In the autumn of last year, our team of international and Mongolian conservationists collared two new snow leopards in Mongolia – Sym (M21) and an as-yet-unnamed male (M22). This means we are currently tracking four cats, the two others being Presnel (F15) since fall 2022 and Suul3 (M20) since spring 2023.
Tracking these cats in the Tost Mountains of South Gobi gives invaluable insight into the lives of snow leopards, such as the size of their home ranges and the type of terrain they prefer. The collars are programmed to fall off, typically in 20 months, and our teams then go and recover them for downloading data and refurbishing. This valuable information helps inform where and how we enact conservation programs to protect this endangered species. The GPS data provides a window into the little-known aspects of the lives of snow leopards and allows us to make basic inferences about them.
So, what have these snow leopards been up to? The map below shows the general movements over time for the cats, with each dot being a GPS data point. Over time, this gives us an idea of their home ranges and where they spend most of their time.
Presnel’s GPS movements suggest she is hunting one large prey about every three days – though we are still trying to make a more exact calculation. This would be a much higher rate than an average adult snow leopard, even when taking into account that a female with cubs would need to hunt more frequently. Amongst the prey she killed, two individuals were known to us – both of the female ibexes that our team had collared last fall. Presnel’s cubs seen below were born in 2022 and may have separated from their mother by now. We’ll monitor our cameras closely to see if Presnel has a new litter of cubs this year.
Suul3 (M20) was seen on camera traps for multiple years before our team collared him. While it may not be obvious from the map, he has a fairly small home range compared to an average male. This may be because he is squeezed between the home ranges of two other males and has not had the opportunity to expand. Our scientists note that he seems to have a couple of favorite spots, notably a very interesting pass-through cave (photo below) and a mountaintop near a herder’s camp.
Sym (M21) is a big male we have seen on cameras a number of times. Camera trap photos suggested he had established a sizable home range last year. However, when our team collared him in the spring he had lost an eye and had noticeable scars on his face, likely in confrontations with other males. He has since shifted to the west and now roams without a concentrated range. It’s possible he is no longer able to effectively defend a territory, and the map above suggests he is now floating across multiple other cats’ ranges.
M22 is also floating around the western edges of this mountain range and overlaps considerably with Sym. This male has so far evaded our cameras, so he is likely young and still establishing himself. Both he and Sym noticeably do not overlap with other nearby males Kurzawa and The Dude, suggesting that both are still around and defending their territories. You may have noticed the dark blue dot outliers on the map above – at some point in the fall, M22 wandered onto the steppe to the north, returning to the mountains the following night. We can’t know for sure why he made the journey to the steppe – perhaps curiosity got the best of him.
These collared individuals are part of a long-term ecological study spanning multiple animals and species. This comprehensive research aims to understand the whole ecosystem in the study area, from the snow leopard at the top of the food chain down to its prey, both wild and domestic, and the interactions between people and the environment. This crucial information helps us better understand these species and the threats they face enabling us to inform global conservation efforts to protect them and foster coexistence.
Please consider a gift today to help protect and better understand the endangered snow leopard.
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, the 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 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.