A second major milestone has just been achieved related to the Population Assessment of the World’s Snow Leopards. PAWS is an initiative of the Snow Leopard Trust being conducted under the umbrella of the Global Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Protection Program (GSLEP). Last month, the result of the assessment of the snow leopard population for the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh was announced. This week, a preliminary estimate for the entirety of Mongolia has become available, marking an important milestone for conservationists and governments aiming to produce a robust estimate of the global population of snow leopards.
In 2018, the Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation (SLCF), SLT’s Mongolia partner, started a collaboration with WWF-Mongolia, the Ministry of Nature, Environment and Tourism and other organizations to conduct a country-wide assessment of the snow leopard distribution range and abundance. The team first conducted surveys by interviewing local people and looking for snow leopard signs to produce an updated map of snow leopard distribution in Mongolia. These maps took into account uncertainty in detecting snow leopard occurrence, helping make earlier maps more robust. The snow leopard range was categorized into three strata, defined by their high, medium or low probability of occurrence. This allowed for a proportionate layout of camera traps across Mongolia’s various snow leopard habitats. In total, more than two dozen camera trapping sessions were conducted using nearly 1,500 camera traps. These generated more than 1,300 total snow leopard encounters, of which over 250 could be identified as unique individuals.
For 13 years SLCF has spearheaded a long-term ecological study of snow leopards in the Tost Mountains of South Gobi. For the more recent country-wide surveys, our staff played a critical role in helping design the study, and analyze and interpret the data. Additionally, they were responsible for the fieldwork in the South Gobi snow leopard landscape, which covers an estimated 82,000 km2. SLCF staff also played an important role conducting the nation-wide occupancy survey in partnership with WWF-Mongolia to assess the distribution of snow leopards. It is noteworthy that our team has been conducting long-term monitoring of snow leopard abundance in 21 sites, including three protected areas and two low density snow leopard habitats.
The preliminary result of the latest collaborative PAWS effort indicates an estimated population of 953 snow leopards in Mongolia, with associated statistical confidence intervals (95%) of 806 to 1,127. Although these are preliminary results, conservationists are excited to see the results of the PAWS effort begin to trickle in.
“Mongolia holds the second largest snow leopard population in the world and plays an important role in global conservation efforts. The conservation of snow leopards in Mongolia depends upon timely information on the species distribution and abundance,” says Bayarjargal Agvaansteren, Director of the SLT’s Mongolia Program.
“This assessment represents the fruit of joint effort by National Park specialists, rangers, Mongolian NGOs, government agencies, academic institutions, and international partnerships including GSLEP and the Snow Leopard Trust. Our teams on the ground in Mongolia supported the effort in designing, surveying and analyzing data from nearly half a million square kilometers to develop a sophisticated distribution map of snow leopards across the species’ potential range,” shares Pujii, Scientific officer for the Mongolia Program.
“It is heartening to witness the leadership shown by Mongolia in becoming one of the first few countries to have initiated the implementation of a country-wide snow leopard distribution and population assessment using methods compliant to the PAWS guidelines,” Koustubh Sharma, International Coordinator, GSLEP.
“The GSLEP PAWS team is thrilled to be part of this collaborative effort. We hope that this report helps illustrate the PAWS guidelines in practice and assists other range country teams and PAWS efforts in the near future,” Justine Shanti Alexander, Regional Ecologist at SLT.
SLCF and the PAWS teams underscore that these are preliminary estimates.
The survey was a collaborative effort between the Ministry of Nature and Environment, Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation, WWF Mongolia, the National University of Mongolia, Mongolian Academy of Science and other partners making up the national PAWS team in Mongolia.
So, 30 some years later George Schaller’s estimate of 1,000 snow leopards in Mongolia is still valid!