The Snow Leopard Programme: zoologists photograph three leopards and other animals

The Snow Leopard Programme: zoologists photograph three leopards and other animals

15 November 2010

Comprehensive field studies and observation of the South Siberian snow leopards continue.


Last autumn, during a research stage lasting from September 23 – October 6, 2010, researchers from the Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution at the Russian Academy of Sciences explored another part of the Ubsunur Hollow Biosphere Reserve in the southwest of Tuva. A meeting of November 12 summarised the year’s results.


The expedition extended the photographic database used to distinguish individual animals by the spots on their bodies, faces, and hindquarters. When the crew checked the hidden cameras they had planted in June, they were rewarded with more than 30 unprecedented shots of the leopards. Three animals have been identified from the photos, and another might still be roaming nearby.


The cameras shot a great deal of other fauna – particularly a manul cat (several fine photos), snowcocks, and a musk deer. All these species are endangered and listed in the Red Book of Russia. The shots provide priceless information for their further observation on the Ubsunur reserve.


These include dozens of shots of the Siberian ibex, the snow leopards’ main prey. Many ibex migrate from Mongolia to the Ubsunur Hollow buffer zone as the frost sets in. Last autumn was very long and warm, so the mountain goats stayed in Mongolia longer than usual and did not start their seasonal journey until the middle of November.


The expedition also collected samples of fur, claw scratches, feces, and urine for genetic tests, hormone and dietary studies, and research on parasites and viruses affecting the species.


Zoologists surveyed the Smaller Mongun-Taiga Mountains on the border of Tuva, Altai, and Mongolia, where they discovered fresh leopard trails, claw marks, and traces of urine. The area will be thoroughly explored next summer.


The expedition encountered tarbagans, foxes, hares, mountain goats, and birds of prey galore: black and bearded vultures, and golden and tawny eagles. The data these researchers collect will appear in scientific publications following laboratory and statistical study. The Snow Leopard Programme has continued in 2011.