Snow Leopard Selfies Matter

We’ll let you in on a little secret, when our field teams upload a new batch of camera trap photos to our dropbox, we’re like little kids opening a present. We can’t wait to see what our research cameras captured. These snow leopard ‘selfies’ collected by our scientists and rangers are essential to our conservation work. They tell us so much about snow leopard populations, behavior, ecology and habitat use and help inform global conservation efforts. Bonus - they’re also really beautiful. Meet the cats of Nemegt in our latest update from the field.

The Nemegt Mountains in Southern Mongolia lie in the Gobi-Gurvansaikhan National Park, part of our focal South Gobi snow leopard landscape. Nemegt is one of the “mountain islands” dotting the Gobi Desert that serves as critical habitat for snow leopards and other wildlife. We have monitored these mountains since 2008, adding camera surveys for the last decade, and have found the area to be home to a stable population of resident snow leopards.

In our 2020 and 2021 surveys, 37 cameras were placed along the valleys, saddles, ridgelines and canyons in Nemegt, covering an area of more than 1100km2. Our team from Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation, Gobi-Gurvansaikhan National Park and the community rangers from Tost Mountains set up the cameras.

We are excited to share the preliminary results after reviewing all photos collected from both years. Our cameras recorded a total of 110 and 123 capture events of snow leopards, where one “capture” is a single visit by a snow leopard to the camera. This is the highest camera capture rate we have recorded in the Nemegt Mountains.

We identified 13 resident adult snow leopards on cameras, including seven females and six to seven males. Incredibly, every resident female observed in 2019 was detected again in 2020 or 2021. Three of these females have been detected in Nemegt since 2013 (when they were each seen with new cubs), suggesting that they are now at least 13 years old in 2022. Of the males we observed in 2019, all but one were observed in these recent surveys. 

In addition to the residents we have observed year after year, we detected up to five “floater” adults in the area. These individuals, traveling alone and recorded for the first time in Nemegt, are either transients or recently dispersed young snow leopards who have left their mothers and are looking to establish a territory of their own. Fascinatingly, we recorded three subadult snow leopards in Nemegt who had dispersed from Tost mountains. Nemegt and Tost (both “mountain islands”) are separated by about a 40km stretch of steppes. These were offspring born to Dagina, Willian and Aka. Another adult, Loko, was observed in Nemegt on June 28 and then again in Tost on October 1. These observations further show how important the desert steppe between Tost and Nemegt is as a corridor for dispersal of snow leopards.

Our cameras also captured a male and female together in June 2021. “Spotless” and “New Family” likely only met briefly, as this timing is outside of  the mating season of snow leopards.

The Males of Nemegt

We identified 6-7 male residents between 2020-2021. Of note, we detected the tailless snow leopard we first observed in 2019 six times in 2020 and five times in 2021. Despite missing its tail, this cat seems to be doing fine.

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The Females of Nemegt

We identified seven females in our 2020-2021 surveys, including all previous Nemegt residents. The timing of these surveys coincided with the denning season for pregnant females. This means the number of observations may be reduced because females are known to decrease their ranges during this time. For example, one female, Chimbaa, was not observed in 2020 but was seen again in 2021. We do not consider females as dead or dispersed unless they have gone undetected for two consecutive years.

We are thrilled to report that three resident females appeared pregnant during the early months of the 2021 survey – Nimka, Snake and ‘A’. The female called Snake was confirmed pregnant during a May 24 photo encounter. On August 3, the camera caught her traveling with a new ‘baby Snake’ snow leopard cub. 

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These year-over-year surveys are crucial to our conservation efforts and provide a greater understanding of snow leopards and their needs in the wild. Consistent tracking of individual snow leopards helps decode their behaviors and interactions with their habitat so we can make data-driven conservation decisions. 


This Long-Term Ecological Study is conducted in collaboration with Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation in Mongolia and Snow Leopard Trust, with special thanks to the Ministry for Environment and Green Development, Government of Mongolia, and the Mongolian Academy of Sciences for their support.

SLT would also like to acknowledge: Acton Family Giving, Bioparc Zoo de Doue la Fontaine, David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation, Idaho Falls Zoo at Tautphaus Park, Kolmarden Zoo, Korkeasaari Zoo, Nordens Ark, Play for Nature, Tierpark Berlin, The Big Cat Sanctuary/Wildlife Heritage Foundation, Tulsa Zoo, Whitley Fund for Nature, Zoo Basel, Zoo Dresden, and Zoo New England.

Special thanks to Enkhburen (Buren) Nyam, Choidogjamts “Choidog” Byambasuren, Pujii Lkhagvajav, Justine Shanti Alexander, and the Gurvansaikhan National Park rangers for all their work in implementing the camera trap research and painstakingly identifying these individual snow leopards!

Thank you to all the many committed partners who have supported our research in Mongolia along with our Long-term Ecological Study since it began in 2008. We could not do this work without you.

8 Comments

  1. Thank you to all who work so hard for the beautiful leopards and all of nature in this part of the world. We will never see a snow leopard, but you bring us close and we are so grateful that your work keeps the leopards safer and they are bringing new babies into this special part of the world.

  2. Thank you for these lovely pictures. I am curious about the name ‘no spot’ mum? She looks like she has plenty of spots to me! Also, another leopard called ‘spotless’ – the same or different? Thank you

    1. Hi Juliet, the names aren’t always perfect descriptors but just meant to help distinguish individuals. The names might be humorous or made sense to our scientists at the moment, and many cats are identified by a unique spot pattern that is easily recognizable, but perhaps this individual didn’t have any immediately recognizable pattern. Spotless and No Spot are different and unrelated cats.

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