A cross-border Russian-Mongolian group of snow leopards

A cross-border Russian-Mongolian group of snow leopards

28 August 2015

There may be a cross-border Russian-Mongolian group of snow leopards inhabiting the slopes of Tsagan-Shibetu and Tsagaan Shuvuut mountain ranges, according to the Russian Academy of Sciences permanent expedition for the monitoring of animals from the Russian Red Data Book, which is conducting research under the Snow Leopard Research Programme in Southern Siberia with the support of the Russian Geographical Society. The researchers’ conclusion is based on the data on the habitat of a female snow leopard covering both the Russian and the Mongolian parts of the range, as well as on a negligibly small genetic distance between the samples collected in the Russian and the Mongolian parts of the mountain range.


Yevgeny Matyushkin, a prominent expert on large felines, wrote in his study on the snow leopard back in 1984, “The Altai and Tyva populations, which are typically associated with the Mongolian part of the area, are more vulnerable. Coordinated efforts are needed from the USSR and the Mongolian People’s Republic.” Later, a number of authors have repeatedly stressed the vital importance of protecting the snow leopard cross-border group. It is listed as the first item in the list of prerequisite protection measures in the Snow Leopard Preservation Strategy approved recently by the Russian Ministry of Natural Resources. However, there was never any positive proof of the group’s existence.


The paper, which will be presented at a conference in Mongolia, will offer the first convincing evidence of the existence of a snow leopard cross-border group in the mountain range of Tsagaan Shuvuut on the Mongolian side and in Tsagan-Shibetu range on the Russian side (the Republic of Tyva). The data refers primarily to two aspects of research: the habitat structure of a tagged female snow leopard and the genetics of snow leopard groups in different parts of the Russian territory and in Mongolia.


The mountain ridge of Tsagan-Shibetu is situated in the southeastern part of the Republic of Tyva. In Mongolia, this ridge turns into the mountain chain of Tsagaan Shuvuut, which is thus a direct southward continuation of the Russian ridge.


A Mongolian-Russian team of experts managed to tag a female snow leopard with a satellite transmitter on October 30, 2014. The captured animal was named Tsaganka. She is a young female of approximately three years of age and seemed not to have given birth. The transmitter was programmed to send the animal’s coordinates every five hours and it functioned successfully until March 9, 2015. The observations yielded 437 locations of the tagged female. Its habitat appeared to stretch over 1,200 square kilometres. This area is located mainly in the Mongolian territory with about 20 percent in Russia. The data proves that some snow leopards live both in the Mongolian and Russian parts of the mountain range.


A molecular genetic test also proved the probability of the cross-border group’s existence. The molecular genetic diagnostics identified two animals that had been spotted both in the Russian and in the Mongolian parts of the range. This proves that at least two more snow leopards used both parts of the range. Molecular genetic research has a special method for assessing differences in a number of identified markers, the so-called genetic distance method. The comparison of genetic distances of snow leopards from Altai, the Sayano-Shushensky Nature Reserve, and Tsagan-Shibetu and Tsagaan Shuvuut ranges has demonstrated that the smallest genetic distances of all those analysed came from animals in Tsagan-Shibetu and Tsagaan Shuvuut ranges. This provides further proof that the animals inhabiting the two mountain ranges are related.


The first factual evidence of the existence of the snow leopard cross-border group on the border between Russia and Mongolia as written in the paper confirms the importance of cross-border cooperation between the two countries’ specialists in studying and protecting populations of the snow leopard.