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Pakistani Snow Leopard to Get New Home

Dec 9, 2014 10:23 pm

Man holding snow leopard cub with other men around himVillagers with cub in 2012 (photo: Snow Leopard Foundation)

A young snow leopard in Pakistan will soon be getting a new home after living in a small cage along Karakoram highway since it’s capture two years ago when it was only a few months old.  The local villagers who found the cub in December 2012 thought because they didn’t see the mother, they were doing a good deed and protecting her from possible harm by taking her from the wild.

landscape with mountains in backgroundSite of the future wildlife care facility (photo: Snow Leopard Foundation)

At this point, the cat cannot be released to the wild because she never developed the necessary skills to hunt and fend for herself.  The best option is to create a new healthy, safe environment away from the noisy highway where she can live. Through a collaborative group effort by Snow Leopard Foundation, Gilgit-Baltistan Parks and Wildlife Department, Embassy of the United States of Islamabad, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Snow Leopard Conservancy and Snow Leopard Trust, an 11,000 square foot wildlife care facility will be built to house the young cat.  The new Naltar Valley facility will also contain a Wildlife Education Center where the public will be able to learn about snow leopards, their environment, and the threats they face.

CubCub in 2012 (photo: Snow Leopard Foundation)

Snow Leopard Conservancy’s founder-director Rodney Jackson says, “We believe every snow leopard deserves a better and more secure future. That being said, it is important to make sure local people in Pakistan, or anywhere else, will no longer separate a cub from its mother or remove it from the wild.  We hope that this snow leopard will serve a useful role as an Ambassador animal, offering people who rarely see a snow leopard with the opportunity to marvel at its beauty and ensure other wild snow leopards are allowed to roam free from threats.”

 

 

 

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Snow Leopard Radio-Collared in Mongolia

Dec 5, 2014 8:58 pm

Snow leopard lying near rock face behind a log

It seems like only a few days ago that we invited Dr. Rodney Jackson to conduct the first snow leopard field survey methodology training in Mongolia, and learn about snow leopards at field sites in Great Gobi Strictly Protected Areas (SPA). It seems like only a few days ago that for the first time in Mongolia, one of our snow leopards was fitted with a satellite radio collar, which Rodney brought for us.  It seems like only a few days ago we were doing a feasibility study to establish Uvs Lake Basin SPAs, including the Tsagaan Shuvuut Mountain.

But, this all happened 20 years ago! Today our fruitful partnership still continues and we recently had another great event coinciding with our 20 year anniversary.  On October 30, 2014 our Mongolian-Russian team, headed by Dr. B.Munkhtsog, and including scientists from Biology Institute of Mongolian Academy of Sciences, Severtsovi Institute of Russian Academy of Sciences, Mongolian-Russian Uvs Lake Basin Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site, and WWF Mongolia Program Office, worked together to collar a young female snow leopard in Tsagaan Shuvuut SPA, at a transboundary site in Mongolia and Russia.

snow leopard sitting against rocks

The young female, 31 kg, approximately 3 years old, was captured at Khoid sair of Tsagaan Shuvuut Mountain and named Tsagaan (meaning white in English). In Mongolian it translates more to kind, great, open heart, and a good future like white pure milk.

sedated snow leopard lying on yellow tarp with 12 people sitting and standing around it

A total of 16 Aldrich snares, donated by SLC, were placed in two valleys for two weeks. Tsagaan was captured at 2,280 meters four days after setting the snares. While she was sedated, the team monitored her body condition, took body measurements, blood and hair samples, checked for parasites, and put the North star satellite collar provided by SLC through funds raised by artist and  Walt Disney Imagineer, Joe Rohde.

 map with numbered points marking where snow leopard traveled# 15 shows that Tsagaan crossed Harig River in midday and at 7 pm reached the southern slopes of Tsagaan Shuvuut Mountain.

Tsagaan recovered well after the capture and immediately climbed up the nearest cliff.  For two days she occupied the same valley, then headed west, walking 35 km over 10 days to the Tsagaan Gol (white river) valley, where local argali sheep populations gather during mating season. From previous studies we know that snow leopard travel mostly in dark and dusk, but Tsagaan was travelling a lot in the day time. We assume that after 20 years of protection in the park, wildlife are getting adapted to a secure and quiet life.

snow leopard with radio collar around neck, on rocky face

The Tsagaan Shuvuut SPA is located north of Uureg Lake and covers 35,970 hectares in the territory of Sagil sum (county) of Uvs Province, western Mongolia. Tsagaan Shuvuut Mountain lies in the Altai-Sayan Ecoregion, which is selected by WWF as one of most important 200 ecological sites of the world and is a key link between snow leopard and prey populations in the Altai and other ranges of Northwest Mongolia. It is also connects the snow leopards in Russia, which is located at northernmost edge of their global range and provides important gene exchange. The landscape in this area is very broken, with the highest peak, Tsagaan shuvuut (white bird), being 3,496 meters above sea level. From little springs in the park start many rivers flowing to Uureg Lake. The park is home to 72 species of mammals, including endangered snow leopards, wild mountain sheep-argali, and ibex-the mountain goat.  It has also been selected as an International Geosphere-Biosphere Monitoring site and World Heritage Site of UNESCO. Dry stream beds Khoid sair (Northern dry stream bed) and Omno sair (Southern dry stream bed) are known to hold one of the most dense snow leopard populations in Mongolia. The Tsagaan Shuvuut mountain range is located on the border of Mongolia and Russia where there are many ongoing transboundary conservation activities and cooperation of Mongolia and Russian parks to protect endangered snow leopard and other biodiversity species and ecosystems.

- B.Munkhtsog, Irbis Mongolia/Mongolian Academy of Science

 

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SLC Welcomes Dr. Quinton Martins

Nov 25, 2014 10:17 pm

Quinton with mountains in background

With great pleasure we welcome Dr. Quinton Martins to our Snow Leopard Conservancy team!  As of January 1, 2015, Quinton will become the Conservancy’s Assistant Director, based in Sonoma and work closely with Rodney in strategic planning, program oversight, and fund development.  Quinton brings a wealth of experience to this work, having founded South Africa’s Cape Leopard Trust in 2004, and growing that organization to full sustainability.

Quinton says, “Having used Rodney’s thesis on snow leopards as my “bible” while working on mountain leopards in South Africa, it is an incredible privilege to join him and his fantastic team in an effort to advance snow leopard conservation across their range. It is wonderful to see the generous support the SLC has had over the years and I look forward to connecting with our supporters over time. I also look forward to bringing my own experience to the fore, contributing to broader mountain ecosystem conservation using iconic flagship species including snow leopards, mountain leopards and even mountain lions in the USA. This will be an incredibly exciting and challenging time.”

The entire Conservancy team is excited to be working with Quinton, and we’re  confident the snow leopards will benefit from his expertise, passion, and commitment to saving the earth’s mountain cats.  We look forward to introducing Quinton and his family to our community of Conservancy partners, including you who have been such fantastic supporters.

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Electronic Deterrents in Mongolia

Nov 18, 2014 7:13 pm

goat herd with mountains in background

This Baga Bogd trip blog was written by our Mongolian partner on snow leopard conservation, Bariushaa Munkhtsog.  Munkhtsog is a senior wildlife biologist at the Institute of Biology–Mongolian Academy of Sciences and President of Irbis Mongolian Center.

 

During the socialist times, until the late 1980s, Mongolia had some 27 million livestock, with more than 10 million offspring every year.  Seventeen to eighteen million animals were butchered for meat or exported to Russia.

When the Soviet Union collapsed and livestock was privatized, export of livestock to Russia was stopped due to poor veterinary service.  With few jobs available, households depended on shepherding, and livestock numbers increased rapidly, reaching more than 50 million.  As a result all wildlife habitats became occupied by livestock and herder camps leading to degradation of pastureland, conflict with predators, etc.

Irbis Mongolian Center was established in 2001 to raise funding for snow leopard research and support conservation involving local herders.  As a Mongolian NGO, Irbis (Mongolian word for snow leopard) has been a long-time partner of the Snow Leopard Conservancy, working on various interventions aimed at solving conflict between shepherds and predators such as the snow leopard and wolf, which prey on livestock. For example, we are testing electronic predator deterrent devices that can be placed in or near livestock corrals and that emit flashing lights to frighten off any predator.   Two Nite Guards were initially deployed, and indicated that the system could work to protect livestock.  We also tested Chinese devices that were about the same price but they broke down quickly.

Mongolian man holding  two predator guards and posing for cameraPredator Guard deterrent in scrub bush near goatsTsendhorol’s son holding Predator Guards and one mounted on a bush near goats

 
Under our joint project with the Conservancy, “Helping shepherds to protect livestock with solar charged predator deterrent devises,” we tested Predator Guards donated by Predator Guard founder Drew Waters.

In September I visited Baga Bogd Mountain in Central Mongolia, where  in 2008, Dr. Rodney Jackson and I radio collared a snow leopard and monitored with camera traps the population of snow leopard and prey.  This time I visited herder families, interviewed them for loss of livestock to predators such as snow leopard and wolf, and assessed the result of using Predator Guard.

Rod, Munkhtsog, snow leopardRodney Jackson and Munkhtsog with radio collared snow leopard in 2008

 
Snow leopard attack the livestock in winter time mostly when the prey availability is scarce and herder families move to a winter camp for better pasture and warmer place with less snow.  Wolves kill many livestock during other season at lower altitudes. However snow leopards face the threat of being shot by herders, even if they are not responsible for the depredations.

snow leopard in the bed of a truckYoung snow leopard captured, then later released by herders

 
In one case, a young snow leopard was going to attack a herd of free ranging horses in the mountain pasture.  It was captured by angry herders and loaded onto a small truck, but at last was released thanks to quick, effective involvement of conservationists in western Mongolia.

In Baga Bogd three families tested seven Predator Guards.  The impact was huge:

Last year, Mr. Davaadorj’s family lost more than 30 sheep and goat to wolves and several to snow leopards, but this year thanks to Predator Guard no livestock was lost to snow leopards, and just 5 to wolves.

Same with Mr. Sh.Tsendhorol’s family; the loss decreased significantly using the solar charged predator deterrent devises.  The economic benefit to each family ranged from 6 to 27 sheep and goat, worth $490-$2200. This is a big amount of money, as herders’ yearly income averages $3800, earned by selling cashmere from the goats in late spring.

Little girl standing in front of goatsGranddaughter of Tsendhorol with family goats

 
There are 17 other families in the valley and hundreds in Baga Bogd Mountain looking at the three families who tested the Predator Guards with a bit of jealousy, wondering when they could have such a wonderful tool.

Besides the economic benefits herders get from the project, they are happy to be able to sleep quietly at night when the Predator Guard is working and they do not need to get up several times, sometimes all night, to shoot to the sky (sometimes to elusive endangered snow leopard) to keep livestock – their main source of income – safe.

Conservationists are also happy when the predators do not attack livestock and herders are involved in conservation and monitoring of endangered wildlife thanks to reduction of livestock losses.

 -B. Munkhtsog

Irbis Mongolia logo- snow leopard on blue background with Irbis Mongolia written around it

If you would like to support our work in Mongolia or donate $25 to purchase one Predator Guard for use in Mongolia or other snow leopard range countries, please click on the button below.

Words "donate now" on blue background

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“Trek for Snow Leopard Conservation in Bhutan”

Nov 12, 2014 11:05 pm

Four women standing together holding a sign reading KarmaQuest. Snow and prayer flags in backgroundWendy, Betsy, Nancy, and Caroline at Bhonte La pass (16,040 ft)

The Kingdom of Bhutan, Druk Yul, (Land of the Thunder Dragon) is often referred to as the happiest country on Earth–a country where they measure their success by Gross National Happiness, rather than Gross National Product.  A country where 64% of the land is covered by trees, and no stop lights exist (the one stoplight erected in the capital city of Thimphu was taken down after complaints from the locals).  A country where men wear ghos, women wear kiras, and children shout “Hello, ma’am” as they pass you on the trails.  Bhutan is also home to the elusive, beautiful snow leopard living high in the pristine Himalayan peaks of Jigme Dorji National Park, and the reason behind my trip to this amazing country.

People hiking with mountains in backgroundOn the trail to Bhonte La Pass in Jigme Dorji National Park

Snow Leopard Conservancy established a presence in Bhutan in 2012 through building partnerships with Bhutan Foundation, Jigme Dorji National Park (JDNP), and the Nature Recreation and Ecotourism Department to develop community-based snow leopard conservation and education programs.  One significant result of our partnership was the creation of the Jomolhari Mountain Festival, also known as the Snow Leopard Festival.  The festival celebrates the people and exquisite natural wonders, including the endangered snow leopard, of the Jomolhari Mountain region.  With the first festival being such a success in 2013, I was excited to join SLC Board Chair Caroline Gabel as a representative of the Conservancy at this year’s festival.

clown at festivalAn Atasara (clown) at the Thimphu Tshechu

Working with KarmaQuest Ecotourism and Adventure Travel, a “trip-of-a-lifetime” tour was created to give outsiders the chance to be in the heart of snow leopard habitat, interact with people sharing their land with the cats, and actually see what Gross National Happiness is all about.  The result is the “Trek for Snow Leopard Conservation in Bhutan,” a 16 day trip designed to include the annual Jomolhari Mountain Festival and the new traditional homestay program in Jigme Dorji National Park, both sponsored by the Conservancy, as well as experience many aspects of the beautiful Buddhist culture of Bhutan.  Caroline and I joined KarmaQuest founder Wendy Lama and Alaskan environmental lawyer Nancy Wainwright on this inaugural trip, prepared to offer feedback throughout and after in order to fine-tune the itinerary for subsequent groups.

Four women posing with Taktshang Monastery on the cliff behind themPosing like dakini statues with Taktsang Monastery in background

The first four days focused on the cultural aspects of the country–visiting a wide array of museums and the National Memorial Stupa, hiking to the Taktsang Monastery perched on a cliff 3,000 feet above the Paro valley, attending the auspicious Thimphu Tshechu, and marveling the breathtaking size of one of the world’s largest Buddha statues, the Dordenma Buddha.  We also had the chance to admire the awkward beauty of Bhutan’s national animal, the takin, at the Motithang Takin Preserve.

Several Bhutanese children in traditional dress performing a danceClick the  picture to view a video of the children performing a dance at the Jomolhari Mountain Festival

October 5-12 was the actual trek in JDNP.  Three days were taken to reach Soe Chu, the site of the Jomolhari Mountain Festival and our home for two nights.  Following the festival, we crossed Bhonte La pass at 16,040 feet and descended to Soe Yaksa where we were the first guests of a local family participating in the new traditional homestay program. After one night at the homestay, we continued down the mountain for two days to reach the trailhead. (Future blogs will share more information about the festival and the homestay.)

Nancy, Caroline, and Bhutanese woman sitting near woodburning stoveNancy and Caroline with our hosts at the traditional homestay

The last few days of the trip were spent visiting additional monasteries and dzongs in Paro and Punakha, last minute shopping in Thimphu, and attending a fantastic farewell dinner at the Bhutan Foundation office.

Three people hiking amidst sheer cliffs and grassy plainHiking through snow leopard habitat in Jigme Dorji National Park

While we didn’t see any snow leopards on the trip, we did see evidence of them–scat, footprints, and the carcass of a pregnant yak recently killed–and I have no doubt we were seen by the snow leopards hidden amongst the cliffs surrounding us.

 

-Betsy Mueller, SLC Program Officer

Visit KarmaQuests.com for information about the 2015 “Trek for Snow Leopard Conservation in Bhutan” and start planning a trip of your own!

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