New WWF camera trap captures snow leopard in Nepal

Posted on 22 November 2011

Camera traps installed by WWF in the Nepalese Himalayas last month have captured their first picture of an endangered snow leopard. The cameras are part of a community monitoring project that will help WWF estimate number of snow leopards in area and determine the best way to conserve them.

“The camera traps are a means to empower local communities to lead conservation efforts of snow leopards,” stated Anil Manandhar, Country Representative of WWF-Nepal.

“With habitat loss, poaching and retaliatory killing by herders posing as major threats to snow leopards, community stewardship in conservation is key to the protection of snow leopards,” he added.

There are only about 6,000 snow leopards remaining in the wild. The animals stand to lose over a third of their habitat to climate change in the coming decades.

Last week, the Eastern Himalayan nations of Bhutan, Nepal, India and Bangladesh met to address the impacts of climate change on food, water and energy security, as well as on biodiversity (more here on the Climate Summit for a Living Himalayas). The countries agreed to collaborate on adaptation efforts to protect water sources, ensure sustainable food production, increase access to clean energy, and coordinate disaster management.

“The framework of cooperation will see the creation of an interconnected mosaic of conservation spaces across the Eastern Himalayas, crucial for communities that rely on the region’s natural resources for their survival and the protection of endangered species such as the snow leopard,” said Liisa Rohweder, CEO of WWF-Finland.

This graph shows the estimated snow leopard population by country. The elusive nature of the species makes it difficult to obtain an accurate population count.

Regional cooperation on climate change key to future of Eastern Himalayas

Posted on 17 November 2011 |

Thimphu, Bhutan – Regional adaptation to extreme weather events and the impacts of climate change on endangered alpine species like snow leopards featured prominently at a WWF-led session in the lead up to the Climate Summit for Living Himalayas today, a high-level event that aims to work out a ten year regional framework on climate change adaptation for the Eastern Himalayan nations of Nepal, India, Bhutan and Bangladesh.

“Climate change is placing extraordinary pressure on the Eastern Himalayas – its people, iconic landscapes and species are all being hit hard by changing weather patterns,” said Minister Dr. Pema Gyamtsho, Ministry of Agriculture and Forests, Bhutan. “The Eastern Himalayas is now in urgent need of a regional framework of cooperation that combines expertise from governments, NGOs and civil society. Himalayan nations must act now to avoid the worst impacts of climate change,” he continued.

Climate Summit for a Living Himalayas

The pre-summit stakeholder meet is part of a series of events leading up to the Climate Summit for a Living Himalayas – Bhutan 2011, which is being hosted by the Royal Government of Bhutan in the nation’s capital on 19 November 2011.

Broadly speaking, Nepal, India, Bhutan and Bangladesh are holding this high level meeting to work out an agreement on four main themes: securing biodiversity and ensuring its sustainable use; ensuring food security and securing livelihoods; securing the natural freshwater systems of the Himalayas; and ensuring energy security and enhancing alternative technologies.

The event hosted by WWF today was a moderated discussion on two specific issues – the rising threats of climate change and adaptation strategies in Eastern Himalayas, as well as snow leopard conservation in the face of changing climate vulnerabilities.

“Snow Leopards are valuable indicator of environmental health – their declining numbers is a sign that the places they live are also threatened. With only up to 7500 individuals left in the wild it is up to India, Nepal, and Bhutan to take the lead and create a regional conservation framework that helps protect the future of this iconic species and the Eastern Himalayas,” said Tariq Aziz, Leader of WWF’s Living Himalayas Initiative.

Moving towards sustainable solutions for the future

The discussion was well attended by over a hundred senior representatives from development partners, civil society and the four governments. The presence of youth at the event underscored the importance of involving younger generations in discussions towards sustainable solutions for the future.

“This gathering of policy-makers and development partners from India, Nepal, Bhutan, and Bangladesh is significant as it provides a crucial platform for agreeing on much needed approaches, investment and policies to help the Himalayan region adapt to extreme weather events,” said Ravi Singh, Secretary General & CEO, WWF-India.

WWF has been working in the Eastern Himalayas for close to 50 years to ensure that the region’s incredible diversity of life is preserved for generations to come. Through our Living Himalayas Initiative WWF works closely with the governments and people of Bhutan, India and Nepal to restore and protect ecological processes, reduce the human footprint and support local economies.

Gazprom Over Nature

08 November 2011
ByVladimir Ryzhkov

Russia’s first chief of the secret police, Alexander Benkendorf, served two centuries ago under Tsar Nicholas I, and it is his portrait that should be hanging in every office at the Federal Security Service and Interior Ministry. Benkendorf gave a classic definition of the Russian authorities’ relationship to the law when he said: “Laws are written for subordinates, not for rulers.”

That is precisely the principle at the heart of the current Russian government. It justifies everything — from state officials using flashing blue lights to speed through Moscow traffic to governors and mayors continuing the rich tradition of lining their pockets and those of their close associates at the public’s expense.

State officials often abuse their influence and power to avoid answering to the law after committing illegal acts. A vivid example of this principle is the gas pipeline to China thatGazpromis eager to build over the Altai Mountains and directly through the Ukok Plateau, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Because the Ukok Plateau has been part of the Golden Mountains of Altai UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1998, the law requires special permission before any heavy construction can be performed. What’s more, environmental impact studies must be made in advance. But, according to a Natural Resources and Environment Ministry letter issued in July, this has not been done. Nevertheless, preliminary work has already begun along the path of the intended pipeline through Altai and in the region that includes the Ukok Sanctuary.

According to many eyewitnesses who visited the region between July and September, the work to construct the pipeline through the protected plateau is proceeding at full steam. Heavy drilling rigs are operating, and surveyors have marked out the path of the pipeline all the way to the Russian-Chinese border. I personally saw the equipment and the surveyors’ markings when I visited the region in October. What’s more, Gazprom contractors have admitted to local environmentalists that they have not obtained permission for the work.

Worse, in September a fire destroyed about 4,000 hectares of alpine steppe in the Ukok Plateau. This area is the habitat for many rare species of birds and animals, including the endangered argali sheep and snow leopard. Local guides suspect that Gazprom contractors might have intentionally caused the blaze in the hope of removing the area’s protected status under a new amendment that would change the borders of nature reserves if those territories “lose their value.” Of course, it is also possible that the fire was caused by the carelessness and negligence of Gazprom workers.

Once remote and inaccessible, Ukok has become a popular tourist destination for travelers all over the world thanks to dozens of articles in top travel and nature magazines, television documentaries and the recent archeological discovery of the 2,500-year-old Ice Maiden found intact in the permafrost. If the gas pipeline is built, the nature of the Ukok Plateau and its ecosystem will be destroyed.

UNESCO already lists the Ukok Plateau as a World Heritage Site that might be under threat. Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund are closely monitoring the situation and regularly send inquiries to Russian authorities responsible for protecting the environment. UNESCO plans to send its own mission to Ukok in May to check on compliance with its requirements.

Why doesn’t Gazprom consider alternate routes that would bypass the nature reserve and pass instead through Mongolia or Kazakhstan?

The Chinese are also wondering why the Russians are in such a rush. Chinese authorities have not signed any purchase agreements with Gazprom mainly because they are not willing to pay the high Gazprom gas prices. What’s more, China has its own source of gas in Xinjian as well as a newly opened pipeline bringing gas from Turkmenistan. Beijing officials claim that Prime MinisterVladimir Putinpersonally insists on the pipeline through Altai at almost every meeting with Chinese leaders. Could it be that Putin and his colleagues who have top positions in the gas sector have the most to gain from the project?

The Gazprom pipeline through the Ukok Plateau could become the largest, most expensive and most environmentally damaging white elephant in history. Members of the ruling elite have already built palaces and luxurious villas in nature reserves on the Black Sea coast and in Adygeya.

The country’s ruling business and political elite have completely corrupt values. For example, at a public hearing in Gorno-Altai, a Gazprom representative gave himself away when he referred to the holiest spot of Russian Orthodoxy, saying, “We will lay a pipeline right through the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius [in Sergiyev Posad] if we have to!”

Read more:
The Moscow Times

Nepal’s snow leopards to be counted

November 3 2011 at 06:00pm


Kathmandu – Nepal has launched the first census of its snow leopards, local media reported, in a bid to raise awareness of the endangered species.

Closed circuit television cameras have been installed around the northern district of Mustang, at an altitude of 4,000 to 5,000 metres, and are planned to count the district’s leopards within two months.

“The census aims to find the exact population of snow leopards and conserve them,” Som Ale, one of the conservationists involved in the project, was quoted as saying by the Kathmandu Post.

“We believe it will help bring awareness about conservation of leopards among people.”

The project is being carried out jointly by the National Trust for Nature Conservation, the Annapurna Conservation Area Project and other partners.

Nepal’s snow leopards live in the Mugu, Mustang, Dolpa and Humla districts in the northern belt, at an altitude of around 5,000 metres.

Conservationists say their number is rapidly declining and put the current figure at 300 to 500.

“Major threats for snow leopards come from the human and wildlife conflict,” World Wide Fund for Nature official Kamal Thapa told dpa.

“Villagers kill the animals for attacking their livestock.”

The conservationist group is running insurance programmes to discourage people from attacking the endangered species to defend their cattle. – Sapa-dpa

Nepal children to track snow leopard

(AFP) – 1 day ago (8Nov11)

KATHMANDU — Conservationists in Nepal have enlisted an army of school children to record the movements of the mysterious snow leopard, one of the most elusive predators in the world, a scientist said Tuesday.

Experts believe just 500 adults survive in the Himalayan nation, and few can claim ever to have seen the secretive, solitary “mountain ghost”, which lives 5,000 to 6,000 metres (16,500 to 20,000 ft) above sea level.

“Snow leopards are inherently rare, and also elusive in the sense that they are active during dusk and dawn, so few people, including biologists, have seen a snow leopard to date,” said Som Ale of the US-based Snow Leopard Conservancy.

The group has enlisted children from schools in the leopard’s habitat in Mustang, in Nepal’s mountainous northern frontier, who will work in pairs to instal and monitor digital cameras to count the endangered species.

The census, due to be carried out over two months in winter, will give scientists a more accurate idea of numbers in Nepal than more primitive techniques, including recording tracks and collecting droppings.

Although the Snow Leopard Conservancy used camera traps on a study in India six years ago, the group says this is the first survey of a large predator anywhere in the world by local communities who are not paid conservation experts.

“In parts of Africa, lions may be monitored by local people but they are well paid professional guides,” Ale told AFP.

The pupils will be trained to set up digital cameras that take infra-red images and operate in sub-zero temperatures to areas where snow leopards would be expected to visit.

Computer programmers will then use each animal’s unique pelt to create to estimate the number of snow leopards.

The snow leopard is protected in Nepal by an act of parliament dating back to the 1970s which provides for penalties of up to 100,000 rupees ($1,300) and up to 15 years in jail for poachers.

Nepal children enlisted to track elusive snow leopard

Published on Nov 9, 2011

Conservationists in Nepal have enlisted an army of school children to record the movements of the mysterious snow leopard, one of the most elusive predators in the world, a scientist said Nov 8, 2011. — PHOTO: AFPKATHMANDU (AFP) – Conservationists in Nepal have enlisted an army of school children to record the movements of the mysterious snow leopard, one of the most elusive predators in the world, a scientist said on Tuesday.

Experts believe just 500 adults survive in the Himalayan nation, and few can claim ever to have seen the secretive, solitary ‘mountain ghost’, which lives 5,000 to 6,000 metres above sea level.

‘Snow leopards are inherently rare, and also elusive in the sense that they are active during dusk and dawn, so few people, including biologists, have seen a snow leopard to date,’ said Dr Som Ale of the United States-based Snow Leopard Conservancy (SLC).

The group has enlisted children from schools in the leopard’s habitat in Mustang, in Nepal’s mountainous northern frontier, who will work in pairs to install and monitor digital cameras to count the endangered species.

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

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

In Russian:

20 October 2011

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.

Ecologists see increasing snow leopard population in Tuva

Ecologists see increasing snow leopard population in Tuva

Mar 22 (dateline below listed differently)

Moscow, 17 March – RIA Novosti WWF’s Altai-Sayan Program announced that the snow leopard population along the southern part of the Shapshal’sky Ridge and on the Tsagan-Shibetu Ridge in Tuva Republic is in good condition and that the female snow leopards are reproducing.

Snow leopards are one of the least studied large cat species in the world. This is related in part due to the inaccessibility of their habitat as well as the species’ rarity.

Aleksandr Kuksin, Ubsunurskaya Kotlovina staff, is quoted as saying, “The snow leopards here are successfully reproducing, and we are constantly seeing signs of females with offspring along the Tsagan-Shibetu Ridge. This means that the predator’s population is being complemented with young individuals, and that overall the group of snow leopards in the southern part of Shapshal’sky Ridge and on Tsagan-Shibetu Ridge in Tuva can be called favorable. It can be assumed that the snow leopard population even slightly increased between 2004 and 2011.”

Signs of snow leopard activity were discovered in all river valley studied, including the Khemchika and Shuya headwaters and the Toolaylyg and Barlyk Rivers watersheds. Researchers identified 19 signs of snow leopards belonging to 17 different snow leopards, and there was a single encounter with the rare predatory. In 2004 in that same region, 13 snow leopard spoors were found, belonging to 8-10 individuals. Staff from Ubsunurskaya Kotlovina Zapovednik staff and Tuva’s state Hunting and Fishing Committee staff conducted field research to assess snow leopard and Siberian mountain goat populations concluded on March 6

In addition to finding the spoor of this rare predatory, expedition participants found numerous sites showing ongoing marking activities by snow leopard, which like any cat, they use to indicate individual territories.

Approximately 40 scat samples were gathered and will be sent to the Severtsov Institute for Ecology and Evolution Problems (RAS) for DNA analysis, which will permit determination of the population’s size, their gender, and age.

Evidence of snow leopard on Shapshal’sky Ridge and Tsagan-Shibetu

Moreover, snow leopard excrement is needed to train scent dogs, an activity now being conducted with WWF-Russia support in Barnaul. In the future Erik the German shepherd, now being trained to locate and identify snow leopard spoor by scent, will support Tuvan and Altai conservationists in fieldwork.

“Today, Erik is training using excrement from zoos, but using material collected in the snow leopard’s natural habitat will significantly increase the dog’s competence, because the dog will be working in this predator’s actual habitat, “ explain WWF-Russia experts.

In addition, expedition participants observed 148 mountain goats (Siberian mountain goats), which, in comparison with past years, indicates the stability of this grouping. A low-snow winter has left grazing areas accessible to mountain goats in the high mountains, where over the course of the winter a significant portion of ungulates remained. The main threats to snow leopards remain shepherds that lose sheep to predator attacks and local snare poachers, according to WWF-Russia. One to two local snow leopards are lost every year as a result of an animal accidentally ending up in a snare trap. The inspectors that participated in the expedition succeeded in arresting three poachers from Ovyursky Rayon for illegal mountain goat hunting along the Eldig-Khem River.

Translation courtesy of Jennifer Castner.

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

Altai Republic residents will become guides along the “Land of the Snow Leopard” route, Russia
16 Sep 2010

16 Altai Republic residents will become guides along the “Land of the Snow Leopard” route

In Altai Republic 16 local residents were trained in ecotourism for work as tourist guides along the Land of the Snow Leopard route. Tatyana Ivanitskaya, Press Secretary for the WWF’s Altai-Sayan project.

Participants learned new applied skills during the training, traveling practice routes along the Sailyugem and southern Chuisky Ridges, Dzhumalinsky Springs, Karagem Breach, and the Argut River. Upon finishing the course, participants will submit independently developed routes for evaluation. If approved, those routes will become part of the planned transboundary “Land of the Snow Leopard” route.

“These freshly minted guides – residents of Bel’tir, Mukhor-Tarkhata, Dzhazator and Argut located in close proximity to the main areas of snow leopard and argali habitation in Altai. The residents of these villages have been hunters since time immemorial. Because of a lack of steady work and the need to feed their families, some of them become poachers,” said Mikhail Paltsyn, WWF Project Coordinator. “We are confident that the opportunity to earn a regular annual income from tourism will reduce poaching among local residents, and the idea behind the Land of the Snow Leopard routes is to allow people to see animals in the wild. In this way, protecting fauna will ensure financial well-being.”

Similar ecotourism has been successfully created in India, where snow leopard can also be found. Local residents host tourists in their homes, accompanying them on one- and two-day tours with the goal of seeing animals in nature.

Another piece on this from the UNDP/GEF site:

[another article on the same subject as above, with different details,
excerpts only]


Eco-routes developed by “Irbis”and “Arkhar”

The short term vocational training program for guides was developed and conducted by experienced instructors from Gorno-Altaisk State University, Olga Shvakova and Tatyana Zyablitskaya, who are participating in a second year of this project led by the Fund for Sustainable Development of Altai. The protected areas development training program was specially developed within the framework of the Center for Training Protected Area Specialists. 16 participants were divided into five small groups, where they developed the aforementioned routes from Tarkhatinskoye Lake and Dzhumalinsky Springs down to the village of Dzhazator and another two days on horseback along the Argut River to the confluence of the Karakem River. Along the way, participants were divided into two groups (Irbis and Arkhar) and practiced good horse and people management along the trail, how to teach, guide and operate horseback tours, keeping on schedule, calculating distances and time management. The field experience strengthened their learning and facilitated the final development of the tour routes.

….Over the last fours years, 58 participants have completed the guide training program financed by the UNDP/GEF program. Of those, 8 excellent students participated in short-term internships in foreign protected areas. Another 16 guides can be added to this total as of September 2010.

Translation courtesy of Jennifer Castner, The Altai Project.

Note: UNDP/GEF, FSDA, Altai Assistance Project and The Altai Project were also involved in this project.

Effort to save snow leopard in Taplejung, Nepal

Added At: 2010-10-21 12:19 AM
The Himalayan Times
Himalayan News Service

TAPLEJUNG; Locals of Gunsa village in the district have started to train local yak and sheep herders on the conservation of the endangered snow leopard that is found in the Kanchanjangha Conservation Area.

“Shepherds spark wildfires, chop down trees and make noise, thus disturbing snow leopards habitats. Keeping this tendency in mind, we decided to train them on the importance of the rare species,” said Himali Chundak, chairman of the Snow Leopard Conservation Sub-Committee.

Chundak added that the training was intended to conserve snow leopards and attract more tourists in the conservation area during the Nepal Tourism Year-2011.

Dandu Sherpa, a local, said villagers train shepherds visiting their farms and even in forest areas. Consequently, the hostility against the snow leopards and encroachment on their habitat has reduced of late.

Sujit Kumar Shrestha, manager of the conservation area project, said villagers were actively involved in the conservation of the rare wildlife. “Recognising its contribution to wildlife conservation, the World Wildlife Fund has honoured the sub-committee with Abraham Conservation Award,” said Shrestha.

Snow leopard is an internationally protected wildlife species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.