Dagina of Tost: A well-studied snow leopard

Snow leopard, scientific pioneer, trailblazer, super mom. Dagina has held quite a few monikers over the years - and done more to further our research than perhaps any other individual snow leopard in the wild to date.

In Mongolia’s Tost-Toson Bumba Mountains, spring is less of a transitional period than an extension of winter. But with the first days of May comes the earliest signs of an approaching summer – newborn snow leopard cubs. (Surely a welcome sight after the long, cold winter!) When Snow Leopard Trust began our long-term ecological study more than a decade ago, one of our priorities was to learn more about the reproductive cycles and early life stages of wild snow leopards. We have since diligently worked to fill these gaps, and one cat in particular – who you have met many times before – has played a crucial role in this mission. 

Dagina is one of the most well-studied individual snow leopards in the wild. Over the course of 13 years, we have gained many insights from studying her in every stage of her life, from a trailing cub to a sub-adult poised to inherit her own territory and to a mother five times over. She has made an appearance on our research cameras every year since her birth in 2009 and been tracked twice with a GPS collar – making her one of only a handful of cats to have been collared more than once. 

As a token of our appreciation for Dagina’s contributions to our research, we wanted to share an in-depth look into the life of this extraordinary snow leopard who we have come to know so well.

2009: Our long-term connection begins. We first meet Dagina as a two-month-old cub with her mother, Agnes, who we had previously tracked via a GPS collar. In this photo, Dagina was only a few months old and would have just begun following her mother between hunts.
2010: Dagina continues to trail her mother as she matures into adulthood, exploring the northwestern corner of the Tost-Toson Bumba Mountains. While the Tost Reserve is a vital habitat for snow leopards, this particular corner is one of the harsher edges of snow leopard range. Large prey can be particularly difficult to come by at times – and a mother must hunt one every 4-5 days to keep her cubs and herself fed.
2011: Dagina forges her own path! We spot her for the first time without her mother, a portion of whose territory she “inherited” after dispersing around her second year. This is a common practice among large carnivores and it is not unusual for territories to continue overlapping – adult females at least occasionally cross paths.
2012: Dagina joins the research roster of snow leopards whose movements we monitor through a GPS collar, and, we later find out, would soon give birth to her first litter at 3 years of age. GPS tracking allows us to better understand snow leopard movements and estimate the range sizes for an adult cat in a given area.
2013: We photograph Dagina with her first cub! Already a sub-adult, it is nearly full-grown and will soon disperse. Dagina’s collar can still be seen here but is designed to automatically fall off in the next couple months and will be collected by our researchers.
2014: Dagina gives birth to her second litter, with three surviving cubs. They will trail behind her for about two years, learning how to survive in the often harsh conditions of the Tost Mountains. A typical snow leopard litter is 1-3 cubs, and Dagina will hold true to that estimate in the years to come. This, like many other discoveries, is something that scientists could only hypothesize prior to this comprehensive study. Now, thanks to advances in technology and our dedicated teams and supporters, we have data to back it up.
2015: How many snow leopards do you see? Dagina is photographed here with her three cubs, now sub-adults, and soon to leave her side. One of her cubs is Presnel, who will settle about 15 km east of Dagina’s range and eventually have cubs of her own! While sometimes a snow leopard will inherit territory from their mothers, it is also not uncommon for them to travel 50km or more to establish their own range.
2016: We spot Dagina twice, both times on her own and traversing her usual range in the northwestern reaches of Tost. Just a few months from when this photo was taken, Snow Leopard Trust Senior Scientist Dr. Örjan Johansson questioned whether Dagina, then eight years old, was too old to reproduce, as we had not yet observed an older wild female snow leopard of known age have cubs.
2017: Dagina gets fitted with her second GPS collar, which will allow us to track her movements for about 18 months – just long enough for a spectacular surprise in early 2019. Here she is with two new cubs, her third litter.
2018: Dagina is spotted with her sub-adult cubs near a watering hole, one that she will come to frequent again and again. Her two cubs are nearly fully grown, but that does not stop this diligent mother from patrolling the area as her cubs snooze the day away.
2019: A once-in-a-lifetime surprise for our researchers! Using the GPS data from Dagina’s collar, they are able to locate her den while she is out hunting and record her three newborn cubs of her fourth litter. She will return before long but must hunt consistently to keep herself and cubs nourished before they are mature enough to tag along with her.
2019: Less than five months later, Dagina and her three young cubs pass by one of our cameras in Tost, giving us one of our most cherished photo sequences ever. The exuberant little “hug” gets us every time! Dagina was ten years old when this was taken, making her among the oldest known wild snow leopards to give birth.
2020: Dagina made only a single, brief solo appearance in 2020, alone on our cameras for the first time since 2016.
2021: But she followed up a lean year with yet another litter, her fifth! And these little cubs were quite the troublemakers, attacking our camera at the first opportunity. And this was not the only time we spotted her and her young cubs last year…
2021: Dagina and her 5-6 month old cubs visit her old stomping grounds, this watering hole at the entrance to a valley well-traversed by snow leopards and many other wildlife. This little cub bravely climbs up the cliff to imitate his mother! Dagina is now 13 years old and has been monitored on our cameras for 12 years in a row, making her the oldest recorded female snow leopard in Mongolia’s South Gobi.

Dagina is an extraordinary cat indeed and has given us so much insight into the early stages of snow leopard development. With five separate litters over thirteen years, Dagina’s legacy lives on in both our research and through the many cats she has raised in this crucial habitat at the southern edges of Mongolia.


To support our conservation and share a piece of Dagina’s story with someone you care about, consider purchasing a symbolic snow leopard adoption. Both our Cub and Family Adoptions feature photos of Dagina and her cubs, along with a certificate, plush and more!

7 Comments

  1. An amazing study in pictures. I can imagine one snow leopard raising one litter, and then being on her own with visits from the grown up cats, (female), but many litters over the years. Wow!

  2. Quite inspiring both for her and her many litters as well as for the Snow Leopard Trust surveyors persevering and being able to follow her for so long. Proud to help support research like this.

  3. So informative!! I’m so happy to see this mother’s thriving with her kids!! :>) Wish I could support you financially, but I’m in deep financial trouble…could use some financial help myself. :>(

    1. Great work, tracking Dagina for so many years have definitely contributed to the study of biology of Snow leopards 👍

  4. Thank you for this wonderful documentary and the work you do. Happy to see my donations at work and only wish I could afford to send more.

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