Tracking snow leopards over 60km in Mongolia

March 23, 2010

Map showing Snow Leopard Trust Mongolia camp and movement of some of the collared cats. This is the most successful project ever to collar cats and research their behavior and movement over lengthy periods of time. Follow the adventures of the team and the cats on the SLT Blog. Map from SLT Blog.

This project is making snow leopard research history, no doubt about it. The Snow Leopard Trust continues to gather huge amounts of data with a new male cat collared in Mongolia on February 16th. The snow leopard, called M7 by the Trust team, has covered rugged terrain across mountains and made a kill. The team are having world breaking success in this project,  having collared 7 cats in total now and following them with the GPS collars for over a year.

Read more of the team’s adventures and follow in the footsteps of the collared snow leopards in the stark and remote south Gobi area of Mongolia on the  Snow Leopard Trust Blog.

Meet all the collared cats and read about their foibles and their movements on the Trust’s Blog here.

Spot the snow leopard!

February 1, 2010

Snow leopard camouflage. Photo by Kim Murray, Snow Leopard Trust.

We all know snow leopards have fabulous camouflage with their gray, white and yellowish fur and the spotty rosettes. But this really proves it. Kim Murray, the Snow Leopard Trust’s Assistant Director of Science took these photos and showed them to some school kids and asked where the snow leopard was hiding. They couldn’t find it, neither could I. (I squinted for over ten minutes at my computer screen).

Here it is!

Snow leopard revealed! Photo by Kim Murray, Snow Leopard Trust. Kim's working on the SLT's 10 year research project in the South Gobi, Mongolia.

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.

Mongolian recipe to celebrate snow leopard blog birthday

October 31, 2009
Bayara. Photo from Panthera website.

Bayara. Photo from Panthera website.

 Here’s the next recipe to celebrate the snow leopard blog’s first birthday. I’m covering a recipe from each of the 12 snow leopard range countries. I haven’t been to Mongolia so I recently asked Bayarjargal (Bayara) Agvaantseren the Executive Director and founder of the Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation (SLCF) in Mongolia for a suggested recipe. I’ve wanted to blog about Bayara anyway as she recently won the $25,000 Rabinowitz-Kaplan Prize for the Next Generation in Wild Cat Conservation. The prize goes to “a special individual who has already made a significant contribution to conserving wild cats.” 

SLE rug from mongolia. Photo by Sibylle.

SLE rug from Mongolia. Photo by Sibylle.

I’m a big fan of Bayara’s as she is the one who started the community-based conservation program now known as Snow Leopard Enterprises (SLE) in Mongolia. SLE supports the semi-nomadic herders in Mongolia, helping them increase their income through handicraft production in exchange for their tolerance of snow leopards. I’ve blogged about the beautiful crafts these people make before and indeed have a number of their rugs hanging on my study wall. They are sold here through the Snow Leopard Trust website. I’ll give another plug – they make wonderful Christmas presents and it’s definitely that time of year to to think about presents. 

Bayara began her career in snow leopard conservation as a member with Tom McCarthy’s (from the Snow Leopard Trust) snow leopard research team. She worked as a translator with herders and helps to understand human-snow leopard conflicts. She’s also been key in formulating Mongolia’s National Snow Leopard Policy and most recently played a key role in initiating the first ever long-term ecological study of snow leopards in South Gobi, Mongolia. 

See more about the prize on the Panthera website.

Mongolian steamed Buuz. Photo from Mongolfood website.

Mongolian steamed Buuz. Photo from Mongolfood website.

Bayara’s recipe is for Buuz – which is dough filled with traditionally lamb in Mongolia, but can be filled with chicken, beef or vegetables and then steamed. While I haven’t ever made them with lamb (not one of my favourites I must say) I have made them with chicken – absolutely delicious. The secret is all in the steaming method and making sure they don’t stick to the steamer which for some reason mine do all the time. Bayara suggests this recipe here.

 I’ve created a page for all the Snow Leopard blog birthday recipes together – see it here.

Snow Leopard Network –globally collaborating on the survival of snow leopards in the wild

September 16, 2009

A few weeks ago I did a post on Rana Bayakci,the Program Coordinator for the Snow Leopard Network (SLN) in Seattle, USA and how she worked with Gregor the snow leopard at Woodland Park Zoo before he came to Melbourne where we all fell under his spell.

I wanted to share a bit of information about the Network as it does so much great work on snow leopard conservation. It’s really an inspiration for how people who share the same goal can achieve so much through global collaboration.

Rana, who started with the SLN in 2008 says “The main goal of our organisation is to implement the Snow Leopard Survival Strategy (SLSS), which was co-authored by several members of the SLN. The SLSS is a strategy for saving the endangered snow leopard through research, conservation actions, and establishing government action plans in snow leopard range countries.

“We started with 65 founding members in 2002 and we’ve grown to 324 members and counting, including 27 organisational members! Our membership includes leading snow leopard experts in the public, private, and non-profit sectors. “Our members are involved with all aspects of snow leopard research, conservation and education. They include 42 “affiliate” members who might not work directly in snow leopard conservation but are very interested in contributing to snow leopard conservation work.

“We would like to expand our membership to include everyone involved in snow leopard conservation in order to increase communication and continue to develop and share effective conservation, education, and research strategies.”

Rana is one of only two staff members of The SLN with Executive Director being Dr. Tom McCarthy (see my earlier post and video of Tom discussing snow leopard conservation in Kyrgyzstan). The rest of the work is done by dedicated volunteers, including the 6 members of the Steering Committee.

One of the important services the SLN provides its members is the Snow Leopard Bibliography, a database of scholarly articles on snow leopards, their habitat and research. I can imagine sharing knowledge of snow leopard behaviours, ecology etc amongst researchers helps all of them learn more and hopefully come up with better conservation strategies for the future of the animals and people sharing their habitat.

The SLN also hosts the annual Snow Leopard Conservation Grant Program, which supports education, research, or conservation projects on snow leopards.

You can see more about the SLN and join here.

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.

Saving snow leopards in Kyrgyzstan

August 9, 2009

Dr. Tom McCarthy has worked with snow leopards for many years and is Director of Field programs with of the Snow Leopard Trust. In this video he talks about the decreasing numbers of snow leopards in Kyrgyzstan and the community based conservation programs the Trust is developing there. These programs help the Kyrgyz villagers who share snow leopard habitat to sell their beautiful rugs and handicrafts all over the world. With extra income they are able to commit to helping the snow leopards survive in their area. Have a look at this video and if you can support the worthwhile program by purchasing some of these lovely handicrafts. I bought a rug and some stunning table mats in deep reds and soft creams for friends and family for Christmas last year. Everyone loved them. Have a look at the crafts here.

Are snow leopards in decline in Nepal?

July 28, 2009
Snow leopard numbers decline in mountains of Nepal. Photo by Sibylle.

Snow leopard numbers decline in mountains of Nepal. Photo by Sibylle.

The news about snow leopards in Nepal seems to be mixed.  The Myrepublica website, a news website from Nepal has reported that the number of snow leopards there has been estimated to have declined – now believed to be between 300 and 400, while previously their number was estimated to be between 400 and 500. Counting of snow leopards was done in the mountainous region from Ganesh Himal to Rolwaling, Sagarmatha, Makalu Varun and Kanchanjungha with the financial help from WWF America, England and Finland. The same report says that the tiger population has also declined. Hopefully these number can be improved in the next years by more conservation efforts. See Report here.

However snow leopard researchers say that the evidence isn’t clear to suggest that number are down, just that the data is being interpreted differently. Let’s hope they’re right. See Snow Leopard Network for more on this discussion.

Raising our glasses to snow leopards

July 23, 2009
Snow Leopard Vodka

Snow Leopard Vodka

Amazing how many different ways there are to help in the conservation of our beautiful wild snow leopards. Here’s another one. Glasgow whisky maker, Whyte and Mackay has committed to a conservation partnership to support the Snow Leopard Trust by donating 15% from profits of sales of their new Snow Leopard vodka.

The money will support a couple of projects in Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia both of which  help educate local communities on their region’s fragile ecosystems. The aim of the community education is to inform children and adult villagers on how to protect the snow leopard as well as teaching new enterprises to enable them to earn more income.

Illegal hunting and killing of snow leopards

July 7, 2009
Traffic International "Fading Footprints" 2003

Traffic International "Fading Footprints" 2003

I’m reading one of the most comprehensive and powerful reports on the trade of wild snow leopards called “Fading Footprints – the killing and trade of snow leopards.”

It’s a huge piece of research, published in 2003 by TRAFFIC it makes quite depressing reading. At the time the research was conducted, despite legislation protecting snow leopards in most of their range countries, they are still being hunted and killed for furs and body parts for traditional medicines. When furs can be sold for $US300-$US800 its easy to see the incentive. Retribution killing by farmers protecting livestock is also still common especially in areas where they’ve had not education about how to protect their livestock.

Recognising that all the range countries have different challenges the report outlines many recommendations for how things could be improved, like strengthening enforcement of the laws. This makes sense. Having laws isn’t enough if they can’t be enforced then snow leopards hunting will continue. The antipoaching team, the Gruppa Bars in Kyrgyztan (see my recent blog post) is one example of this.

 Other recommendations include helping the local communities that share snow leopard habitat which is one of the most important things that both the Snow Leopard Trust and the Snow Leopard Conservancy are doing. Its been found that when local communities understand how rare and endangered the snow leopards are they are willing to work to protect it if they aren’t financially disadvantaged.

The report is almost 6 years old. Much has been done by many dedicated agencies and people throughout the range countries. But there’s no doubt that the cats are still under huge threats.