Exciting Field Updates! Three New Cats in Tracking Study

For the next 18-20 months, three of the most elusive big cats on earth will provide valuable information about their daily lives to our scientists as part of our long-term efforts to track and better understand this endangered species.

In early May, Snow Leopard Trust researchers affixed GPS collars to three snow leopards in the Tost mountains of South Gobi. Our team of international and Mongolian conservationists have safely collared more individual snow leopards than any other study ever undertaken. The knowledge gathered is crucial to understanding their ecology and helps inform where and how conservation programs are implemented to protect them.

On this field trip, our team collared three adult cats: two females and a male. This brings the total number of individual snow leopards tracked via GPS collar to 40. None of the three newcomers to the study are the territorial cats in the area. We believe they were just passing through, perhaps scouting for vacant areas.

Team member Dr. Nadia Mijiddorj monitors snow leopard F17.

One of the females, Altai, which means gold in Mongolian (F17 – pictured at top of post), traveled all the way west. We think she resides in what used to be Agnes’ and Dagina’s range. The other female, Mandal, which means rise/sunrise (F18), appears to reside in the area around East Valley where Uus Khaigh (M20) lived and Chingis (M14) still resides. The male, Salkhi, which means wind (M23), has perhaps taken over Uus Khaigh’s (M20) territory, but it is too early to tell. He had some wounds that probably stemmed from territorial fights with other males.

We don’t know too much about these new snow leopards yet. Camera trap images and collar data will provide a more detailed picture of their lives over the coming months.

Unfortunately, two males we had collared earlier died in late March. Uus Khaigh (M20) appeared to have been killed in a territorial fight with another male. Because of his wounds, we wonder if perhaps M23 may have been involved in the fight. M20 was around eight years old and had held his territory for four years. Typically, males appear to be able to defend their territories until they are about ten years old, so M20 losing his territory (and life) was at a slightly younger age than what we have previously seen.

M22 died at around the same time of unknown causes. He had settled in a hilly area between the crater and Toson Bumba. The area does not contain any prime snow leopard habitat and we have never seen a snow leopard residing there, although many cats have passed through. We think he was four to five years old, which means he should have been big and experienced enough to establish a territory. Perhaps there were no vacant territories available and he resided in this area while waiting for an opportunity to establish one. A shortage of available space could also explain why M20 lost his territory and life at a rather young age, as less space should cause more intense fights.

Ibex updates

Collaring and tracking ibex, a key prey species for snow leopards, is a vital part of our research to understand the intricate dynamics between predators and their prey, specifically how their movements and spatial patterns influence one another. But collaring a prey animal like an ibex in a humane, ethically appropriate way is easier said than done in harsh wind-swept mountain terrain. Over the years, our team has developed a number of methods, some of which have been successful while others are still under development. 

Senior Scientist Dr. Örjan Johannson recently laid out the whole list of plans and explained the latest strategy below. (For those keeping count, we’re on Plan G.) Our research team will return to Tost in the fall to see if Plan G works.

Plan A: Trap baited with salt licks (Turns out that nearly all mountain ungulates love salt except for ibex in Gobi!)

Plan B: Trap baited with apples and carrots (Pikas took  them – these small mammals are closely related to rabbits – some might say they’re adorable unless you’re a scientist trying to collar ibex!)


Plan C: Trap baited with water (this would have worked, but refilling regularly isn’t easy in a desert!)

Plan D: Trap was moved and placed on top of a small water hole/spring (the trap was then washed away and buried 150 m downstream in the heaviest rainfall of the last 40 years!)

Plan E: Sit and wait for ibex at a water hole (this worked, but the wind caught the darts and 90% bounced off before injecting the drugs).

Plan F: An ibex feeder dispatched a small amount of goat feed pellets every day (Turns out that ibex don’t like the pellets or anything else we put in the feeder. But pikas do!)

Plan G: CURRENT PLAN – Two artificial water holes. 

Says Örjan, “We have moved our ibex trap to a small well that our biologist Buren uses mainly to water his horses. It’s located near a small ravine and ibex commonly come and drink together with the horses, seemingly unbothered by the person drawing up water from the well. We built a small water hole in cement inside the trap and the plan is to always have water in there, teaching the ibex to go there to drink.

Building a waterhole for the trap at Buren’s well.

We also built a slightly larger water hole in the central part of Tost and placed a 1000 liter water tank close to it, fitted with a small solar-powered pump. This should ensure that the water hole is always full. Once animals come and drink, we can increase the amount of water that is pumped up. It should hopefully not take too long before the ibex learn that there is a new water source there. We left Tost feeling, ‘This time, we’ve thought of everything!’ Though given the history of our ibex capture attempts, we might come back with Plan F in 2025…”

Building a waterhole at Yamanoos.

Örjan testing the drop net

Örjan also sent the photo below and added this:
“While we are puzzled and slightly annoyed that it could be this difficult to capture ibex, we admit that they are fascinating creatures. They are commonly very skittish, but now and then, they seem completely unbothered by our presence. We often have ibex sleeping just outside our camp in the mornings. On this trip, we counted around 21 ibex, some of them sound asleep despite us being outside making noise just 70-80 m from them. The snow leopards hunt mainly from dusk to dawn and we wonder if the ibex use our camp as protection from the cats. It seems as if they seek us out and stay closer to us at night than you would have expected.”

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This long-term ecological study is in collaboration with Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation in Mongolia and Snow Leopard Trust, with special thanks to the Ministry of Nature, Environment and Tourism, the Government of Mongolia, and the Mongolian Academy of Sciences for their support.

We would also like to acknowledge:
National Geographic Society, Acton Family Giving, Bioparc Zoo de Doue la Fontaine, David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation, Idaho Falls Zoo at Tautphaus Park, John Ball Zoo, Kolmarden Zoo, Korkeasaari Zoo, Nordens Ark, Parco Zoo Punta Verde, Play for Nature, Tierpark Berlin, The Big Cat Sanctuary/Wildlife Heritage Foundation, Tulsa Zoo, Whitley Fund for Nature, Zoo Basel, Zoo Dresden, Zoo New England and the many incredible partners who have supported programs like our Long-term Ecological Study and research in Mongolia since it began in 2008. We could not do this work without you.

Photo credits: Snow Leopard Trust and SLCF-Mongolia. Photo of F17 at top of post by Chris Beard and Snow Leopard Trust Explorer in Residence, Dan O’Neill.


  1. How wonderful to have colored 3 more snow leopards. But on the other hand I’m very sad that the other 2 have passed.

  2. Oh how wonderful to wake up to sleeping Ibex! And they sleep so soundly, feeling safe by you.

  3. This is in responds to everyone that is working so hard to preserve these incredibly beautiful Snow Leopards. L have been around cats most of my life and presently have a small colony in my back yard. I enjoy receiving your Newsletter. I live in Stockton, California and Hua HIN Thailand. I would love to visit your country and see these majestic cats up close and personal. Once again, thank you for your work and may God bless you for it. Sincerely, Richard Liljeblad

  4. Every newsletter is such exciting reading! Thank you for all the updates and the beautiful pictures of things I will probably never see in person in my lifetime!

    1. You’re welcome Susan. We strive to share the majesty of this big cat with all our supporters, even if we never see them in person!

  5. I love the sight of snow leopards as much as anyone who really appreciates these magnificent creatures. However; it seems to me that collaring snow leopards is not as important as saving snow leopards, through habitat preservation, protection from poaching, monitoring their health, and intervening to prevent death by whatever means are the most important goals. Are we making any headway in saving them?

    1. Thanks for sharing your concern Judy, it is a valid one. However, we do not see collaring and protecting snow leopards as mutually exclusive. Tracking individuals helps inform us about the terrain they use and the size of their territories, where and when they make kills, the life cycle of cubs and so much more. Without all this information, it would be extremely difficult to make informed decisions about how to best protect them and their habitat or to promote coexistence strategies between humans and wildlife.

      For example, over the past few years, we have learned that the average snow leopard’s home range is larger than previously assumed, and many protected areas are too small to host even one breeding pair. Based on this new knowledge, multiple governments have made efforts to expand existing protected areas.

      Without this type of data, petitioning governments to make better conservation choices, like protecting important water sources or revoking hunting concessions for prey species, would be much more difficult. On more than one occasion, collaring data has been used to justify these decisions, which ultimately protect more cats and more habitats.

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