PPR outbreak in Mongolia a threat to snow leopards       

A recent outbreak of PPR, a viral disease common among ruminants, has killed nearly a quarter of Mongolia’s population of saiga, an endangered antelope species. The disease has the potential to spread to key snow leopard prey species in the area as well.

PPR is a disease that affects small ruminants, both domestic and wild, and can lead to high mortality rates. For rural communities in Mongolia who depend on livestock for food security and income, this is a very urgent threat.

Many rural communities in Mongolia depend on their livestock for food security and income. Photo: Charles Dye

The government has started a large-scale effort to vaccinate livestock across the affected area – but that’s not feasible when it comes to wildlife.

The endangered saiga antelope appears to have been particularly affected, with an estimated 2,500 animals dying in just a few weeks. According to specialists, that’s more than 20% of the local population.

PPR (‘Peste des Petits Ruminants”) is also believed to infect gazelle, ibex, wild Bactrian camels, wild boars and other animals. If those species are infected, it could pose a serious threat to the region’s apex predators, such as wolves and snow leopards.

Ibex in Mongolia
PPR could also affect snow leopard prey species like the ibex. Photo: SLCF Mongolia / Snow Leopard Trust

“Many of the wild ruminants that could be affected are snow leopard prey species. If they perish in large numbers, the snow leopard’s food resources may become critically low. In addition, the capacity of local communities to absorb and tolerate livestock depredation will be limited by this outbreak as well, so we could see more conservation conflicts in the area”, says Bayara Agvaantseren, the Snow Leopard Trust’s Mongolia Program Director.

Along with the Mongolian government, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Mongolia is leading an effort to monitor the PPR outbreak in Khovd and Gobi Altai Provinces. They will mobilize a team of veterinary and wildlife experts who will collect fresh fecal samples and run PPR rapid test to monitor various wildlife populations. They’ll also collect and map data on sick or infected herds and populations to aid with the livestock PPR Vaccination and Eradication National Strategy.

While this isn’t the Snow Leopard Trust’s primary area of expertise, we will assist in this effort as much as possible.

“This is a serious situation not only for snow leopards, but for entire ecosystems as well as for local communities in the affected areas”, says Gustaf Samelius, the Snow Leopard Trust’s Assistant Director of Science. “The efforts by the Mongolian government and the NGOs working on this issue are critically important. We’ll do whatever is in our power to help combat this outbreak, and prevent the disease from spreading further.”

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