Where Are the Snow Leopards?

Scientists publish results from massive snow leopard survey in Mongolia

Snow Leopard Trust
Media Contact: Beth Stewart
+1 (206) 632-2421
beth@snowleopard.org

PRESS RELEASE

Seattle, WA/Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia | October 14, 2021

In an unprecedented study led by Mongolian scientists and supported by several international experts, including International Snow Leopard Trust, the snow leopard distribution range across Mongolia has been estimated using reliable and replicable methods that address the fact that snow leopards are elusive and difficult to detect. The study covered nearly half a million square kilometers and estimated that only 5% of Mongolia’s landmass has a high probability of being used by snow leopards, followed by 8% and 14% as moderately high and moderately low. The resulting distribution map of snow leopards in Mongolia will help the government make informed decisions for conservation prioritization and infrastructure development across the country. The Altai Mountain range and Eastern Soyon Mountain ranges were identified as strongholds of snow leopard populations, suggesting these habitats must be protected at all costs.

It is believed there are only between 3,500-7,000 wild snow leopards in the world dispersed across 12 countries. Mongolia is home to the world’s second-largest snow leopard population after China. However, reliable snow leopard estimates are difficult to come by and most estimates are, at best, guesstimates. In 2017, the Bishkek Declaration endorsed by the governments of 12 snow leopard range countries expressed serious concerns about the continuing gaps in knowledge about snow leopard population and distribution. This publication marks one of the first major outputs of the ambitious initiative, Population Assessment of the World’s Snow Leopards (PAWS). It sets the standards for national and international collaborations between various entities such as governments, NGOs, universities, and other research organizations for assessment and monitoring of a wide range of biodiversity, in addition to snow leopards.

“This is a remarkable study, both in terms of the scale of coverage and the results it has produced. By identifying hotspots, connectivity and expanse of the snow leopard distribution across Mongolia, it empowers the government with unprecedented information for decision-making to ensure economic development without risking the conservation of snow leopards and their unique habitats.” –  Koustubh Sharma, International Coordinator, Global Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Protection Program (GSLEP) and Assistant Director of Conservation Policy and Partnerships, Snow Leopard Trust (SLT)

The data presented here on snow leopard signs were collected over a period of five months by 12 teams represented by over 210 field personnel. The teams traversed 19,923 km of transects, of which 6,794 km (roughly the distance from the capital to the western-most border of Genghis Khan’s empire) were covered on foot. The study highlights possible biases in other distribution maps of snow leopards in Mongolia developed using expert opinion and presence-only datasets. Reliable and replicable assessment of species distributions using probabilistic frameworks such as the one presented in this paper is important for conservation planning, infrastructure development prioritization, and evidence-based policy decision-making.

Read the study here: Mapping the Ghost

ADDITIONAL QUOTES:

Bayarjargal A., Director, Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation-Mongolia: This first-ever primary survey of snow leopards covering half a million square kilometers of potential snow leopard habitat in Mongolia provides valuable insights into how the snow leopard is distributed across the country. The knowledge generated here can be invaluable for prioritizing areas for conservation amidst persistent pressure for infrastructure development and mining.

Koustubh Sharma, International Coordinator, Global Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Protection Program (GSLEP) and Assistant Director of Conservation Policy and Partnerships, Snow Leopard Trust (SLT): This is a remarkable study, both in terms of the scale of coverage and the results it has produced. By identifying hotspots, connectivity and expanse of the snow leopard distribution across Mongolia, it empowers the government with unprecedented information for decision-making to ensure economic development without risking the conservation of snow leopards and their unique habitats.

Chimeddorj Buyanaa, Conservation Director, WWF-Mongolia:  The results of the nationwide snow leopard population assessment, initiated by WWF-Mongolia, serve as a key driver for advancing conservation management practices of the species and its prey against the current and future development perspectives. Most importantly these assessment results continue to feed improved public awareness on more detailed and trustful information of the species’ presence, indeed.

Darryl Mackenzie, Proteus & member, PAWS Technical and Scientific Advisory Panel, GSLEP: To successfully conduct a scientifically rigorous survey to assess snow leopard distribution, across such a massive landscape, is truly an outstanding effort. It highlights what is achievable with good systematic planning and coordination between multiple organisations.

Purevjav Lkhagvajav, Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation’s Research and Monitoring Manager: “This is the first study to assess the distribution of the snow leopard over such a large area of the world – providing important evidence for regional conservation work. A huge thank you to everyone who participated in this survey and made it possible. Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation (SLCF) led the work in the South Gobi landscape and in 2018 we conducted range-wide occupancy surveys over a 67,000 km2  area of the South Gobi. This was done thanks to the support of rangers and environmental specialists on the ground that conducted km and km of sign surveys.”

Contact

Koustubh Sharma, PhD
Assistant Director- Conservation Policy and Partnerships, Snow Leopard Trust
Tel: +996 705 218 116
Whatsapp/Signal: +91 987 1144 991
Email: koustubh@snowleopard.org

Gantulga Bayandonoi, PhD
Senior Species Officer
WWF-Mongolia
Tel: +976 11 311659
Whatsapp: +976 88504995
Email: Gantulga@wwf.mn

About Snow Leopard Trust:

Snow Leopard Trust, a 501c-3 Seattle-based non-profit organization, is the recognized world leader in snow leopard research and conservation, with operations throughout Central and South Asia. The mission of Snow Leopard Trust is to protect the threatened snow leopard and its mountain ecosystem through community-based conservation, rigorous science, global landscape protection and conservation education.

About WWF Mongolia:

WWF-Mongolia is one of  the most experienced non-profit conservation organizations in Mongolia implementing conservation programmes in Altai Sayan and Amur Heilong Ecoregions. The organization’s vision is that “Mongolia is a safe home for wildlife and a place where present and future generations enjoy a high quality of life, living in harmony with nature”. WWF Mongolia is working towards science-based conservation of freshwater ecosystems, asian flyways, boreal and patch ecosystems, grassland steppes, ungulate migrations, snow leopards and Mongolian saiga.

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