Our Mongolia team and partners were happy to collaborate with the BBC Studios Natural History Unit in their efforts to film snow leopards for the epic Planet Earth III, Extremes episode. The elusive big cat seen in the incredible sequence below is one we’ve studied for years, known to us as Presnel. The PE3 Extremes team captured a magical moment of her and her cubs high up on a ridge top one evening just as the sun was setting.
“The team had to endure winds and freezing conditions to capture these shots without disturbing the cats before the sun went down,” said Producer and Director, Theo Webb. He added, “In total, we deployed 24 camera traps, which were out for around 8000 hours. It took the team a total of 76 hours to set, extract and maintain these camera traps and our camera operator spent a total of 264 hours in a hide!”
But what do we know about the four-legged stars of this critically acclaimed series? As it happens, we know quite a bit about them. Presnel is the daughter of Dagina, the oldest known female snow leopard in our long-term ecological study. We’ve been tracking Presnel since she was born in 2014. We started following her grandmother Agnes (F7) in 2009 and a few years ago, we collared one of Presnel’s daughters, F13. This means we have now collared four generations of females in this family. Thanks to these extraordinary cats, we have learned so much about snow leopard reproduction and home ranges.
On a side note, Presnel’s hunting prowess provided us with an interesting/vexing anecdote. Last year, we noticed she was near a waterhole at the same time as an ibex we had recently radio-collared. Both collars sent locations from the same site for three days, indicating a snow leopard predation event. Presnel then left the area, but the ibex (or rather the ibex collar) remained at the site. Clearly, Presnel ate our other study subject. (One of the challenges of studying predators and their prey!)
The data we’re gathering provides important information on snow leopard ecology, behavior and demography (like survival, longevity, and reproduction).
Tracking individual snow leopards offers great insight into average litter sizes, frequency of pregnancies and dispersal age. Presnel’s daughter, F13, contributed to a significant milestone in our research. At two years of age, she was one of the first sub-adult snow leopards we documented leaving her mother’s territory. What we have learned and continue to learn from these four generations helps guide our conservation programs and furthers our work to protect this endangered cat.
We hope you get to see the snow leopard scenes in Planet Earth III, Extremes. The beauty and fragility of these resilient cats navigating life on the edge will take your breath away.
Photo credits: BBCA/BBC Studios, SLCF-Mongolia
Our long-term ecological study is in collaboration with Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation in Mongolia with special thanks to the Ministry for Environment and Tourism, Government of Mongolia, and the Mongolian Academy of Sciences for their support.
SLT would also like to acknowledge the following partners for their collaboration in our long-term ecological study:
Acton Family Giving, Bioparc Zoo de Doue la Fontaine, David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation, Idaho Falls Zoo at Tautphaus Park, Kolmarden Zoo, Korkeasaari Zoo, National Geographic Society, Nordens Ark, 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.