SLN member Qadamshoev Mamadsho observed a snow leopard outside Khorog town, Tajikistan in November 2008

Mamadsho Qadamshoev of the Pamir Biological Institute of Tajikistan wrote:

At 2:15 night on 4th – 5th of November 2008 in the countryside of Khorog town the taxi driver Mozimov Mulibsho wanted to cross the road by the small bridge and suddenly noticed that in the middle of the bridge about 3-5 meter far from him is staying a young Snow Leopard. The driver stopped the car and started to look at the beautiful creature. From the other side of the bridge 5 people were walking toward the Leopard. What do you think what did the young Leopard do in this case? Did it move toward the car or the walking people? Or it jumped to the river? No. The Leopard looked around and calmly as a domesticated animal walked toward the people and then moved straight to the side of mountains, where 15-20 meters far from the bridge the other big Leopard (female) was waiting for him. Both of them moved to the side of the Pamir Botanical Garden.

It turned out that for many years this bridge and other bridges of Shohdara River and the mountain rivers become a pathway for the Snow Leopards to move from the one side to another mostly at night time.

In this case the two Leopards were crossing the road of the North Ishkasim spine by the central bridge to Roshtkala spine, where the snow is lesser.

The snow is not steady in these rocky southern slopes and it avalanching right away. The part of the slopes where the snow melts becomes a pasture for the goats. For the last few years the mountain goats are the common prey for wolves and Leopards whose numbers are increasing and they make a herd of 30-35. In the spring (usually in April) the herd of mountain goats is moving to the northern mountainside and the beasts of prey – wolves and leopards also follow them. On May and September the main prey of the predatory animals is the red marmot, which is common in the mountains. Such is life of the predatory animals and their prey in the sever mountain condition where the winter is 60 degrees of frost with frequent snow-slips and in spring there mudflows and other natural disasters. Despite this thankfully life is continued in these severe mountains.

A Force for Endangered Species: George Schaller

By Patrice O’Shaughnessy of the New York Daily News

Tuesday, February 24th 2009, 1:24 AM

He’s an unassuming man, with gray hair, pale eyes and a measured voice. But if not for George Schaller, there’d probably be a lot less spectacular beauty in the world.

At 75, he has devoted half a century to saving endangered creatures and habitats all over the planet. It’s a never-ending task.

“You can never relax, and say something is okay,” he said, and noted a new threat.

The influx of Chinese workers to Africa, he said, has spawned a trade in lion bones, sent back to China for medicinal purposes.

“In Kenya, they put an insecticide in cow carcasses, and they kill off the whole pride,” he said. “There are only about 20,000 lions left in the world.”

Schaller is on the case.

And he says he’ll keep at his conservation efforts “for another 25 years.”

The senior conservationist for the Wildlife Conservation Society, Schaller has an office in the Bronx Zoo, but you’ll rarely see him there.

He visits animals in the wild, living for months or years at a time observing snow leopards in Pakistan, gorillas in Rwanda, lions in the Serengeti, pandas in China and the last Asiatic cheetahs in Iran to better learn how to protect them.

We caught up with him at the zoo last week, where he has been a researcher in animal behavior with the WCS since 1966, before he embarks on a round of trips to Iran, Brazil and Tibet.

Schaller was deemed “perhaps the greatest force for conservation in more than a century” by National Geographic magazine.

His efforts have led to the protection of threatened jungles and forests in Asia and South America, and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

Discover magazine said he is considered the finest field biologist of our time.

Schaller has spent 50 years up close with exotic animals, tracking them, jotting notes in a small notebook and taking photographs, doing it the old-fashioned way.

He conducted a groundbreaking ecological study of mountain gorillas when he was 25, becoming the first scientist to live in their habitat. Now he is focusing on Marco Polo sheep, notable for their majestic spiral horns.

“Professors said gorillas were too dangerous, but I found them very congenial. They’re big, beautiful hairy relatives,” he said.

“I started out because I like to watch animals; that’s the fun part,” he said.

“Then, you have to worry about livelihood of communities” encroaching on the habitats.”

At 14, after World War II, he came to the U.S. from Berlin with his American mother, and retains a slight German accent. His first field trip was to the Arctic slope in Alaska.

“The oil companies wanted to drill. Luckily, they didn’t,” he said. As of 2006, “the place is still beautiful .. . no roads, lots of caribou and grizzly bears.”

He and his wife, Kay, “the perfect co-worker,” raised two sons in exotic locales. She still accompanies him on some trips.

“The most wonderful place is Serengeti and Tanzania,” he said. “You literally see a million animals spread before you.”

He writes even more than he travels. Schaller has penned seven books and scores of articles with titles like, “Courtship Behavior of the Wild Goat,” and “Effects of a Snowstorm on Tibetan Antelope.”

On Thursday, Schaller will preside at a symposium at Rockefeller University on Manhattan‘s East Side.

It’s a commemoration of his years with the WCS, celebrating his contribution to science. A panel of international conservationists will examine the status of key species and landscapes that Schaller has brought to the world’s attention.

Is he excited about the symposium? He looked a little uncomfortable, and said, “Why do you think I am always overseas?”

Schaller is passionate, though, about his prized project, first conceived in the 1980s.

He envisions the Pamir International Peace Park, at the nexus of Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and Tajikistan. It will be a refuge for Marco Polo sheep.

“We had a meeting of all four countries,” he said.

He has never let war, strife, the political squabbles of humans or borders stop him.

As he wrote in one of his books, “I live in a geography of dreams. …”

Commercial Hunting Endangers Rare Central Asian Sheep Species: Wildlife researchers say Marco Polo sheep under threat of extinction

Published 2008-12-12
Edited by Rich Bowden

Wildlife researchers are concerned a rare sub-species of Central Asian sheep known as Marco Polo sheep (Ovis ammon polii) is under threat of extinction because of widespread commercial hunting in Central Asian states such as Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

Found in the Pamir Mountains, on the border region of China, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Tajikistan, and named after the famed traveler Marco Polo who encountered them on his journeys in the region, experts estimate that only a fraction of the original number of the species remain. The species’ decline can be linked to regional political and economic factors and the activities of several commercial hunting businesses, they say.

The hunting operators have used the Marco Polo sheep as a lucrative commercial opportunity and have in the process, driven the sheep to the edge of extinction. According to George Schaller, vice president of the Science and Exploration Program of the Wildlife Conservation Society, the species can now be numbered to little more than 10,000.

The population of Marco Polo sheep has declined rapidly in Central Asia since 1980 due to political disturbances and economical factors in the region. This includes a long, unresolved war in Afghanistan which acts as an important habitat for these species.

However trophy hunters originating mostly from western Europe and North America, have shown great interest in signing up for Marco Polo sheep hunting adventures, ignoring the species’ endangered status.

Rick Herscher, owner and operator of Alaska Hunting Safaris in Anchorage, AK, describes hunting for the Marco Polo sheep as an adventure and joyful experience. The company runs hunts in the Kyrgyz Republic and Tajikistan for a fee of US$35,000 and Herscher said in a telephone conversation that authorities in Central Asian states can be notoriously corrupt where the issuing of a license for hunting can be a gold mine.

It is alleged that the corruption of officials in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, along with the increasing demand of trophy hunters around the world, is the main factor in the rapid development of the commercial hunting of the iconic sheep. Despite the fact that Marco Polo sheep have been officially recognized by the Agency of the Environment Protection of Kyrgyzstan as an endangered species, the hunting of the sheep continues to be legal in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

Herscher said that with limited hunting permits available, planning on the safaris begins one year prior to the actual hunt. The official permit fee for hunting on Marco Polo sheep in Kyrgyzstan‘s Environment Government Agency is $6.80 per sheep and hunters take the opportunity to acquire them in the time available.

Unfortunately the plight of the Marco Polo sheep serves only to remind how we as a human society need to understand better how important the issue of conserving and protecting endangered species such as the Marco Polo sheep is for the future of our planet. Even in the 21st century it appears we are still unable to protect our endangered fauna for the benefit of future generations. History teaches us that what we lose will not return and that acting now is our only chance for preservation.

The example of the Marco Polo sheep is salient as we know that the world will lose this unique species if nothing is done to prevent irresponsible hunting in the abovementioned Central Asian states. Wealthy trophy hunters from around the globe, who apparently know that this species is under threat of extinction, appear to suffer no remorse.