As they do every year, Snow Leopard Trust scientists recently headed back to Mongolia’s Tost Mountains to attempt to collar snow leopards as part of our ongoing long-term ecological study of this endangered species and its habitat. Each time they head out, we cross our fingers. Collaring a snow leopard is not an easy feat. Even though Dr. Örjan Johansson has led remarkable efforts to safely collar and release more snow leopards than anyone else on Earth, there’s no guarantee they will catch one each time. Yet just one day after they arrived at our research camp, we received the following email from Örjan.
“The trapping area looks good with plenty of scrapes and scent marks, despite a herd of domestic goats coming through the site every day. The goats tend to destroy the scrapes, so there ought to be a lot of cat activity here since so many are intact.
We carried the trap surveillance system up the mountain in the early evening and had some issues with a cable – most likely, it got damaged in the thunderstorm last autumn without us noticing. We lose connection with the listening station now and then. While working on this (as in taking turns going up and down the mountain and fiddling with the system), our neighbor visited. Ghanaa is the same herder who named our 8th-collared snow leopard, Khashaa, after his only daughter back in 2009.
While Gustaf was up at the mountain, Ghanaa and I looked at photos as the system came back alive and cycled through all the traps. I explained as best I could how it worked. We have a test transmitter in camp and I pulled the magnet from it, which started the siren and the display read ‘Alarm Camp.’ Ghanaa seemed impressed. Two minutes later, the siren started again. This time the display said ‘Central 2 Alarm’. Ghanaa got super excited, saying it must be a snow leopard because his goats had smelled a cat up in the mountains in that direction earlier that day. I was more skeptical. It seemed a bit too good to be true. We hadn’t had time to check the capture gear, mix drugs, load darts, etc. Or had dinner for that matter. We were in a bit of a panic, trying to organize everything. Mixing the drugs involves exact measurements of tens of milliliters. I’ve never done that before in the company of an excited herder shouting, “Hurry up! Snow leopard! You’re too slow!”
The capture itself went quite smoothly. We collared a new male. He is probably 6-8 years old. His teeth were quite worn. He looked big and weighed 41 kg with an empty stomach. He had four puncture wounds above his eyes and his forehead was bald. It looked like battle scars from mating season a month ago, most likely injuries from claws that got infected. They looked as if they were healing fine, though. We will hopefully be able to confirm who this cat is using our camera trap photos.”
Not too long after this email came in from Orjan, our Senior Conservation Scientist, Dr. Justine Shanti Alexander, responded, “I can confirm that this cat is indeed one of our resident males in Tost that we have been observing since 2020 (pictured above). We detected him four times in 2020, ten times in 2021, and nine times in 2022, each year observed near the east valley in the center of Tost. He has a pattern that looks like three dots on his tail which is why he was nicknamed Suul3, which means ‘three tails’ in Mongolian.
We’re excited to follow this new snow leopard for the next 20 months to see what he will reveal about the secret lives of snow leopards. These collared cats are part of the longest-running, most comprehensive snow leopard study in the world involving multiple animals and species over many years. (note: each animal only wears a collar for up to 20 months at a time) The data we’re gathering provides vital information on ecology, behavior and demography (like survival, longevity, and reproduction) of the cats.
Thanks to your support, we have tracked a total of 35 individual snow leopards with GPS collars to date. This knowledge is crucial for our understanding of their ecology and helps inform global snow leopard conservation efforts.
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This long-term ecological study is in collaboration with Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation in Mongolia and Snow Leopard Trust with special thanks to the Ministry of Nature, Environment and Tourism, 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, John Ball Zoo, 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, Zoo New England and the many incredible partners who have supported programs like our Long-term Ecological Study and research in Mongolia since it began in 2008. We could not do this work without you.
Thank you to all the many incredible partners who have supported our Long-term Ecological Study and research in Mongolia since it began in 2008. We could not do this work without you.