Recently, our scientists in Mongolia alerted us that they had successfully collared a male snow leopard known from our research cameras as M19 or Kurzawa. He weighed in at 47 kg – making him the second-biggest (measured) snow leopard in Tost! We’ve tracked Kurzawa on our cameras since 2016. Currently, he dominates a large territory in the northernmost mountains and he’s definitely not camera shy. Last year our cameras photographed him on 32 separate occasions! This is the most any male snow leopard has ever been “recaptured on camera” in Tost. We believe him to be about nine years old but it’s difficult to be more precise than that. Read more about Kurzawa here.
Each season our scientists head out with a set number of collaring permits and a strategy for where they will focus their efforts. Figuring out exactly where to place the collaring traps is a complicated mix of science, craft, and thinking like a cat. Even though our senior scientist, Dr. Orjan Johannson, has collared more wild snow leopards than anyone else in the world, this is a very difficult task. So, after the excitement of Kurzawa we were elated to receive Orjan’s email (below) from our basecamp in Tost:
“Couple of nights ago the alarm went off at 03:07am, we hurried out of bed, grabbed all our equipment and went to the trap site where we found an eight-year old female. Her name in the camera database is Presnel. We have followed her since 2014 when she was born. She resides just east of her mother’s home range. Her mother is perhaps known to you – Dagina (F8).”
“We started following Presnel’s grandmother Agnes (F7) in 2012 and two years ago we collared Presnel’s daughter F13. This means that we have now collared four generations of females in this family. They have taught us so much about snow leopard reproduction and home ranges, and continue to do so.”
And the good news didn’t stop there:
“Presnel is caring for a litter of cubs born this summer, this is her third litter. She weighed in at 35 kg. We are excited to be able to follow her and continue learning from her.”
An important goal of our long-term ecological study in Tost is to better understand the reproductive patterns of snow leopards. Tracking four generations of one family has provided us great insight into average litter sizes, frequency of pregnancies and dispersal age. One of the first sub-adult snow leopards we were able to document leaving her mother’s territory, was Presnel’s daughter, F13, at two years of age. Even now, Dagina, Presnel and F13 maintain home ranges close to one another. What we have learned from four generations of this snow leopard family helps guide our conservation programs and furthers our work to protect this endangered cat. Read more about Dagina and her lineage here.
In addition to two new collared snow leopards, our scientists have also successfully collared three adult ibexes. We hope to track the six-year-old male, the 10-12 year-old female and another 10-11 year old female over the next several months. Tracking a main prey species such as ibex can help us better understand how predator and prey influence each other’s movements and habitat use.
However, tracking a prey animal does come with some challenges as Orjan notes:
“The cats haven’t really collaborated much on our ibex study. In 2018 as we arrived at one of our regular trap sites and were just about to start building the trap, we noticed a big snow leopard scat, more or less where the trap should go, and something purple in the scat. Upon inspection, we realized it was one of our ibex ear tags. Not only had the cat killed our ibex, it also swallowed the ear tag and pooped it out on our trap site.”
We’ll keep our fingers crossed for the ibex. Regardless, this season has already shaped up to be most fruitful and will continue to yield valuable insights into the ecology and behavior of these endangered cats and their prey.
This long-term ecological study is in collaboration with Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation in Mongolia with special thanks to the Ministry for 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, 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
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.