Tsetsen was equipped with a GPS collar in March 2015 in the Tost Nature Reserve in Mongolia’s South Gobi desert. He was the 11th male and 20th snow leopard overall to be collared as part of the world’s most comprehensive snow leopard study.
The location data from Tsetsen’s collar will add to our growing knowledge of snow leopard home ranges and behavior. The more cats we are able to track, the more robust our calculations will be.
Tsetsen will also help us better understand how long snow leopards live. When we had the opportunity to examine him during his capture and collaring in the spring of 2015, we found that we was around 4-5 years old. Today, he must be around 6 or 7 years old – quite an advanced age for a wild snow leopard. We hope to either capture and collar him again or at least monitor him with research cameras in his range to see how he fares in the future.
The elusive ‘Ghost of the Mountain’ remains one of the least understood big cat species, but this long-term study by the Snow Leopard Trust, Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation and the Mongolian Academy of Science has shed light on the elusive big cat.
Thanks to data from GPS collars on wild snow leopard, we have been able to observe cats migrate across steppes and into new mountain ranges. We’ve been able to find and film wild cubs in their dens, and have gained new insights into snow leopard prey selection and patterns, which is an important basis for protecting both prey and livestock.
The study has allowed our team arrive at the best available estimate of snow leopard home ranges, and led to the first and so far only long-term study on changes and trends in a specific snow leopard population.
While the drop-off of Tsetsen’s collar marks the first time in several years that we don’t have a wild snow leopard ‘on air’, our long-term snow leopard study continues. “There remain critical questions that we still don’t have answers to”, says Örjan Johansson, the Snow Leopard Trust’s Field Biologist.
“We must learn more about reproduction and survival. Specifically we want to learn at what age females usually reproduce the first time, how many cubs they usually give birth to, how many of these cubs survive to the age when they disperse from their mother, and how frequently the females give birth. Is it every second year or do they sometimes take a break – meaning that it would be three years between litters?
We also want to learn more about young cats dispersal, at what age do they leave their mothers and how far do they go?”
Answering these questions is paramount to understanding how snow leopard populations are doing, and how many of these cats there truly are out there.
For instance, looking at a local scale, if we count 30 cats in a certain area, what does that mean? Is that a large enough number for the population to remain stable, or is it too small? Right now, nobody really knows.
Perhaps even more importantly, solid data on reproduction and survival rates will be the basis for a scientifically valid estimate of the global snow leopard population – something that is sorely lacking today.
The next attempt to collar snow leopards in Tost is scheduled for March 2017.