New snow leopard research in Russia

February 22, 2010

Tuvan family in traditional clothing. Photo Wikipedia.

During February-March of 2010 the staff of the biosphere nature reserves “Sayano-Shushenskiy” and “Ubsunurskaya kotlovina” will be carrying out a census of the snow leopard  in the south of the Republic of Tuva, a tiny area in far south Siberia, with just over 300,000 people and remote mountains. They will be supported by the WWF Russia. Snow leopards are called irbis in Russia.

“In the process of the field observations, information will be collected about poaching activities regarding this species, and also about cases of irbis attacks on livestock. Recommendations about protection of irbis in these centers of their range will be worked out on the basis of the results of field research,” – explained the co-ordinator of the project WWF, Mikhail Paltsin. More on this project here.

Snow leopards and tigers “sister species”

February 22, 2010

Siberian tigers also live in snow. But many other tigers live in jungles and tropical climates. Photo Wikipedia.

Scientists have conducted a DNA analysis of the big cats and found the tiger and snow leopard are “sister species”. Brian Davis, Dr. Gang Li and professor William Murphy published their findings in the journal Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution recently.

It has long been known that the five species of big cat, the tiger, lion, leopard, jaguar and snow leopard, which belong to the Panthera genus, and the two species of clouded leopard, are more closely related to each other than to other smaller cats. But the exact relationships between them have been hard to identify.

19th century painting of a tiger by Kuniyoshi Utagawa. Photo Wikipedia.

The researchers looked at differences and similarities between the big cats species in terms of the genetic information stored in their mitochondrial DNA, and the gender chromosomes. They found lions, leopards and jaguars were found to be the most tightly linked, with a common ancestor probably living about 4.3 to 3.8 million years ago.

But also at this same time (around 4 million years ago) the common ancestor of snow leopards and tigers appeared.

Today sadly both these beautiful cats have another thing in common – they are among the world’s most endangered big cats. Fewer than 3500 tigers are thought to survive in the wild and estimates for snow leopards vary from 3500 to 5000.

This year, the Chinese Year of the Tiger, is an opportunity to help protect both these cats and learn more about them and their habitat.

See more on the BBC website.

Shimbu celebrates her 21st birthday

February 22, 2010

Shimbu rubbing into some peppermint scent. Pic by Mark Smith, HerSun.

Shimbu is one of two adult females at the Melbourne (Australia) Zoo and 2 days ago she celebrated her 21st birthday! Happy birthday to this beautiful cat.

Arthur, one of the senior keepers, said she was going well. She had a full medical about a year ago and of course she’s a bit stiff , after all her age is like a human being over 100!

Shimbu is definitely one of the oldest snow leopards in zoos anywhere and after the death of Patora in Nagoya Zoo last week (21 yrs and 9 mths) she may even be the oldest. You go grrrl!

7 year old saves snow leopards

February 21, 2010

7 year old Mireya, already a snow leopard supporter and blogger, with her little snow leopard friend. Photo from Mireya's blog.

I got a lovely message from young Mireya who visited our  blog and learned lots about snow leopards. She’s going to save her money to donate to save them.  Seven years old and already a conservationist and a blogger! Well done Mireya.

“I went to a blog called saving snow leopard. I learned that most snow leopards are being shot and some people take snow leopards food so the snow leopards have to kill peoples animals and get shot. I’m going to save my money to donate to save the snow leopards. I think I might be able to help to save the snow leopards. I’m going to donate on october 30th. I love snow leopards!”  Mireya’s blog.

Indian kids camping out in tents and learning about their mountain environment

February 21, 2010

Kids in Spiti, northern India, learning about their Himalayan environment with Snow Leopard Trust and Nature Conservation Foundation India program. Photo Snow Leopard Trust Blog.

Every year the Snow Leopard Trust and the Nature Conservation Foundation India take high school kids on learning camps in the Spiti Valley of the Himalayas. The kids, who rarely do this sort of thing, get to live in tents and learn about the plants and animals (including snow leopards), which share their environment. The Trust has been doing this since 2007 and over 400 school children and 30 teachers have participated.

Read more about their experiences and comments from the kids on the Snow Leopard Trust blog.

Happy New Year of the Snow Leopard!

February 16, 2010

Happy New Year of the snow leopard ('bar' in Russian)

I’ve received a lovely email from Oleg Loginov, Director of the Snow Leopard Fund Kazakhstan who tells me while the Chinese now celebrate Year of the Tiger, in Kazakhstan and other parts of Central Asia they are celebrating this as year of the Snow Leopard. Go Snow Leopards! By the way, in this part of the world snow leopards are called Bars!

It’s estimated there are between 100 – 200 snow leopards in Kazakhstan and Oleg’s SL Fund will do research and conservation and education work to help protect them. We hope it will be a wonderful year for snow leopard conservation and that many more people will learn to love and support this cat in the wild.

Is it a snow leopard or isn’t it a snow leopard?

February 16, 2010

The discussion continues amongst snow leopard experts on the animal in the night video sent to me recently by a young US Army sergeant, Carl Duke. The video was taken in the war zone on the Pakistan / Afghanistan border with the amazing  Long-Range Advance Scout Surveillance System (LRAS3) from a distance of 8 kilometers.

Yellow throated marten. Photo Wikipedia.

Some snow leopard experts have said the animal is a marten (yellow throated marten) while others are still certain it is footage of the elusive cat. Those that believe it IS a snow leopard cite evidence like the difference in the way cats and martens move, the uniqueness of the snow leopard tail,  the way the animal is swaying the tail, the way it  is doing its scent marking and quite a few other characteristics.

One thing every one agrees on is the fantastic technology that was able to capture the animal and the fact that Carl has brought it to our attention. But as to snow leopard or not snow leopard – the jury appears to be still out. Stay tuned.