Snow Leopard on the Move

Research cameras reveal a snow leopard’s long-distance travels in Mongolia.

“I know this cat!” thought Choidogjamts “Choidog” Byambasuren, a scientist from Snow Leopard Trust’s Mongolia NGO partner, Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation (SLCF), as he sat painstakingly analyzing the snow leopard camera images from South Gobi’s Tost Mountains recently. “The fur pattern is familiar. But, where have I seen it before?”

Each cat has a unique spot pattern but the meticulous task of identifying individual snow leopards from the many research camera images is highly-skilled work. Our long-term goal for using the GPS camera data is to understand snow leopard population numbers and dynamics over space and time.

“Rando!” That was it! A cat from the Tost region that Choidog had identified and ‘named’ while analyzing images from neighboring Noyon Mountains earlier this year. The images revealed that Rando had been in Noyon in January and in Tost in May! He had traveled 86 kilometers as the crow flies crossing the relatively flat, desert steppe between the two mountainous regions, avoiding mining operations along the way.

Rando in Noyon (January 2021)
Rando in Noyon (January 2021)

Since 2008, the Snow Leopard Trust and SLCF have been conducting a long-term study of snow leopards in South Gobi mountains using both GPS-collaring and research cameras to study the cats.

Rando in Tost (May 2021)
Rando in Tost (May 2021)

With GPS data we follow snow leopard movements at a detailed level, tracking a collared cat’s location several times a day. The collars provide groundbreaking information on home range sizes and dispersal, interactions between individuals and even den site locations.

The research cameras, although stationary, also allow us to follow snow leopards movements. As individual cats pass in front of the cameras, we fit the information together over time and estimate snow leopard numbers in different regions.

According to Gustaf Samelius, Assistant Director of Science, “Choidog’s finding adds vital information on how snow leopards are moving between South Gobi mountains. Such movements are important for the exchange of animals and genetic material between these regions.”

We can’t wait to see where Rando shows up next.

This long-term ecological study is in collaboration with Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation in Mongolia and Snow Leopard Trust. Special thanks to all our zoos for supporting our ability to make our conservation and research efforts possible. Thank you to the following zoos for specifically supporting LTES this past year: La Passerelle/Parc Animalier d’Auvergne, Zoo Basel, Kolmårdens Djurpark AB, Tierpark Berlin, Korkeasaari Zoo, Zoo Dresden, Tallinn Zoo, Tulsa Zoo, Big Cat Sanctuary, Bioparc Zoo Doue, Zoo at Tautphaus Park, Northumberland Country Zoo, Zoo New England, Dakota Zoo.


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