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.


It’s not a snow leopard

February 12, 2010

Recently I received video of what appeared to be a snow leopard in Kamdesh District, Nuristan Province, Afghanistan taken by a young sergeant in the US Army. Several experts kindly commented their opinions through the Snow Leopard Network and my Blog, some thought it was a snow leopard and others raised the question as to whether it was another animal.

Today Tom McCarthy,  Ph.D. and Director of Snow Leopard Programs, PANTHERA, and George Schaller (world’s leading expert on snow leopards!) have established that it’s a yellow-throated marten and not a snow leopard.

Y a s h  V e e r  B h a t n a g a r,  P h. D. and Director, Snow Leopard Trust-India also suggested it wasn’t a snow leopard and he was right too.

Those of us with less experience but a lot of passion to conserve this beautiful animal were (and are) obviously hoping for evidence that snow leopards are surviving in this war zone.

We didn’t get the evidence this time but I couldn’t agree more with Ashiq Ahmad Khan (Chairman Steering Committee, SLN) and Safdar Ali Shah (NWFP Wildlife Department) that it’s important to work towards a “a trans border nation park to ensure protection of the snow leopard and other allied species before it is too late.”

Thanks also to Carl for looking out for snow leopards and wanting to be active in their conservation. We hope one day people in the field like him may see many snow leopards in this region if our conservation efforts can be successful.

Amazing night footage of snow leopard in war zone

February 4, 2010

World first for Snow Leopard Blog! A story about a soldier standing night guard at a small outpost who recognised one of the world’s most endangered and rare cats. Sergeant Carl Duke (US Army) sent me this amazing footage using advanced technology to film the snow leopard eight (!) kilometers in the distance. This was in the war zone on the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Carl told the intriguing story of how the footage was obtained.

“This video was made in the late fall of 2008 at Combat Outpost Lowell near Kamu, Kamdesh District, Nuristan Province, Afghanistan.  In the middle of the night SGT G was on guard scanning the surrounding hills when he spotted the animal with its give-away long thick tail. Fortunately, he had his personal camera on him and put it up to the screen of the LRAS3 (Long-Range Advance Scout Surveillance System) and pushed record.”

Location of night footage of snow leopard

Click image for close-up of the rugged mountains on the Afghanistan and Pakistan border where these videos were taken.

Carl said the snow leopard was most likely hunting for monkeys or livestock.

During his tour in Afghanistan Carl made a point of asking locals what they knew about snow leopards.  “Some people complained about them, one person said if you eat them you become more virile, another said someone had captured a cub and sold it a few years ago in Chawkay District, Konar Province.  One man claimed snow leopards shoot steel claws 15 meters!”

Long range advance scout surveillance system LRAS3. Photo Raytheon.

Naturally there’s little in the way of snow leopard research or conservation in this country, especially here in the dangerous border region, so it’s important any information be shared and Carl should be congratulated for his interest and concern about snow leopards. Carl said he hoped one day to go back to Afghanistan “I’ve heard a lot of great things about Afghanistan during the 60’s and 70’s. There’s so much I’d like to see and enjoy in Afghanistan – it’s just too dangerous now.”

Well done Carl, looking forward to hearing more about this story! Two more clips here.

Rare bird joins snow leopards in Afghanistan

January 19, 2010
Photo WCS.

Photo by WCS.

“Researchers for the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) have discovered for the first time the breeding area of the large-billed reed warbler — dubbed in 2007 as “the world’s least known bird species” — in the remote and rugged Wakhan Corridor of the Pamir Mountains of north-eastern Afghanistan. Situated between the mountainous regions of the Pamirs in Tajikistan, Pakistan, and China, the Wakhan Corridor supports a surprisingly wide range of large mammal species, including Marco Polo sheep (or argali), ibex, lynx, wolf, and the elusive snow leopard.” (Full story here.)

WCS camera trap photo of snow leopard 2009.

When I read this story this week I recalled that in August last year the WCS found evidence of snow leopards in the region too. (Read blog post here.)So what is this Wakhan corridor and why is it still home to rare birds and snow leopards at a time of such massive conflict in this country for the last 30 years?

Turns out (according to Wikipedia) the Wakhan Corridor is a long and slender land corridor along the easternmost section of Afghanistan in the Pamir Mountains. It’s approximately 210 kilometres (100 miles) long and between 20 kilometres (10 miles) and 60 kilometres (40 miles) wide.

It’s named after the Wakhan region of Afghanistan and connects the country to China in the east. It was once part of the Silk Road, the trade route that for hundreds of years connected central Asia with the Mediterranean countries. The Wakhan corridor region only has about 10,000 people and is one of the most peaceful regions in the country today. Both the low population and the fact that it isn’t an active war zone have made it possible for biologists to find this rare bird and snow leopards in the region in recent years. Let’s hope the objective of the WCS to establish a large wildlife protected area here can be pulled off.

Afghanistan wild snow leopard update

August 31, 2009
Wild snow leopard in remote Afghanistan. Photo by remote camera trap by WCS.

Wild snow leopard in remote Afghanistan. Photo by remote camera trap by WCS.

Great news from Afghanistan. For the second time in months the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) has captured the elusive and rare snow leopard on film (with a camera trap) in the Sast Valley in Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor.  It is estimated only 100-200 snow leopards still survive in Afghanistan and the cat is protected under Afghanistan’s new endangered species list which was created recently and outlaws hunting it.

The WCS is hoping to establish a new protected area around the Wakhan Corridor which will help protect any remaining snow leopards as well as other endagered wildlife from the region.