No Signs of Spring: Frozen Traps Slow Down Study

Less than a week ago, field scientist Örjan Johansson and his team managed to equip a new snow leopard with a GPS collar – the 20th cat we’ll be able to track in our long-term snow leopard study in Mongolia’s South Gobi. Since then, the team have struggled with snow, fog and solid ice, as Örjan reports from base camp.

By Örjan Johansson

After our initial success of capturing and collaring a new male snow leopard just four days after we started building traps, things have been rather slow here.

Devekh - the last cat to wear a GPS collar in Mongolia, photographed in 2014
Devekh – the last cat to wear a GPS collar in Mongolia, photographed in 2014

There has been a lot of snow leopard activity in the area, but we haven’t been able to capture and collar another cat. We got hit by a snow storm two days after we’d caught the male, and when the snow finally stopped falling, it was replaced by a thick fog. The snow melted a little; but in the evening it got really cold, rendering our traps frozen solid.

Örjan examining a wild snow leopard right before releasing the cat back into the wild
Örjan examining a wild snow leopard right before releasing the cat back into the wild

In the days it took for the ground to thaw out, we had cats passing by in three of the canyons where we have set up snares. I stepped on one of the traps myself to test it, but it didn’t open, even though I weigh quite a bit more than a snow leopard. For all we know, the cats could have been step-dancing on the traps and they still wouldn’t have worked…

Well, we have hammered away all the ice and frozen gravel from them and replaced it with dry gravel to conceal them again. It took quite some time to gather dry pebbles and I sure hope no one saw us crawling around on the ground and collecting pebbles in bags. Oh, the joy of finding a good spot with nice, dry pebbles of the right size, it’s not possible to comprehend before you have experienced the disappointment of seeing tracks of the elusive snow leopards walking right over your frozen traps.

On a more serious note, I heard today that the central parts of Mongolia were hit much harder by the snow and that they got about half a meter in a short time. There were at least 20 herders still missing, I hope that they are safe.

That’s all for now. I’m leaving for Sweden in five days. This is the shortest trip to the Gobi I’ve done so far, but family and data analysis are waiting for me at home.


The long-term study is a joint project of the Snow Leopard Trust and Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation in cooperation with the Mongolia Ministry of Nature, Environment and Tourism, and the Mongolia Academy of Sciences.

It’s made possible through the support of:

Cat Life Foundation
Columbus Zoo and Aquarium
Kolmarden Zoo
Nordens Ark
Swedish University of Agricultural Science
Whitley Fund for Nature
David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation
South Lakes Wild Animal Park
Phoenix Zoo
Helsinki Zoo
Safari Club International Foundation
Dakota Zoo
Snow Leopard Trust UK
Edrington Group & Edrington Americas
Tulsa Zoo
La Passerelle/Parc Animalier d’Auvergne


    1. we should have been a little more precise here, sorry… to equip a snow leopard with a GPS collar, we need to first catch it. This happens with snares that are hidden in spots where our researchers expect the cats to show up. When they step onto the snare, they’re temporarily trapped, and a signal alerts our team. They immediately go to that location, tranquilize the cat, equip it with its collar and a vet examines the snow leopard before it’s released back into the wild. This whole process is quick and as unintrusive as possible. The word “trap” obviously has ugly connotations, but we’re not talking about anything like the gruesome contraptions poachers use. Matt, SLT Communications Officer

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