Expedition to study the snow leopard of the East Sayan Mountains

Expedition to study the snow leopard of the East Sayan Mountains

28 August 2015

28 August marked the end of another operational stage in studying and monitoring the snow leopard population in East Siberia carried out by the Standing Expedition of the Academy of Sciences to study animals listed in the Red Data Book of the Russian Federation and other particularly important animals with the support of the Russian Geographical Society.


The fieldwork lasted for about two months and was aimed at assessing the condition of the East Sayan group of the snow leopard. The larger part of the Great Sayan Range was covered by research itineraries over 650 kilometers long, 80 kilometers of which the researchers covered on horseback. The Great Sayan Range is a transborder mountain range situated at the intersection of borders between Buryatia, Tuva and Mongolia. Expedition members explored the Okinsky District of Buryatia and the easternmost part of the Kaa-Khemsky District of Tuva.


This exploration area was not chosen at random. There is still little information about the snow leopard’s occurrence in the Great Sayan Range. No serious research has been carried out in those areas.


The expedition team consisted of three people —Alexander Karnaukhov from the Severtsov Institute of Environment and Evolution Issues at the Russian Academy of Sciences, Sergei Malykh, a game manager from Irkutsk, and Dennis Kochetkov, a researcher from the Khingansky Nature Reserve. Most routes were mapped radially from the basecamp.


During the work period, the expedition registered seven fresh snow leopard footprints  that were mostly found in the saddles of the mountain ranges. Twenty-three scratches were found and 18 excrement samples were collected and sent to the laboratory of the Institute of Environment and Evolution Issues for further research. The abundance of vital functions confirms that the snow leopard permanently inhabits the East Sayan Range.


The expedition team also installed automatic photo- and video-recorders. The second stage of explorations in the Great Sayan Range is planned for the summer of 2016. The inspection of the installed trail cameras will provide detailed information about the incidence and the number of snow leopards in the East Sayan Mountains, one of the least explored habitat of this rare species.