching the other local people.
The workshops in September were organized only for the local people of three districts – the crucial for argali and snow leopard conservation. Revenue received from selling souvenirs will raise their income and help diminish illegal hunting and wild plants picking pressure. Besides the felt souvenirs will became an essential part of every camp of “Snow Leopard Land”.

Felt souvenirs are the famous, attractive and ecologically pure souvenirs popular all over the world. The resurrecting of felt making traditions is not only a chance for livelihoods growing but also the possibility to show the world cultural and natural heritage of Altai.

Snow Leopard – a Treasure of Tuva. WWF introduces Tuva journalists to the snow leopard (Tsagaan Shibetu Ridge)

Altai – Sayan Project of WWF became a member of a large- scale project “Tos Ertine” (Nine Treasures) in Republic of Tuva which is aimed to identify nine the most precious places and events of Tuvin Land. WWF proposed a snow leopard as a real treasure of Tuva. To support snow leopard WWF organized a press-tour for local TV-companies and newspapers to South-Western Tuva – a real Land of Snow Leopard. Headed by the experts of Ubsunurskaya Kotlovina Nature Reserves the journalists had a chance to visit the key habitat of a snow leopard in Tuva – a mysterious place of Tsagan-Shibetu Ridge near the border with Mongolia. Tsagan-Shibetu is one of the key snow leopard distributions in Altai-Sayan Ecoregion located in transboundary zone of Russia and Mongolia. The total number of snow leopards in Tsagan-Shibetu population is about 20 individuals.

The journalists spent three days in Tsagan-Shibetu Mountains, so that they could personally experience how the snow leopards live and survive in places which were once their hunting range and now they are settled by herders. They found out how the poachers capture leopard cubs to sell to private zoos of rich people. How, due to decrease of wild ungulates by

poachers irbis is forced to attack domestic livestock of local herders. The journalists learned more about conservation projects of WWF and other conservation groups to protect snow leopards: in 2007-2008 all livestock pens in snow leopard habitats were protected with metal mesh and number of livestock killed by snow leopards decreased 5-8 times; in 2010 an ecotourism project called “Land of Snow Leopard” started in South-Western Tuva in cooperation with herder communities; new cluster of Ubsunurskaya Kotlovina Nature reserve is planned on Tsagan-Shibetu Ridge.

The visit to snow leopards was also annexed to the field work of The Institute of Ecology and Evolution, Russian Academy of Sciense in Tsagan-Shibetu Ridge. This project was made possible by Government of Russian Federation in the frameworks of the Big Cat program devoted to wild cats study and conservation in Russia including an endangered snow leopard. The scientists have been working in Tsagan-Shibetu since June, and every day they carefully set up and check their camera traps to get pictures of irbis. Their goal is to try out the new methods of research of irbis populations in South-Eastern Tuva: using camera traps and DNA analysis for precise estimation of snow leopard number, satellite collars to learn more about irbis home range and movements. More than 40 camera traps had been set up on Tsagaan-Shibetu ridge but the only and the very first sharp image of the irbis was taken right on the day the journalists arrived. RECONIХ camera took a picture in grayish fog, but a distinct silhouette of a snow leopard can be seen in profile: the irbis was moving along the path in early dusk. Inspired and amazed the journalist went home.

WWF Mongolia
Nature conservation through involving local residents and supporting their initiatives

WWF Mongolia aims to conserve the nature through strengthening local people on their self-development and livelihood improvement. Within this aim it supports herders’ community groups in many ways. Such example was a 3-day meeting on strengthening management team of herder community groups and evaluation of their activities was carried out in August 2010. Around 10 herder community groups from saiga range area have participated in the event and many of them were newly established. The participants shared their experience and lessons learned on group development, livelihood improvement options and conservation activities. A first draft of work plan for the coming year was elaborated in a participatory approach which will focus more on surface water resources. A volunteer ranger is agreed to be nominated within each community group.

Besides, the groups have held their annual Community Development Festival with participation and support of local authorities. Activities also made aware about the advantages of becoming community group member and encouraging them to join a community-based organization. During the festival, a trade exhibition was organized displaying various products made by herders. Other entertainment shows such as sport games contests, quiz and art show have been held as well. The festival enabled the local communities have in-depth knowledge and benefits as the key tool to accelerate the rural development.

Community groups trans-boundary cooperation

Members of some community groups of Uvs and Khovd provinces participated in the International Felt Festival 2010 which was held in Tuva, Russia. There were number of wool masters from many countries and provinces of Russia such as Abakan, Bashkorstan, Khakasia, Krasnoyarsk attending the event. Trade fair was displayed with various activities like wool processing, product making shows, competitions on several nominations and so on. Mongolian participants expressed their satisfaction as they have gained awards in 2 nominations, e.g. the best processed felt and best souvenir product. They were grateful to the organizers as they learned a lot from the masters of other countries. Contact with some of them is being maintained which would open new horizons to expand the existing market.

Afterwards, an advanced training on wool and felt products design was conducted with financial and logistical support of WWF Mongolia with totally 24 wool masters of community groups from Uvs and Khovd provinces have been trained and certified.

WWF Russia
WWF and Oxfam –GB joint project works on capacity building of local people in Tuva

Potential Business Trainers Workshop held in Kyzil City in Tuva in September was aimed to identify potential people willing and capable to become the business trainers. Being involved as trainers into the workshops they will later share their knowledge with the local people who live in three key districts for snow leopard and argali conservation in Tuva. Teaching local people business basis will help them start their own business and raise the livelihood and moreover to distract them from poaching for food in this area which is the main reason for illegal hunting as reported in WWF – Oxfam survey last year.

The workshop was headed by the experts from the European part of Russia who used their own “Start Your Business” Programme to teach the new-comers the basis of training and training organization.

Eleven participants (mostly women) attended a 5 day-long full-time workshop learning the aspects of working with people, training and developing communicative skills. At the end of the meeting everyone had to prove the skills they had obtained. The participants had to conduct a part of a made-up training, demonstrate the use of exercises, elaborate their own methodological materials and so on. Six people with a high potential for becoming the professional trainers were identified.

WWF Mongolia
Altai-Sayan PA administration staff start to undertake quality research activities at experts level

A major research work has been carried out by the staff of five Altai-Sayan PA administrations in the Khasagt Khairkhan mountain range, a division of the Altai mountain system. Studies covered the distribution, habitat range and population patterns of rare and endangered species such as the Snow Leopard, Siberian Ibex, Red Deer and some avian species.

As it was decided to establish a new administration to conserve the integrity of Khasagt Khairkhan Strictly Protected Area’s biodiversity, this research study is of key significance which would serve as baseline documentation for development of management plan.

The core feature of this research tour is that the PA administration staffs have carried out the research studies themselves without any technical backstopping at high professional level, which we truly believe to be the key outcome of WWF’s interventions.

Furthermore, the participants have had a unique opportunity to get on-job training as they apply theoretical knowledge in practice. For the last three years WWF Mongolia made tremendous efforts to build the capacity of PA staff at all levels through series of training sessions, technical consultancy and research activities with regular feedbacks.

Another major fish survey has been carried out in the Khar, Khar-Us, Khyargas and Airag lakes, in the Great Lakes Depression of the Altai-Sayan Mongolia part. For the last two decades, only ad-hoc based surveys were conducted with no consistent database. This survey is featured by its on-job training for the PA staffs that are further expected to carry-out observations and establish reliable database on regular basis.

Snow leopard cubs caught on video in Mongolia

Oct 04, 2010

In this short video , three snow leopard cubs investigate a remote automated camera that filmed them in August in the Tost Mountains of South Gobi, Mongolia.

Two conservation groups, Panthera and the Snow Leopard Trust, are collaborating on a long-term study of snow leopards in the region. The clip is made up of 61 images taken about a half second apart. The cubs are believed to be approximately two years old.

It is estimated there are no more than 500 and1,000 snow leopards still left in Mongolia.

The project is the first ever long-term ecological study of the animals; and the most comprehensive study to date focused on snow leopards.

By Elizabeth Weise

Field studies evaluating argali populations took place in Russia

28 July 2010

Field studies evaluating argali populations took place

Between July 16 and 23rd, field work to assess transboundary argali
populations took place as part of a program to study this rare and
large subspecies of the arkhar sheep. The early results of the survey
are now available. There are approximately 700 individuals in Russia.
The total transboundary population will be publicized when data is
received from Mongolian colleagues.

… This field work was made possible with the financial and
informational support of the UNDP/GEF “Preserving Biodiversity in the
Altai-Sayan Ecoregion.”

During this field work, all modern argali habitats in the Russian
Federation were studied: Tsagan-Shibetu Ridge, Mongun-Taiga Massif
(Republic of Tuva), Chikhachev Ridge (Altai Republic, Republic of
Tuva), Sailyugem Ridge and Ukok Plateau (Altai Republic). Mongolian
specialists conducted synchronous counts on the other side of the
border. On the Tsagan-Shibetu Ridge and the Mongun-Taiga Massif no
argali were found during the summer of 2010. 240-250 individuals were
counted on Chikhachoev and Talduair, and 440-450 on the Sailyugem Ridge.

While argali are concentrated in several relatively isolated groupings
on the Chikhachev Ridge (Builyukem-Mount Chernaya-Bogoyash 11%, Bert-
Adyr-KochkorLu-Akkayaluozek 27%, Tekelyu 11%, Talduair 12%, BarBurgazy-
KaraOyuk-NarynGol-ChaganGol 16%, Oristy-Boguty 23%) on Sailyugem
Ridge, the majority of sheep (93%) keep to one large pocket – Kara-Su
– Bayan-Chagan – Sarzhematy – Kalanegir – Kuruk.

During the 2009-2010 winter, mountainous ungulates and livestock
experienced severe conditions. There was great loss of livestock on
both sides of the border. Despite this, wild ungulates fared better.
During field studies, the bodies of 14 argali were notes, including 7
deaths caused by poachers, but there was not indication of a large die-
off. This does not exceed the number of dead argali found in an
average year during such expeditions. However, all observers did note
a reduced percentage of lambs in the groups, relative to easier years.
Apparently the difficult winter had an impact on the viability of

Poaching incidents were noted in the Ak-Adyr area (Republic of Tuva)
and Bayan-Chagan (Altai Republic). Poaching activities in Ak-Adyr have
become traditional (noted during each expedition). This winter, 3
argali (one male and two females) were killed right on the border, and
another two males seem to have been injured. They died there and were
eaten by foxes and carrion-eating birds. In the location from which
the shots were likely fired – cliff near the border – fresh
cartridges from a 223 Remington were found. These cartridges were
collected with the goal of establishing the rifle’s ownership with a
query to the federal bullet and shell casing registry. It should also
be noted that there are new signs of a serious anthropogenic impact on
the argali population – industrial mining of tungsten deposits, using
open pits, in argali habitat on the Chikhachev Ridge (Karakulskoye
deposit). Fragile high-elevation ecosystems and argali habitat can be
destroyed when prospecting pits and pit mines are strip mined, as well
as the impacts of road-building. In addition, argali are also
disturbed by sounds coming from such operations and by vehicles, as
well as the presence of a large number of people. Currently, mining
operations have stopped for economic reasons, and there are currently
only two guards on site. Future continuation of mining here will lead
to the isolation of arkhar in the northern part of the Chikhachev
Ridge, will all the resulting impacts, as the commercial pit mine and
deposit are located along the argali’s seasonal migration route.

Translation thanks to Jennifer Castner.

28.07.2010 В рамках проекта прошли полевые работы по оценке численности трансграничных группировок аргали

В период с 16 июня по 23 июля 2010 г. на территории России и Монголии проводились полевые работы по оценке численности трансграничных группировок аргали в соответствии с программой мониторинга этого самого редкого и крупного подвида архаров. Сейчас подведены предварительные итоги учета. На территории России учтено около 700 особей. Общая численность трансграничных группировок станет известна, когда будут получены учетные сведения от монгольских коллег.

С российской стороны в работе приняли участие сотрудники двух соседних заповедников: Спицын С.В. – руководитель работ (Алтайский заповедник, Республика Алтай), Донгак С.Б., Куулар С.М., Бегзи С.Ф.(заповедник Убсунурская котловина, Республика Тыва). Полевые работы проводились при финансовой и информационной поддержке Проекта ПРООН/ГЭФ «Сохранение биоразнообразия Алтае-Саянского экорегиона».

В ходе полевых работ были обследованы все современные места обитания аргали в российской федерации: хребет Цаган-Шибету, массив Монгун-Тайга (Республика Тыва), хребет Чихачева (Республика Тыва, Республика Алтай), хребет Сайлюгем и плато Укок (Республика Алтай). Монгольские специалисты проводили синхронные учеты по другую сторону границы. На хребте Цаган-Шибету и массиве Монгун-Тайга летом 2010 г. аргали не обнаружены. На хребте Чихачева и Талдуаире учтено 240 – 250 особей, на хребте Сайлюгем – 440 – 450. Если аргали на хребте Чихачева концентрируются в нескольких относительно обособленных очагах (Буйлюкем – г. Черная – Богояш (11%); Берт-Адыр – Кочкор-Лу – Аккаялуозек (27%); Текелю (11%); Талдуаир (12%); Бар-Бургазы – Кара-Оюк – Нарын-Гол – Чаган-Гол (16%); Ористы – Богуты (23%)), то на хребте Сайлюгем большая часть баранов местной группировки (93 %) держится в одном крупном очаге обитания – Кара-Су – Баян-Чаган – Саржематы – Каланегир – Курук.

Зима 2009 – 2010 г подвергла суровому испытанию горных копытных и домашний скот. По обе стороны границы отмечен большой падеж скота. Однако дикие копытные лучше справились с зимовкой. В ходе полевого обследования территории установлена гибель 14 аргали, из них 7 от рук браконьеров, а массовых случаев гибели не выявлено. Это не превышает число находок останков аргали в обычные годы при такого рода экспедициях. Однако при учетах наблюдателями все же отмечался меньший процент ягнят в группах, чем в более благоприятные годы. Видимо трудности зимовки отразились на жизнестойкости потомства.

Случаи браконьерства зафиксированы в урочище Ак-Адыр (Республика Тыва) и Баян-Чаган (Республика Алтай). В урочище Ак-Адыр браконьерские охоты на аргали уже стали традиционными (отмечаются каждую экспедицию). В эту зиму здесь прямо на границе добыли 3 аргали (1 самца и 2 самок), еще двух самцов, видимо ранили. Они погибли здесь же, и были съедены лисами и пернатыми падальщиками. На месте предполагаемой засады стрелка, на скале прямо рядом с границей найдены свежие стреляные гильзы калибра 223 Remington. Гильзы изъяты с целью установления владельца оружия через запрос в федеральную пулегильзотеку. Необходимо также отметить серьезный фактор антропогенного воздействия на популяцию аргали, которого не было многие годы – промышленная разработка месторождений металлов (вольфрам) открытым способом в местообитаниях аргали на хребте Чихачева (Каракульское месторождение). Хрупкие высокогорные экосистемы подвергаются разрушению – производится вскрыша шурфов и карьеров, прокладка дорог – тем самым уничтожается среда обитания архаров. Среди прочего – шум механизмов и машин, присутствие большого количества людей. В настоящее время работы приостановлены по экономическим причинам, и на руднике находятся только 2 сторожа. Дальнейшее продолжение добычи приведет к изоляции архаров в северной части хребта Чихачева со всеми вытекающими последствиями, так как промышленный карьер и рудник находятся как раз на пути сезонных перекочевок аргали.

WWF Altai-Sayan Newsletter issue #12: April – June, 2010

WWF Russia and WWF Mongolia share the main achievements of both offices in Altai – Sayan Ecoregion regarding species conservation, protected areas, ecotourism, public awareness, education, eco clubs, fresh water. Several articles reference snow leopards:

WWF Mongolia
Argali population observation in transboundary area

WWF Mongolia has been doing observation of argali sheep movement in the transboundary area between Mongolia and Russia for the last 6 years through radio-collar on new-born lambs. This year 10 more lambs were collared. The total number of collared lambs in Uvs province reached\s up to 43 individuals. This year WWF Mongolia expanded the observation area to Siilkhem mountain range which is located in Bayan-Ulgii province. The process involved the local people, rangers and state border officers who are expected to carry out the further observations.

WWF Russia
Ecotourism camps in the habitats of a snow leopard and argali WWF and UNDP

Project started a joined program devoted to development of transboundary ecotourism route in snow leopard and Altai argali habitats in Altai, Tuva and Western Mongolia. The project is based on local communities living in the habitats of endangered species. Thus, in May-June two eco-camps for tourists were organized in Altai on the base of the communities of telengits – the indigenous people of Sailyugem Ridge. Three traditional telengit yurts, a sauna, a guest house and the solar panels were established in the eco – camps in collaboration with Ere – Chui, the Association of Telengit Communities. Poaching – is one of the major threat for argali and snow leopard in Sailyugem, where Sailugem National Park was established recently. A chance to watch a snow leopard and its prey in the wild is supposed to be a specific trait of the planning eco-tours. Rare species conservation will become an indispensable condition for income generation of the local people. The communities receive the equipment and constructions for tourists in exchange for argali and snow leopard conservation. In case of poaching among the participants of the ecotourism projectall equipment and constructions will be confiscated. The involvement of the local people into ecotourism activities secures the requisites for snow leopard and argali protection. Community inspection was organized in Sailugem Ridge as a part of the project. So, telengits now can take active part in anti-poaching activities in cooperation with government agencies.

WWF Russia
WWF assessed the level of conflict between herders and a snow leopard in Republic of Tyva

The understanding of local people’s attitude towards a snow leopard is crucial for conservation of this endangered species. In May 2010 special reseach was supported by WWF Russia to collect information on snow leopard attacs to livestock on Shapshal Ridge – one of the most important species shelter in Altai-Sayan. WWF experts discivered that only 127 heads of livestock were killed by a snow leopard in Shapshal Ridge area in 2001-2010 (for 10 years). So, snow leopards kill on an average 12 – 13 heads of livestock a year (to compare a wolfs kill 703 heads of livestock annually – which is 6 times more than a snow leopards kill for 10 years!).

«There are the herders’ camps where a snow leopard attacks livestock every year, – says Alexander Kuksin, Ubsunurskaya Kotlovina Nature Reserve. – The shepherds themselves relate this fact with a mating period of this wild cat when snow leopards become more active. They say once a herder saw a snow leopard killing his goat on a pasture at daytime. The tuvinian drove away a leopard’s kill however at night a snow leopard got into “koshara (a sheep shed) and killed 30 goats and sheep there”.

Local people poll opinion’s results proved that the shepherds had either neutral or negative attitude towards a rare animal. The people are perfectly aware of a punishment for killing a snow leopard however the cases of poaching are known. One shepherd tried to shoot a snow leopard two years ago but missed, a female snow leopard was shot as a revenge for killing cattle, another animal was caught in a wire loop in 2007. The case is still being investigated. WWF experts consider the measures for the conflict mitigation. The activities proposed include the active propaganda of snow leopard conservation among the local people, the promotion of a snow leopard image as a sacred symbol of Altai – Sayan, ecotourism development involving the herders, souvenirs productions (a snow leopard statuettes). The planning Shui Nature Park will provide for the conservation of a rare animal as well.

WWF Russia
The first ecological festival in the history of Mountain Altai for snow leopard conservation!

The festival called “ A Snow Leopard Day” was hold in Republic of Altai in May, 2010. This unique and very attractive way of promoting rare species conservation was used for the first time and worked very well. 78 schoolchildren of Ulagansky and Kosh – Agachsky regions of Republic of Altai – two key sites for snow leopard conservation in Mountain Altai – ecame the participants of the event. The Head of the Directorate of protected areas of Mongolian Altai Mantai Khavilkhan was the guest of the festival. The results of two contests on the best legend “Snow Leopard – the Legend of Mountains” and the best drawing or craftwork “Save a Snow Leopard” were summed up at the festival. The amazing craftworks made by schoolchildren – a snow leopard and other rare species statuettes made of ceramics, wax, dough and wheat, paper applications were exhibited during the festival. The different songs, dances, performances and even power point presentation were presented for the jury to choose the winner. The wish to help a vulnerable animal and care for its future were seen through children’s appeal to save a snow leopard. ”I was surprised how knowledgeable the children are, – marked Mikhail Paltsyn, – the projects coordinator in Altai – Sayan Ecoregion. – It is extremely important to make a base for nature conservation in the souls of the people form the very early age. Our children will make our future”.

The regional level festival is planned to be promoted up to the level of Republic. The children proposed to name 26, May the Snow Leopard Day and next year invite the children form Republic of Tyva and Mongolia.

Mongolian Marmot book published; half of the proceeds will benefit snow leopard research

Marmot book table of contents 2Marmot book table of contents 1Marmot book back coverMarmot book front cover
June 2010: A. Jegal of the Mongolian Biosphere and Ecology Association would like to announce that the book “Mongolian Marmot: Biology, Ecology, Conservation and Use”, written by Ya. Adiya, has been published. Each chapter of the 178-page book contains a summary in English. Half of the profits from this book will support snow leopard research. If you are interested in purchasing the book, please contact the author directly at: adiya_

Snow Leopard Day took place in Altai

1 Jun 2010

(With support from WWF and Altaisky Zapovednik) Ukok Nature Park, FSDA, and the Center for Additional Children’s Education in Kosh-Agach Rayon organized the event. 78 pupils from two high-altitude schools in Kosh-Agach and Ulagan Rayons participated in the event – these areas are important snow leopard habitat. Mongolia’s National Parks Directorship sent representatives. They conducted competitions for best project and best art work related to the snow leopard.