Finding a needle in a boundless haystack

Locating wild snow leopards isn’t easy. These threatened cats live across vast and often inaccessible mountain territory. Some individuals use home ranges that can be several hundred square kilometers large. These factors make it extremely challenging to find and monitor them. But we've learned never to underestimate the skill and expertise of our field teams!

Late last year, our field partners from the Gobi-Gurvansaikhan National Park in southern Mongolia ventured into a remote area of the park to set up a pilot camera trap survey in the Bayanbor mountains. Data from the survey in this area will help fill in the gaps in our understanding of snow leopard abundance and distribution in the National Park and help with conservation planning. This month, the teams retrieved the 11 cameras and discovered that all but one captured images of snow leopards! And cubs!

Exciting photo-capture! A female with three sub-adult cubs in Bayanbor.

We started surveying for snow leopards in the Tost-Tosonbumba Mountains of South Gobi in 2009. To learn more about how the cats are moving between the mountains in the area, we expanded our camera study to include additional mountains in the Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park.

South Gobi, Mongolia. Bayanbor is part of the Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park. The red circles show the locations of the camera-trap surveys from 2021.

Monitoring the snow leopards in these mountains allows us to better understand the abundance and distribution of these enigmatic cats. Such information is crucial for our knowledge of snow leopard ecology to inform our conservation efforts. The camera work in South Gobi has also contributed to  PAWS (Population Assessment of the World’s Snow Leopards), a global effort supported by the Trust involving all 12 snow leopard range countries to estimate the number of snow leopards in the wild. 

Snow Leopard Trust has been surveying this massive area of the South Gobi for nearly a decade in partnership with the national park authorities and rangers. In 2021, Senior Park Specialist, Narangarav Tegshjargal and her team of rangers approached us to expand the survey efforts to include the Bayanbor mountains. This mountain had not been surveyed for several years. We weren’t sure what the team would find. But we were all eager to find out.

Adult snow leopard caught on one of the camera traps in Bayanbor.

“The high camera capture rate of snow leopards highlights the skill of the National Park rangers in tracking snow leopards,” says Justine Shanti Alexander, Snow Leopard Trust’s Senior Conservation Scientist. 

A quick scan of our camera trap images already reveals a variety of species, including ibex, argali, stone marten, wolf, hare, chukar, horned lark, raven, fox, and snow leopard, reinforcing that this area is rich in biodiversity.  This indicates the high value of this area for snow leopards and their prey.

Male ibex, a crucial prey species for snow leopards.

Analyzing the data and identifying the different cats from the cameras in Bayanbor will take time as we compare them to the neighboring mountains. More camera traps will be coming in from the Western section of Bayanbor soon. We can’t wait to learn how many snow leopards are living life on the edge in these wild mountains.

Female snow leopard with two sub-adult cubs.

Special thanks to the incredible efforts of Senior Park Specialist Narangarav Tegshjargal and Gobi Guvantsaikon National Park rangers and authorities.  

Read more about Narangarav here.


  1. Excellent work, camera trap surveys have revolutionised the knowledge on Snow Leopard distribution and populations in these remote mountains! It’s great stuff and enjoy reading about it!

  2. It’s wonderful to see photos of these spectacularly beautiful cats in their home environment. I appreciate the huge time and effort that must be involved making this happen!.The Ibex isa lovely animal in it’s own right too – and needful prey for the cats -unfortunately for them!

  3. Thank you Snow Leopard Trust for all the good work you do and to the people that do it. I love the pictures you send. It is hopeful to see a mom with THREE cubs….a first for me. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

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