Two snow leopards from Tajikistan released in the Sayano-Shushensky Biosphere Reserve

Two snow leopards from Tajikistan released in the Sayano-Shushensky Biosphere Reserve

9 September 2019

Two snow leopards – a male and a female – were released in the Sayano-Shushensky Biosphere Reserve. Both were brought from the Republic of Tajikistan to restore the snow leopard population in the reserve.


In Russia, the snow leopards had a veterinary examination and went through quarantine under the supervision of specialists from the Krasnoyarsk Royev Ruchei Flora and Fauna Park before being brought to the reserve. During the adaptation period, the wild cats were kept in an enclosure built in a place that is typical for their habitat. They were given live food to maintain their hunting skills.


The snow leopards were moved under a project called The Snow Leopard: A Living Symbol of the Western Sayans, an expedition that is being carried out in the Sayano-Shushensky Biosphere Reserve this year with grants from the Russian Geographical Society. Its goal is to restore the self-reproducing population of snow leopards in the reserve.


Before the release, experts put a tracking collar on both animals, which will transmit information about their location. The data updated every day will make it possible to determine the borders and area of their territory. Later on, this information will be used to install motion-sensor cameras and enhance the protection of the animals.  


During field work, experts are trying to find marking sites, tracks and other signs of leopard activity on snow leopard trails. This helps to determine the snow leopards’ behavioural characteristics as well as relations with each other and local leopards.


Before the first snow leopard from Tajikistan was released, scientists put his excrement at the main marking sites along the path used by Ichthyander, a snow leopard who lives in the Sayano-Shushensky Biosphere Reserve. Ichthyander responded aggressively: camera traps recorded him growling with an open mouth. Experts say he had the same reaction to the excrement of Mongol, the oldest snow leopard in the reserve.


Subsequent observations showed that the male from Tajikistan walked on the same paths as Ichthyander. The snow leopards are aware of each other’s presence and often follow one another, leaving marks. Trail cameras made this clear: in some videos Ichthyander begins to hiss after detecting an odour at a marking spot.


The female snow leopard from Tajikistan is being cautious for the time being and avoids trail cameras. She walks on different paths than the males but not far from them. This was determined with the help of her tracking collar, and additional camera traps were installed in places where she was recorded.


The animals have also chosen different territories. After leaving his enclosure, the male snow leopard went to the north but soon turned to the south and reached the border with the Republic of Tyva. Camera traps spotted him in front of the Shugur ranger station. The female spent more time near the enclosure and later on settled near the research station. For the time being, her territory is smaller than that of the male. 


Employees of the reserve track the location of the new snow leopards daily. If necessary, the information is promptly sent to the field monitoring groups in the reserve, which helps them plan further research and improve protection efforts.