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.
Three snow leopards snapped in a single capture in Khunjerab National Park
Snow leopards are so cryptic in nature and reside in one of the harshest and inaccessible milieus of our planet that encountering with snow leopard in the wild is like a dream. This elusive nature of snow leopard led one of the eminent wildlife biologists of the world to attribute this as “Imperiled Phantom”.
A total of 643 photographs including a group of 3 snow leopards (probably 2 sub adults with a mother) were photographed during an intensive camera trapping session of 560 nights in KNP during Nov-Dec. 2010, conducted by the Snow Leopard Foundation, Pakistan in collaboration with the Directorate of KNP and Gilgit-Baltistan Forest and Wildlife Department. The cameras captured many other wild species as well.
The Snow Leopard Foundation (SLF) is a non-profit organization dedicated to conserve viable populations of snow leopards and other wild carnivores as an integral part of landscapes across Pakistan, while improving the socio-economic condition of the people who share the fragile mountain ecosystem with the wildlife. The SLF works in partnership with the Snow Leopard Trust and Panthera, the two leading international wild cat conservation organizations, and operates in three core sectors: research and monitoring, community based conservation programs, and conservation education and awareness. It has
pioneered state-of-the-art research tools in Pakistan and operating in Gilgit-Baltistan, Khybger Pakhtunkhaw, and Azad Jamu and Kashmir.
The current study was undertaken in KNP from November, 23 to December 31, 2010 and was aimed at assessing the status of snow leopard as well as other carnivores, their key prey species, and human-carnivore conflict. The study also tested affect of different kinds of baits on camera trapping success.
In addition to camera trapping, more than 1400 km² area was scanned during occupancy surveys and 150 fecal samples were collected for genetic analysis. The study provided a rare learning opportunity to the staff of the Wildlife Department, and students from national and international universities, who were engaged. Once data analysis is completed, the study will provide more reliable estimates of snow leopard in the park besides highlighting existing management/monitoring limitations and ultimately help better manage the park resources in the longer run.
Panthera provided financial support for this study.