Publication Alert – New Article to Bibliography

Title: Diachronic monitoring of snow leopards at Sarychat-Ertash State
Reserve (Kyrgyzstan) through scat genotyping: a pilot study

Authors: Rode, J., Pelletier, A., Fumey, J., Rode, S., Cabanat, A. L.,
Ouvrard, A., Chaix, B., White, B., Harnden, M., Xuan, N. T., Vereshagin,
A., Casane, D.

Abstract:Snow leopards (Panthera uncia) are a keystone species of
Central Asia’s high mountain ecosystem. The species is listed as
vulnerable and is elusive, preventing accurate population assessments
that could inform conservation actions. Non-invasive genetic monitoring
conducted by citizen scientists offers avenues to provide key data on
this species that would otherwise be inaccessible. From 2011 to 2015,
OSI-Panthera citizen science expeditions tracked signs of presence of
snow leopards along transects in the main valleys and crests of the
Sarychat-Ertash State Reserve (Kyrgyzstan). Scat samples were genotyped
at seven autosomal microsatellite loci and at a X/Y locus for sex
identification, which allowed estimating a minimum of 11 individuals
present in the reserve from 2011 to 2015. The genetic recapture of 7 of
these individuals enabled diachronic monitoring, providing indications
of individuals’ movements throughout the reserve. We found putative
family relationships between several individuals. Our results
demonstrate the potential of this citizen science program to get a
precise description of a snow leopard population through time.


Saving the Snow Leopard With Microfinance

Read more:
The Moscow Times

ULUGAN, Altai Republic – In the mountain villages of southern Siberia
where Russia abuts China, Mongolia and Kazakhstan, the price of sheep’s wool has increased tenfold since 2009. Once, it could be bought for 5 rubles a kilogram, but today local farmers are reluctant to sell for less than 50 rubles ($1.56) a kilogram. Few are troubled about the rising cost, however, which is driven by demand from local craftsmen making clothes, tapestries, toys and knickknacks for the region’s growing tourist market.
With no rail links, the Altai republic has long been accessible only to local visitors and the most adventurous. Some believe it contains the Russian gateway to Shambhala, the mythical paradise of Buddhist tradition. But this remoteness looks set to fade as infrastructure improves and officials, foreign donors, environmental activists and inhabitants foster a tourist boom. A renovated airport was opened in the local capital, Gorno-Altaisk, in 2011,and S7 Airlines began flying the four-hour route from Moscow in June of that year.
During the 2012 tourist season – June, July and August – traffic increased 12.5 percent year on year, and officials are looking to have 3 million tourist visits annually by 2020.
In addition to its spectacular mountain scenery, one of the region’s biggest attractions is the beauty of some of Russia’s most endangered animals: saker falcons, argali mountain sheep and, above all, snow leopards.

Common Ground

Far from being feared, the rise in tourism is welcomed, and encouraged, by officials and conservationists alike.
The uptick in visitor numbers provides new sources of revenue and offers an alternative to poaching, which has brought some native animals to the brink of extinction.
“The idea is for people to understand that it is profitable to protect rare species,” said Mikhail Paltsyn, the Altai co-coordinator for the World Wildlife Fund, who has studied snow leopards for two decades.
The number of snow leopards, which are relatively easy to catch in traps because of their predictable habits, plunged in the 1990s as centrally subsidized agriculture collapsed and left people with few options other than the trade in carcasses and pelts.
The rare predators can also cause carnage if they get inside cattle or sheep pens, said Paltsyn, prompting local farmers to kill them to preserve their flocks.
Snow leopards are now extremely rare in the Altai republic, so the capture of one adult leopard on a video sensor last year caused much rejoicing.
As part of a drive to save the snow leopard, since 2009 the WWF has partnered with Citi Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Citibank, to fund projects to raise awareness of the revenue that could be generated from tourists drawn by the elusive felines.
The many souvenirs available at roadside stands throughout the region featuring the snow leopard, from woolen dolls to wall-size tapestries, may be one sign of success.

Budding Entrepreneurs

But about 10 kilometers outside the small town of Saratan, in the Altai republic’s Ulugan region, Aiyara Yerkemenova, 20, is engaged in something more substantial. She used a 70,000 ruble ($2,188) microloan distributed by local organizations on behalf of Citi Foundation to build a small museum on land perched above a tumbling mountain stream along the road from Ulugan to Saratan.
Yerkemenova, who has a small child and a husband serving in the Army, is obligated to pay back the money within 18 months but hopes to add guest rooms, a ***banya*** and a small restaurant to the complex. The project was her mother’s idea, she said.
Tourists in the area often approach locals to request assistance with hiking and horse riding and to ask about places to camp and buy food, Saratan Mayor Aidar Akchin said.
This sort of project is a way of formalizing these needs and earning money, turning “wild tourists,” who travel with everything they need, into cash cows dependent on local facilities.
“It’s work for people and comfort for the tourists,” he said.
Budding businesswomen like Yerkemenova, whose creditworthiness is low by the standards of any bank, would otherwise struggle to find money for business developments.
“Who else will finance these people?” asked Tatyana Pakhayeva, the head of local fund Sodeistviye, which is one of the organizations chosen by the WWF to distribute Citibank’s cash. Loans are usually between 20,000 and 150,000 rubles, she said.
Sodeistviye evolved from a United Nations Development Program project that ended operations in the area in 2008.
At first, Citi Foundation’s money was handed out via grants, but the foundation switched to loans in 2012 as a more effective way to incentivize entrepreneurship. This year, 1.7 million rubles ($56,900) has been
distributed to 40 recipients.
In her experience with microloans, no one had ever been brought to court for nonpayment, said Pakhayeva. Extensions are granted and debts partly dissolved if necessary.

Gaining Popularity

Tourism is increasing, said Igor Kalmykov, director of the Altai National Park, and it now stands at a level not seen since Soviet times. Growth was about 10 to 15 percent a year, he added.
Citibank funding also helps run seminars and courses for local people that teach basic craftsmanship. There is a focus on the manipulation of wool into felt souvenirs, clothes and wall hangings, hence the rise in wool prices. Classes also cover ceramics skills and techniques for making jewelry from bones and teeth of nonendangered fauna.
Some teachers for these workshops have to be brought in from other countries, like Kyrgyzstan, because local traditions were forgotten under communism.
Kalambina Zhilkovskaya, who lives in Gorno-Altaisk, said that she taught herself to work with wool by watching television programs and that the skill provides her with a useful source of income during the tourist season. But she also wants to develop her talents and be able to make more than curiosities.
“People are in love with natural clothes these days,” she said.

Preservation Side Effect

A primary aim of the Citibank Foundation globally is to encourage small businesses and reduce poverty. Although the Altai republic’s 200,000-strong population is mainly involved in farming, unemployment in some pockets of the territory reaches 90 percent. But aside from alleviating rural poverty and encouraging small business, the microloans and training seminars have also achieved some success in preserving Altai’s indigenous wildlife, local activists said.
Snow leopards are not the only animals in danger. The region’s rare saker falcons are also under threat. Poachers catch the birds and smuggle them across the border into Mongolia or Kazakhstan, where dealers arrange their shipment to wealthy clients in the Middle East who prize them as hunting animals.
It is difficult to catch the hunters. Just 40 park rangers protect the mountainous confines of Altai National Park, which borders the Tyva and Khakasia republics and covers more than 880,000 hectares, 10 percent of the entire Altai republic. Poachers can be criminally charged only if they are caught pulling the trigger or untangling a carcass from a trap, Kalmykov said.
But in recent years, the number of illegal hunters caught has declined 11 percent annually in the Altai-Sayansk region, Paltsyn said.
Poaching, however, is not just the work of locals, who can be redirected to work in the tourist industry.
In a notorious 2009 incident, a helicopter crashed in the Altai Mountains, killing seven of the 11 people on board, including top government officials, who, judging by the carcasses in the aircraft, had been illegally hunting the rare argali mountain sheep.
Encouraging tourism contains many other risks apart from gun-toting officials, including littering and uncontrolled development.
Most people on the ground are aware of the drawbacks of tourism but still see it as the key to preserving the wildlife of the Altai.
Huge numbers of tourists are unlikely, said Paltsyn, who doubts that the region’s burgeoning popularity could have a negative effect on its natural treasures.
“It’s more exclusive tourism than mass tourism,” he said.

India has a fair record in wild cat protection, but much is desired

Roars, growls and Grunts: India has a fair record in wild cat protection, but much is desired

Author: Ravi Chellam

India is fortunate to have a diverse set of habitats, largely due to variations in terrain and climate. This is reflected in the tremendous diversity of wild plants and animals, including the large wild cats, probably the most charismatic group of animals. India has five extant species of large wild cats; Asiatic lion, Indian tiger, common leopard, snow leopard and clouded leopard. We also had the Asiatic cheetah which went extinct in India around the time of Independence in 1947.

Wildlife conservation in India faces huge challenges that include a very large human population, an economy which is still largely biomass-based (at least in terms of the number of people whose livelihoods are linked to land and biomass), high levels of poverty, and fragmentation, degradation and destruction of habitats due to rapid land use changes largely driven by large-scale industrialisation and urbanisation. Despite these factors, India has actually fared quite well in conserving its large cats.

Could the current conservation status of wild cats have been better? Absolutely, especially because of the very high levels of tolerance for wild cats among communities which unfortunately has declined in the last decade or so; reasonably widespread public support for wildlife conservation and the high quality human resources we now possess in wildlife research and conservation.

Snow leopard:

Snow leopards have fortunately received some excellent research attention over the past 15 years and this has resulted in us having a much better understanding of their ecology. A very innovative conservation project has also been launched with very strong involvement of NGOs and this heralds a new conservation model, not restricted to protected areas.

Unfortunately, the inertia in the system and the lack of coordination between government agencies have slowed down the implementation of Project Snow Leopard. The key intervention for this species is to implement the excellent set of planned activities across their range in a collaborative manner involving local communities and NGOs.,1

Cat among the People: Snow leopard conservation in India

30 July 2011

Snow leopards share a particularly punishing habitat with people in the higher reaches of the Himalayas, with resources scarce and vegetation sparse. The conventional conservation model of separating wild animals and people simply does not work here. India’s green establishment is showing signs of accepting this reality, if only grudgingly

BY Jay Mazoomdaar
So you know they are called ‘ghosts of the mountain’. Rarely spotted (they are as good as camouflage artists ever get), never heard (the only one that ever roared was Tai Lung in Kung Fu Panda, but then he was also nasty) and barely understood (few behavioural studies have been attempted), they exist in smaller numbers in India than even tigers.
But this is really not just about the most mysterious if not charismatic of all big cats—snow leopards.
What you probably do not know is that the cat’s natural habitat in India is a 180,000 sq km expanse—nearly the size of Karnataka—of Himalayan desert that spans the above-the-treeline reaches of five states: Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. Cold and arid, this region is the source of most north Indian rivers.
And yet, such a vast and critical expanse has rarely drawn the attention of India’s conservation establishment. On paper, there exist more than two dozen Protected Areas (PAs)—sanctuaries and national parks—in this region, covering 32,000 sq km, a figure that equals the combined area of all tiger reserves put together. But in terms of funds, staff and management, these high-altitude PAs are mere markings on a map.
Things were worse in the early 1990s, when, as a young student of the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Yash Veer Bhatnagar began studying snow leopards and their species of prey. With sundry forest departments struggling to fill up field staff vacancies in the best of India’s tiger reserves, snow leopards had little hope of being watched over in places far less hospitable to humans. But as Bhatnagar kept tracing the animal’s tracks along Spiti’s snow ridges, he grew increasingly restless thinking up a workable conservation strategy that was proving to be as elusive as the big cat itself.
Nearly two decades on, Dr Bhatnagar and his associates would help shape Project Snow Leopard, a species recovery programme with an innovative plan drafted in 2008 that could, with luck, save the species from extinction.
Dr Bhatnagar was not alone. His senior at the WII, Dr Raghu Chundawat, having studied wildlife in the cold deserts of J&K since the late 1980s, had already reported a startling fact: more than half his subjects in Ladakh, including snow leopards, were found outside the PAs. “There are a number of ecological factors behind this,” explains Dr Chundawat, “sparse resources, extreme climatic conditions, seasonal migration of prey species, etcetera, make the cat very mobile across large ranges.”
As for other efforts, in 1996, Dr Charudutt Mishra, another WII alumnus and a snow leopard expert himself, had set up the Mysore-based Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF) with a group of young biologists. It had some valuable field experience to offer, too.
It was Dr Chundawat’s work, however, that gave Project Snow Leopard its broad direction. “Raghu’s was a fantastic study and got us thinking: ‘If 80 per cent of Ladakh had wildlife value, how would securing a few PAs help conservation?’” recalls Dr Bhatnagar.
The question still stands. Spiti in Himachal Pradesh is significant in terms of snow leopard presence, for example, but notifying all of Spiti or Ladakh as a PA would not only be a logistical nightmare, given the difficulty in managing the existing PAs, but also defeat the purpose of conservation on at least two counts.
First, the experience in other snow leopard-range countries shows that merely declaring vast areas as PAs does not help. In Central Asia, for example, Tibet’s Changthang Wildlife Preserve extends over 500,000 sq km, but organised hunting remains a serious threat in most parts; the picture is not very different in Mongolia or Afghanistan.
Second, resources are extremely scarce at high altitudes; like the wildlife there, people must use every bit of land they can access at those Himalayan heights. The conventional model of PA-based conservation demands the securing of inviolate spaces for wildlife. But, in a cold desert, displacing people from existing PAs, leave alone notifying larger ones, amounts to threatening their survival. Besides, can anything justify evicting people from PAs if wildlife is seen to coexist with people in non-PA areas?
But ten years ago, coexistence was too radical an idea to explore for much of India’s conservation establishment.
In the absence of effective protection, what snow leopards once had going for them was a sparse local population in the upper reaches of the Himalayas (less than a person per sq km). In the past two decades or so, however, even those heights have been witness to ‘development’ in the form of roads, dam projects and the like. The most active government agency has been the military, busy defending the country’s borders, and, in the process, slicing and dicing the region with impenetrable fences and encampments. All this has also meant a labour influx, with whom indigenous populations (and their livestock) now compete for natural resources. This has meant overgrazing, and the competition for resources has led to a loss of wild prey for snow leopards. And with the big cats increasingly turning on livestock, they often face human retaliation. Organised poaching has been a reality even here.
Clear that exclusive sanctuaries for snow leopards were not a feasible idea, Bhatnagar and his colleagues focused on understanding the cat and engaging with villagers and the local forest staff to figure out a conservation solution.
In 2001, the NCF’s Mishra had done some groundwork in Spiti’s Kibber Wildlife Sanctuary. Human communities, he found, could be negotiated with to leave wildlife pastures untouched. To look after this area, a few villagers could be hired—picked by locals from among themselves. This model has been in operation in Spiti for several years now, and so far, over 15 sq km has been freed of livestock grazing around Kibber, and the population of bharals (blue sheep), staple prey for snow leopards, has almost trebled since.
Another coexistence success has been Ladakh’s 3,000 sq km Hemis National Park, which is home to around 100 families that live in 17 small villages within it. Their relocation was impossible without subjecting them to destitution, since all the other land of Ladakh was already occupied by either monasteries or local communities. Today, despite the human presence, Hemis has one of the country’s highest snow leopard densities. The park’s villagers, urged by the Snow Leopard Conservancy India Trust (SLC-IT), an NGO, regulate livestock grazing in pastures used by small Tibetan argali (a prime prey species for snow leopards). According to Radhika Kothari of SLC-IT, this was achieved by the NGO in coordination with the forest department. They launched a sustained awareness drive and offered families incentives such as home-stay tourism and improved corrals for the protection of their livestock.
The basic strategy of engaging local communities remains simple: help protect livestock (by ensuring better herding methods, constructing corrals, offering vaccinations and so on), compensate for losses (via insurance, for example), create income opportunities (community tourism, handicrafts, etcetera), restore traditional values of tolerance towards wildlife, and promote ecological awareness. This story repeats itself in other range countries; livestock insurance and micro-credit schemes are big successes in Mongolia, handicraft in Kyrgyzstan, and livestock vaccination in Pakistan.
Encouraged by early success stories in engaging local communities in J&K and Himachal, the NCF backed a conservation model in the context of the three-decade-old Sloss debate (single large or several small, that is). “The idea of wildlife ‘islands’ surrounded by a ‘sea’ of people does not work in high-altitude areas, where wildlife presence is almost continuous,” explains Dr Bhatnagar, “Instead, communities can voluntarily secure many small patches of very high wildlife value—small cores or breeding grounds spanning 10–100 sq km each—if they have the incentive of escaping exclusionary laws across larger areas [big PAs].”
The NCF has identified 15 ‘small cores’ in Spiti, of which three (at Kibber WLS, near Lossar, and near Chichim) have already been secured through the foundation’s efforts with locals. In Ladakh, too, village elders and the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) agreed to stop grazing activities in seven side-valleys seen to be of high wildlife value—in exchange for assured community access to the rest of the Hemis National Park. It’s a win-win deal.
The experience of other snow leopard range countries supports the conclusion that sparse human presence does not affect this wild cat’s well-being. A soon-to-be published report on Mongolia by the Seattle-based Snow Leopard Trust (SLT) indicates that the presence or absence of nomadic herders around snow leopards inside as well as outside PAs in the South Gobi Desert does not affect the probability of snow leopards using a particular site. Complementarily, there is no record anywhere in the world of a human death due to a snow leopard attack.
So, by the time Project Snow Leopard drew up its plan in 2008, a diverse team of officials and experts from the Union Ministry of Environment & Forests, WII, WWF and NCF-SLT, apart from five snow leopard states, had come to agree that ‘given the widespread occurrence of wildlife on common land, and the continued traditional land use within PAs, wildlife management in the region needs to be made participatory both within and outside PAs’.
More than one-third of the project budget (at least 3 per cent of the Ministry’s total outlay) was earmarked for facilitating a ‘landscape-level approach’, rationalising ‘the existing PA network’ and developing ‘a framework for wildlife conservation outside PAs’.
Each of the five states was supposed to select a Project Snow Leopard site, a combination of PA and non-PA areas, within a year and set up a state-level snow leopard conservation society with community participation. However, given the slow pace at which governments function, not much has moved since, except in Himachal Pradesh, where the state forest department has set up a participatory management plan for over half of Spiti wildlife division.
The red tape apart, two other factors are threatening to thwart this unique conservation project: the reluctance of the Ministry to release funds to non-PAs, and the indifference of some state forest departments towards a management plan for areas outside sanctuaries and national parks (such a plan must be submitted). “Snow leopards are present in many areas outside PAs, and I have asked for proposals from all high-altitude divisions. But there is no response from the non-wildlife divisions yet. It’s probably a mindset issue,” sighs Srikant Chandola, chief wildlife warden, Uttarakhand.
Perhaps the same mindset prompted a 2010 WWF-India report to recommend only PAs in Uttarakhand as potential sites for snow leopard conservation, though the author Aishwarya Maheshwari now agrees that a landscape approach, “as mentioned in Project Snow Leopard”, is necessary.
Jagdish Kishwan, additional director-general (wildlife) at the Ministry, says that the Centre is keen to invest money in non-PAs, but there are “some technical issues”; moreover, the Ministry’s meagre allocation might end up too thinly spread in doing so.
The Ministry has its own grand recovery plan. Announced almost simultaneously with Project Snow Leopard, it has an ambitious Rs 800 crore scheme, Integrated Development of Wildlife Habitats (IDWH), aimed at the recovery of 15 key species including ones found mostly outside PAs, such as: snow leopards, great Indian bustards and vultures. Centrally sponsored, IDWH has earmarked Rs 250 crore for ‘protection of wildlife outside PAs’. The states have been asked to submit their Project Snow Leopard management plans under the IDWH aegis.
If that is the case, what stops the Ministry from releasing money for non-PAs? “India’s 650-odd PAs are our priority. But I agree that certain key species need support outside PAs. We are examining these issues. The Government will find a way to provide funds to non-wildlife divisions under Project Snow Leopard,” assures Kishwan.
Going by the original 2008 document outlining the plan, Project Snow Leopard should have been in its second year of implementation by now.
That it hasn’t yet hit the ground, let’s hope, is not a sign of apathy towards a big cat that has had—for no fault of its own—only a ghostly presence in the consciousness of the establishment.

Snow leopard killing livestock in Gilgit, Pakistan

Wildlife: Snow leopard on the prowl in Gilgit
By Shabbir Mir
Published: April 5, 2011
The endangered animal has been on a killing spree of cattle for weeks.

A snow leopard – also known as the Uncia or Panthera uncial – went on a killing spree in a remote Valley of Gilgit late on Sunday, slaughtering a dozen goats owned by a poor shepherd.

The incident occurred in a pre-dawn attack at Nazim Abad – a village of Sost Gojal, which is about 300 kilometres from Gilgit and is adjacent to the Pak-China border at Sost.

Chairman Khunjerab Village Organisation (KVO) Rehman Posh, who is also a conservationist, told The Express Tribune that, “The wild cat has killed 11 live stock including goat and sheep.” He added that the snow leopard had managed to break into a cattle shed, belonging to Ashim Shah, a shepherd.

“I examined the spot after a villager informed me of the incident and found that seven cattle were dead while four were seriously injured,” he said, adding that the wounded animals were put down as they had little to no chances of survival.

Posh said that the snow leopard has been on the rampage for the past couple of week in the valley, as it had previously killed two domesticated animals (yaks) in the Morphun area. He said that in the wake of the attacks, locals have stepped up security of their livestock as the assaults usually come as surprise.

Posh added that the incident was immediately brought to the notice of the forests and wildlife department. Asked if they will provide any compensation to the owner of the cattle, the chairman said that they were in the process of dialogue with the aggrieved party and said that his organisation would provide compensation to the farmer. He, however, didn’t say how much.

Divisional forests officer [DFO] Wildlife Ghulam Mohammad told The Express Tribune that he has assigned the task of verification and compilation of the report of the incident to his subordinates. He said that such incidents in the Gilgit-Baltistan are frequent and that a systematic approach is needed to settle the issue.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 5th, 2011.

Putin’s animal antics questioned in Russia

By Maria Antonova (AFP) – 19 hours ago

MOSCOW — “There’s a good kitty, a pretty kitty,” Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was shown by state media telling snow leopard last weekend, who stared back at him, covered in fresh blood.

The rare species is the latest to go under “personal control” of the Russian leader, who is overseeing research programs on a handful of mammals, including the tiger, beluga whale and polar bear.

As part of that work he has taken part in several tagging missions with scientists from the Moscow-based Severtsov Institute.

But other scientists have said the snow leopard was harmed, and that the program is scientifically unreasonable and directed more towards publicity.

The leopard, called Mongol, had to be flown to Khakasia, about 160 kilometers (100 miles) away from its habitat in the Sayano-Shushensky reserve, and was held in captivity for five days, released only after meeting Putin.

The removal of the animal was “criminal”, according to the regional UNDP-funded programme on biodiversity, since the Severtsov institute only had permission to tag Mongol, which could have been done in 15 minutes.

On Sunday, the Severtsov institute said on its website that the animal had to be held and treated for wounds on his neck and cheekbone.

“He was ill,” Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told AFP, dismissing allegations that the animal had been held captive in order to meet the prime minister as “absolutely groundless.”

But Alexander Bondarev, the manager of UNDP’s program, argued: “That any treatment was necessary is a big question.

“It is as though he was cured as soon as he saw the prime minister,” he added.

“If he really needed treatment, he could be treated in a zoo or in a veterinary center.”

Mongol could even have harmed himself as he was trying to break loose, said another observer.

“The important question is: how was the animal affected by staying in a cage?” said WWF Russia head Igor Chestin.

“Big cats, when disturbed, start hitting against it and can break their teeth, and without teeth they will not survive in the wild.”

There are only 100 snow leopards in Russia. “Each is literally golden,” said Bondarev.

They were easier to catch in the Sayano-Shushensky reserve, but tagging its population was not scientifically valuable, he added.

“There are only seven or eight specimens there, they are isolated and well studied,” he said. Tagging had to be done together with on-ground monitoring to see why the animal was moving in a certain way, he added.

“That cannot be done in a strictly protected area such as a reserve,” he said.

The Severtsov institute’s program, which studies animals in the Red Book of endangered species “and other especially important animals of Russia” currently lists six mammals, most of which were tagged, patted, or kissed by Putin.

The programme is funded by state oil transport monopoly Transneft, and a Saint Petersburg-based charitable fund “Konstantinovsky”, which is chaired mostly by government officials.

The first time the general public heard about it was in 2008, when Putin voiced support for the endangered Amur Tiger and participated in a tagging expedition in the Russian Far East.

A video about the expedition on the prime minister’s website relates how a helicopter carrying Vladimir Putin landed in the taiga.

Just as the prime minister is overseeing the facilities, “a tigress stumbles across a trap,” the video relates.

Putin personally drives the SUV to the scene, and “appears on the trail just at the moment the tigress makes a leap.” Handy with a gun, Putin shoots a syringe with the sedative, says the video’s commentary.

But that version of events does not gel with that told by some members of the conservation community, as one Far Eastern tiger expert told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Local conservationists believe the animal was flown in from the Khabarovsk zoo (about 500 kilometres away) in time for the visit.

It was placed in the trap, sedated just enough so it could start stirring when the delegation drove up, he said.

Later the animal was returned to the zoo and a different wild tigress was eventually captured and released with the tracker.

“This could be confirmed by a stripe pattern comparison,” the source said: “For each animal the pattern is unique.”

The big cat programmes advertised as pioneering on the Institute’s website have no synergy with local research, which has been going on for 18 years, he added.

“They like to say their project is supported by the government, so nobody voices any serious criticism. But locally scientists don’t like them, since they structure programmes based on convenience and PR.”

At the WWF, Chestin complained of low salaries, a cut in the number of rangers and other changes introduced after the government did away with its federal environmental protection committee.

“While considerable money is being spent lately on research, systematically, conservation of animals is in very poor shape,” he said.

It was Putin himself who signed the decree to end the committee’s existence on May 17th, 2000, ten days after his inauguration.

Copyright © 2011 AFP

From Yellowstone to the Karakorums: A journey to understand conflicts with large carnivores

Written by SLN member Tanya Rosen, NRCC Research Associate.

Reprinted from: NRCC News (Northern Rockies Conservation Cooperative) annual newsletter: bridging science and policy to advance conservation. Fall 2010, issue 23(1). 12-13.

It is a warm July evening and the bus of the Northern Areas Transportation Company has just pulled into Skardu, after a 29-hour exhilarating drive along the Karakorum Highway from Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. Mesmerized by the unearthly beauty of the Karakorum mountains, I step off the bus with Rich Harris of the University of Montana. We are greeted with a warm smile by Ghulam Mohammad, the manager of Project Snow Leopard of the Baltistan Wildlife Conservation and Development Organization (BWCDO).

In 1999, Shafqat Hussain, a conservationist and anthropologist, founded Project Snow Leopard (PSL), focused on creating incentives for snow leopard conservation in villages in Gilgit- Baltistan. Ghulam soon joined the organization. Whereas in the past farmers would normally retaliate against livestock losses by killing snow leopards, Shafqat proposed that farmers set aside a
collective pool of money equal to the value of the average annual loss rate. In his words, “The loss of livestock would then be a mild setback for the entire community rather than a devastating
loss for a farmer alone.” That idea led to the development of an insurance-like scheme with two components: a collective insurance fund managed by the community’s Snow Leopard Conservation Committee (SLCC) and a second fund managed by BWCDOPSL that is ideally funded by income from an eco-tourism venture focused on snow-leopard viewing called Full Moon Night Trekking. !e premiums are relatively low and the compensation that is disbursed when the animal is lost to snow leopards is subsidized with money from the second fund.

Snow leopards are beautiful cats that use their thick fluffy tail for balancing. They are agile hunters of the ungulates that inhabit the Karakorums: ibex and markhor. But a decrease in wild prey due to hunting and poaching has varied their diet. A diet that now includes domestic livestock. They are very hard to spot in the wild where they blend in well with their surrounding landscape; but when they come in villages or summer pastures to attack livestock, they are easier to catch, especially in instances of surplus killing when they kill more than they need for food and surprisingly don’t always flee the killing scene.

Eleven years later, the Project has expanded into 9 villages. I am excited to be here, to help in the expansion of the project and to learn as well. Since I am working on similar conflicts for Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in Yellowstone, I have a feeling that the work that Shafqat and Ghulam do here can help back home.

After a night in Skardu, we leave with Ghulam for Hushey in Ganche District, where we will join Shafqat and engage in community dialogues to assess their satisfaction with Project Snow Leopard’s insurance scheme. We drive for six hours, stopping to take in more of the landscape and basking in the dramatic contrasts of light and height.

Hushey is a small village in the shadow of Masherbrum. Many trekkers and climbers come through on their way to climbing the largest concentration of 8000 metre-and-up peaks in the world. Boys and girls are running around and happy to practice their English learned from Oxford University Press books in the private school subsidized entirely by the village and their families.

We sit on a small veranda sipping chai tea and eating chapatti bread. People come to greet us and we begin to talk. In my extremely modest Urdu vocabulary I rely on my hands and eyes to
express how happy I am to be with them, how inspiring to know what they are doing for the snow leopard. I look up…and wonder if hidden and camouflaged in the rocks there is one just staring at
me now.

That night, sitting outside my tent, I look at the contours of the mountains in the dark: it’s Lailat ul Bara’h, a holiday when Muslims seek forgiveness for their sins and believe that on this night one’s destiny is fixed for the year ahead. I sense Hushey is a place I will be coming back to for years to come.

The following morning, we meet with the members of the Snow Leopard Conservation Committee. Shafqat starts the meeting by introducing Rich and me. He explains that we are here to understand the work that has been done, help make it sustainable, and identify research opportunities that can produce data to show that the hard work and commitment of Hushey is paying off: namely that conflict has decreased and snow leopard and ibex populations have increased. I also add that I am here to learn for my work back in Yellowstone, where the social tolerance for carnivores is dropping dramatically. Given how precarious livelihoods are in this region, I am still amazed that people here would want to do conservation.

With my experience in Yellowstone, I have been thinking more and more that conservation is for wealthy people. It is easy to love and care for wildlife that does not threaten your life and your
economic activities. So I was surprised to hear one of the elders say that “the decision to take proactive measures to protect the snow leopard” was a decision “taken by the community and not a tall order coming from a conservation organization.” As the leader of the village Snow Leopard Conservation Committee tells me, with Shafqat and Ghulam translating, Hushey “wants to protect the snow leopard because it is proud to have an animal that so many people care about.”

Clearly not everyone feels that way…and if that was not the case I would probably not believe it. However, the combination of peer pressure, coupled with the calls of the mullah of the local mosque that deeds against the snow leopard would not go unpunished, tell me that Hushey has a true conservation success story to tell. I listen carefully. As people get more comfortable, with the conversation turning from a question-and-answer session to a free flowing dialogue, everyone chimes in with tales, views and feelings about experiencing livestock losses. Even with the insurance scheme in place, these people still take an incredible economic loss, as the compensation paid does not fully compensate the cost of the animal lost. The village has a very small economy with agriculture and livestock activities carried out only to meet local needs.
!ere is a relatively successful trophy hunting program that brings some cash and, since Hushey is en route to K2 and other peaks, there are some income opportunities for guides, porters and cooks, but the economic opportunities remain small. It was incredible that such a powerful conservation lesson came from such a place.

I turn to Shafqat, who started the whole program, but maintains an impressive modesty. He does not talk about himself or the awards he’s received for the project. In Hushey, he blends in. But when he talks, his narrative is magical and persuasive. He cares about the people and the snow leopard, not the renown he might get from it. Ghulam is the same; the species and the people are the most important thing about the project for both of them.

!e next stop is Baisha, a neighboring valley where the economic opportunities are even more limited. Thanks to the expert hands of driver Mansour, we safely negotiate narrow roads, some washed out by roaring streams or blocked by massive boulders that luckily decided to tumble down before or after we passed. Many villages in Baisha are accessible only on foot or via cable over the river. Because of their location and access difficulties, places like Sibiri, Zill, and Doko are more cut-off from income generating opportunities, like portering or trophy hunting. Development aid has not arrived there yet either, at least not as visibly as in Hushey. In one of the villages, the teacher of the local government school shows up only one day out of every four.
!e private school is expensive for the farmers, and families choose to educate their sons first, which leaves 67 girls out of school.

Talking about snow leopard conservation in the context of such problems with the education system and a lack of primary healthcare is really hard. We learn that the need to protect their
limited economic resources has driven people in this valley to poison snow leopards. The demand for snow leopard fur has exacerbated this practice. But, once again, surprisingly the people from Sibiri choose to protect the snow leopard.

Back in Skardu, hell has broken loose. The Karakorum Highway is closed. The angry and dark Indus River we saw on the way up to Skardu, full and seemingly in a hurry to reach the plains, was not the norm. Bridges have collapsed — once again either before or after we arrived, but we are stuck. We scout the sky and hope for the clouds to open up enough for a plane to land to take us back to Islamabad. I am not ready to leave though. I have learned so much from the way people live here, and I hope to come back soon, perhaps this spring. !e warmth of the people I talked to cut through barriers of culture, gender, and religion and went straight to the core. You talk about wildlife and the hardships of life and you see that where you come from does not matter: nature, in this case in the shape of a wild cat and the challenges it poses, unites us.

“Irby,” named after the Irbis snow leopard, is the official mascot of the seventh Asian Winter Games.

January 30, 2011

Asian Winter Games Open In Kazakhstan

It may not be the Winter Olympics, but Kazakhstan is hoping that the 2011 Asian Winter Games will promote its status as a world-class sporting venue with future Olympic potential.

The Asian Winter Games, which kick off today, will bring together more than 1,100 athletes from 27 Asian countries for a week of competition in Kazakhstan’s two main cities of Astana and Almaty.

The event is considered highly prestigious among many Asian states, with countries like China, Japan, and South Korea all sending their leading athletes.

Today’s opening ceremony will be held at a newly build 30,000-seat arena in the capital, Astana. Another arena in the city will host competitions in speed skating, while two other skating stadiums will be the venue for figure skating and ice hockey.

Kazakhstan, along with Japan, China, South Korea, and Taiwan, are considered the likeliest medal contenders in hockey.

Almaty, meanwhile, is hosting the bulk of the outdoor events, including cross-country skiing, biathlon, freestyle and alpine skiing, and ski jumping.

Kazakhs Hope For Third

Kazakhstan, exercising its right as host, has introduced two unusual disciplines to this year’s games: ski orienteering, a form of cross-country skiing that tests both endurance and navigational skills; and bandy, a form of ice hockey played on an outsized ice rink the size of a soccer field.

The hosts are among the favorites to win in both sports.

It is unlikely that Kazakhstan will come in ahead of the region’s two sporting giants, China and South Korea. But Kazakh sports authorities say they are hoping to win up to 25 medals and a third-place finish this year.

The previous Asian Winter Games were held in 2007 in Changchun, China. The host country took first place, with Japan and South Korea finishing second and third.

Kazakhstan, a rising power in Central Asia thanks to rich energy reserves, has sought to boost its standing on the international stage, and recently completed its chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, becoming the first member of the Commonwealth of Independent States to hold the year-long post.

It has invested nearly $300 million in sporting infrastructure ahead of the games.

The country’s sports minister, Temirkhan Dosmukhambetov, said his country had a “serious chance of winning the right to host the Winter Olympics in the near future.”

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

January 12, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

For a detailed itinerary or more information visit

Press release from Snow Leopard Foundation, Pakistan: Three snow leopards snapped in a single capture in Khunjerab National Park

Three snow leopards snapped in a single capture in Khunjerab National Park

Snow leopards are so cryptic in nature and reside in one of the harshest and inaccessible milieus of our planet that encountering with snow leopard in the wild is like a dream. This elusive nature of snow leopard led one of the eminent wildlife biologists of the world to attribute this as “Imperiled Phantom”.

A total of 643 photographs including a group of 3 snow leopards (probably 2 sub adults with a mother) were photographed during an intensive camera trapping session of 560 nights in KNP during Nov-Dec. 2010, conducted by the Snow Leopard Foundation, Pakistan in collaboration with the Directorate of KNP and Gilgit-Baltistan Forest and Wildlife Department. The cameras captured many other wild species as well.

The Snow Leopard Foundation (SLF) is a non-profit organization dedicated to conserve viable populations of snow leopards and other wild carnivores as an integral part of landscapes across Pakistan, while improving the socio-economic condition of the people who share the fragile mountain ecosystem with the wildlife. The SLF works in partnership with the Snow Leopard Trust and Panthera, the two leading international wild cat conservation organizations, and operates in three core sectors: research and monitoring, community based conservation programs, and conservation education and awareness. It has
pioneered state-of-the-art research tools in Pakistan and operating in Gilgit-Baltistan, Khybger Pakhtunkhaw, and Azad Jamu and Kashmir.

The current study was undertaken in KNP from November, 23 to December 31, 2010 and was aimed at assessing the status of snow leopard as well as other carnivores, their key prey species, and human-carnivore conflict. The study also tested affect of different kinds of baits on camera trapping success.

In addition to camera trapping, more than 1400 km² area was scanned during occupancy surveys and 150 fecal samples were collected for genetic analysis. The study provided a rare learning opportunity to the staff of the Wildlife Department, and students from national and international universities, who were engaged. Once data analysis is completed, the study will provide more reliable estimates of snow leopard in the park besides highlighting existing management/monitoring limitations and ultimately help better manage the park resources in the longer run.

Panthera provided financial support for this study.