Snow leopards on camera in Uzbekistan, first time


This video from India is called Silent Roar: Searching for the Snow Leopard (Nature Documentary).

From Wildlife Extra:

Snow leopards caught on camera in Uzbekistan for the first time

January 2014: Newly obtained camera trap images have provided the very first photographic evidence of snow leopards in the central Asian country of Uzbekistan.

In November and December of 2013, a team of rangers and biologists led by Bakhtiyor Aromov and Yelizaveta Protas, in collaboration with global wild cat conservation organization, Panthera, and WWF Central Asia Programme, conducted a snow leopard camera trap study in the Kizilsu area of Gissar Nature Reserve, on the border of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Images taken through the study have confirmed the presence of at least two individual snow leopards in the region, along with other large predators – lynx and bear – and an abundance of prey animals, including ibex, wild boar, and hare.

Today, the snow leopard is classified as endangered, with as few as 3,500-7,000 individuals remaining in 12 countries across Asia. For years, snow leopards have been reported in this area of Uzbekistan but, until now, their presence has only been confirmed through traditional surveys and very rare visual encounters.

Panthera’s Snow Leopard Programme Executive Director, Dr Tom McCarthy, stated: “It is very exciting to document snow leopards within the Gissar Nature Reserve in Uzbekistan using camera trap technology. Panthera has provided over 300 camera traps through partnerships such as this to better document the range of this elusive and endangered cat of central Asia’s mountains. With an improved understanding of their range and numbers we have a better chance to save them.”

Situated on the western edge of the Pamir mountain range, the Gissar Nature Reserve serves as the largest protected area in Uzbekistan, strictly guarded by border patrols and reserve rangers, with visitors allowed only for scientific research. The reserve protects several species of rare and endangered animals, including the snow leopard, lynx, Himalayan brown bear and otter, which are listed in the Red Book of Uzbekistan and the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species.

Formerly part of the great Silk Road and Soviet Union, the reserve has more recently been home to armed conflicts resulting from the dissolution of the USSR and formation of newly independent states in the 1990s. Fortunately, this strife resulted in even stricter protection for the reserve.

Alexandr Grigoryants, Executive Director of the State Biocontrol Agency of the Republic of Uzbekistan, commented: “The State Biocontrol Agency of the Republic of Uzbekistan is particularly focused on the protection and increasing the numbers of rare and endangered fauna in Uzbekistan. Thanks to the hard work of the reserve employees, and with the active help of state protection officers and international conservation organizations, such as WWF, UNDP, Panthera and others, the population numbers of endangered animals in Uzbekistan will increase.”

The confirmed presence of snow leopards in Uzbekistan, in the westernmost part of the species’ range, and the availability of prey as confirmed through this study’s camera trap images, provides hope for the survival of this endangered wild cat in Uzbekistan and throughout its range.

Rare Pictures: Snow Leopards Caught in Camera Trap. Endangered big cats photographed in northern Pakistan: here.

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Snow leopard news from Nepal


This video is called Full Documentary: Natural World: Snow Leopard – Beyond the Myth.

From the World Wildlife Fund:

Snow leopard successfully collared in Nepal’s Himalayas

18 December 2013

Kathmandu, NepalNepal created new strides in snow leopard conservation with the historic collaring of a snow leopard using satellite GPS technology in Kangchenjunga Conservation Area in the Sacred Himalayan Landscape.

The snow leopard, an adult male approximately five years of age, weighing 40kg and with a body length of 193cm was captured, fitted with a GPS Plus Globalstar collar (Vectronics Aerospace Inc., Germany) and released back into the wild at 10:45am on 25th November 2013.

The collaring expedition that lasted 45 days beginning 7th November was led by the Government of Nepal’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation with the support of WWF, Conservation and Adaptation in Asia’s High Mountain Landscapes and Communities Project funded by USAID, National Trust for Nature Conservation, and Kangchenjunga Conservation Area Management Council/Snow Leopard Conservation Committee-Ghunsa. WWF Nepal provided both financial and technical support for the collaring expedition.

“The snow leopard collaring is indeed a new win for Nepal,” stated Mr. Megh Bahadur Pandey, Director General of the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation. “It reiterates the commitment of the government to strengthen measures to better understand and protect the snow leopard whose survival is under threat from anthropogenic actions and the pervasive impacts of global climate change.”

This is the first time that satellite-GPS technology is being used in snow leopard collaring in Nepal. Prior collaring work on the species used VHF technology in the early 80s and 90s. The collaring expedition also marks the first time that local communities through citizen scientists and Snow Leopard Conservation Committees have been involved and who played a key role in identifying snow leopard hotspots for tracking purposes through ongoing camera trap monitoring operations, participating in the collaring operations, and managing local logistics.

Snow leopards are highly elusive creatures and given the terrains they reside in, monitoring work on the species is a highly challenging task,” stated Dr. Narendra Man Babu Pradhan, Coordinator for Development, Research and Monitoring at WWF Nepal. “While past studies on the snow leopard have been limited to areas that are accessible to people, this technology will help provide important information on the ecology and behavior of the wide ranging snow leopard.”

Through data received from the satellite collar, it will be possible to determine their movement patterns, habitat use and preferences, home ranges to identify critical core habitats and corridors between them, including trans-boundary habitat linkages and climate resilient habitats.

“Nepal’s Himalayas are a rich mosaic of pristine habitat, freshwater and wildlife species including the iconic snow leopard,” stated Mr. Anil Manandhar, Country Representative of WWF Nepal. “The success of the collaring expedition opens up new frontiers in snow leopard conservation as well as new avenues to profile Nepal as a living laboratory to help build on international collaboration in conservation science.”

The existing snow leopard conservation projects in Kangchenjunga Conservation Area include snow leopard monitoring using camera traps and prey-base monitoring with the partnership of local citizen scientists and Snow Leopard Conservation Committees, a population genetic study using fecal DNA, and a livestock insurance scheme built at reducing human-snow leopard conflict.

“The snow leopard conservation program has given the local communities the opportunity to build their own capacities in snow leopard monitoring,” stated Mr. Himali Chungda Sherpa, Chairperson of the Snow Leopard Conservation Committee-Ghunsa. “This is further aiding the overall understanding amongst the local communities on the importance of protecting the species thereby building on our commitment towards snow leopard conservation.”

Did big cats evolve in Tibet?


This video about African lions is called Big Cats Of The Timbavati – National Geographic Wild Documentary.

From the BBC:

13 November 2013, Last updated at 00:19 GMT

Oldest big cat fossil found in Tibet

By James Morgan, Science reporter, BBC News

The oldest big cat fossils ever found – from a previously unknown species “similar to a snow leopard” – have been unearthed in the Himalayas.

The skull fragments of the newly-named Panthera blytheae have been dated between 4.1 and 5.95 million years old.

Their discovery in Tibet supports the theory that big cats evolved in central Asia – not Africa – and spread outward.

The findings by US and Chinese palaeontologists are published in the Royal Society journal Proceedings B.

They used both anatomical and DNA data to determine that the skulls belonged to an extinct big cat, whose territory appears to overlap many of the species we know today.

“This cat is a sister of living snow leopards – it has a broad forehead and a short face. But it’s a little smaller – the size of clouded leopards,” said lead author Dr Jack Tseng of the University of Southern California.

“This ties up a lot of questions we had on how these animals evolved and spread throughout the world.

“Biologists had hypothesised that big cats originated in Asia. But there was a division between the DNA data and the fossil record.”

Surprising find

The so-called “big cats” – the Pantherinae subfamily – includes lions, jaguars, tigers, leopards, snow leopards, and clouded leopards.

DNA evidence suggests they diverged from their cousins the Felinae – which includes cougars, lynxes, and domestic cats – about 6.37 million years ago.

But the earliest fossils previously found were just 3.6 million years old – tooth fragments uncovered at Laetoli in Tanzania, the famous hominin site excavated by Mary Leakey in the 1970s.

The new fossils were dug up on an expedition in 2010 in the remote Zanda Basin in southwestern Tibet, by a team including Dr Tseng and his wife Juan Liu – a fellow palaeontologist.

They found over 100 bones deposited by a river eroding out of a cliff, including the crushed – but largely complete – remains of a big cat skull.

“We were very surprised to find a cat fossil in that basin,” Dr Tseng told BBC News.

“Usually we find antelopes and rhinos, but this site was special. We found multiple carnivores – badgers, weasels and foxes.”

Among the bones were seven skull fragments, belonging to at least three individual cats, including one nearly complete skull.

The fragments were dated using magnetostratigraphy – which relies on historical reversals in the Earth’s magnetic field recorded in layers of rock.

They ranged between 4.10 and 5.95 million years old, the complete skull being around 4.4 million years of age.

“This is a very significant finding – it fills a very wide gap in the fossil record,” said Dr Manabu Sakamoto of the University of Bristol, an expert on Pantherinae evolution.

“The discovery presents strong support for the Asian origin hypothesis for the big cats.

“It gives us a great insight into what early big cats may have looked like and where they may have lived.”

However, Prof William Murphy of Texas A&M University, another expert on the evolutionary relationship of big cats, questioned whether the new species was really a sister of the snow leopard.

“The authors’ claim that this skull is similar to the snow leopard is very weakly supported based on morphological characters alone, and this morphology-based tree is inconsistent with the DNA-based tree of living cats,” he told BBC News.

“It remains equally probable that this fossil is ancestral to the living big cats. More complete skeletons would be beneficial to confirm their findings.”

Dr Tseng and his team plan to return to the fossil site in Tibet next summer to search for more specimens.

See also here.

Good snow leopard news


This video is called THE SNOW LEOPARD – the illegal trade /hidden cameras…www.wildlifefilm.com.

From Wildlife Extra:

Good news for snow leopard

Snow leopard to benefit from new global initiative

November 2013: In a bid to save the snow leopard officials representing 12 central and South Asian countries came together in Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan to endorse a global initiative to conserve critical ecosystems in high-mountain landscapes inhabited by this iconic, endangered cat.

The countries; Republic of Afghanistan, the Kingdom of Bhutan, the People’s Republic of China, the Republic of India, the Republic of Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Mongolia, Nepal, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, the Russian Federation, the Republic of Tajikistan, and the Republic of Uzbekistan, worked with international and non-governmental environmental and conservation organizations, including the Snow Leopard Conservancy.

“I deeply appreciate the fact that our initiative to organize a Global Snow Leopard Forum in Bishkek was supported by the range countries as well as by international and non-governmental environmental organizations. By endorsing Bishkek Declaration on Snow Leopard Conservation and the Global Snow Leopard Ecosystem Recovery Program range countries are committing to scaling up joint snow leopard conservation efforts,” said Almazbek Atambayev, President of the Kyrgyz [Republic]. “If we do not take decisive measures to protect the snow leopard today, we will forever loose this priceless animal, a true gift of nature. I am confident that together we will be able to achieve the goal we set – to protect our beautiful nature and the symbol of our mountains, the snow leopard.”

The agreement is called the Bishkek Declaration and the 12 countries promise a multifaceted approach that will include engaging local communities in conservation, promote sustainable livelihoods and address human-wildlife conflict; combating poaching and illegal trade networks, seeking to manage habitats on a landscape level, working with industry and enterprises that operate in snow leopard habitats and establishing a core secretariat to coordinate conservation activities, monitor program implementation, and mobilize financial resources for the program.

It is hoped that by 2020 they would have identified and secured at least 20 healthy landscapes of snow leopards across the cat’s range.

Buddhist monks protect endangered snow leopards


This video is called Full Documentary Natural World: Snow Leopard – Beyond the Myth.

From msnNOW:

Researchers find Buddhist monks protecting endangered snow leopards

7 September 2013

There aren’t many snow leopards left in Asia. Between 3,500 and 7,000 live high in the mountains there, with about 60 percent in China. Largely because their thick, warm fur is desired by humans and their organs are considered valuable in Chinese medicine, snow leopards have seen their numbers decline by 20 percent in the last 20 years.

Research published in the journal Conservation Biology last week suggests that more snow leopards are being protected in the Tibetan Plateau, where there are Buddhist monasteries, than in the nature reserve set aside for the cats. The monks patrol the area and prevent poachers from killing the animals. In addition, the monks are teaching the local people that killing snow leopards is wrong. “Buddhism has as a basic tenet, the love, respect, and compassion for all living beings,” George Schaller, a biologist with the endangered-cat conservation group Panthera, said in a statement.

See also here.

Snow leopard on camera in Kyrgyzstan


This video is called (1/6) Snow Leopard of Pakistan – Beyond the Myth.

From BirdLife:

First snow leopard caught on NABU camera in Kyrgyzstan

Tue, Sep 3, 2013

A stately snow leopard has been caught on one of the 18 cameras recently set up by NABU (BirdLife in Germany) in the Tian Shan mountains, in Kyrgyzstan, one of the species’ last refuges. Nobody knows exactly how many of these endangered cats still live in the wilderness, but experts estimate that there are about 4,080 to 6,590 snow leopards that roam across an enormous area of 2 million square kilometres in Central Asia.

In the mid-1980s, between 1,200 and 1,400 animals still lived in Kyrgyzstan, at that time a large part of the world’s snow leopard population. Today, however, there are only approximately 200 to 300.“Even though there are laws to protect the snow leopard, many animals still fall victim to poachers”, NABU vice-president Thomas Tennhardt said. NABU has been committed to the protection of snow leopards in Kyrgyzstan since the early 1990s. “The cameras will help us observe snow leopards in the wild and to track the animals. In the long run, this will allow us to provide a more precise estimate of their overall population size”, Tennhardt explained.

Sharing knowledge and strengthening the conservation of the snow leopard will play a central role during the first Global Snow Leopard Forum in October. Initiated by NABU, this international conference will hopefully contribute to saving the species from extinction. At the invitation of Kyrgyz president Almasbek Atambajew, representatives of all twelve states to which the snow leopard is native, will come together for the first time. “The aim is to exchange experiences in the protection of snow leopards and to agree on an international, binding conservation plan”, Tennhardt said.

For more information: please contact Boris Tichomirow, Head of Central Asia programs at NABU.

Snow leopard and snow goose research


This video is called Help save the Snow Leopards! Help The Snow Leopard Trust!

From the StarPhoenix in the USA:

From geese to snow leopards, scientist tracks wildlife

By Bob Florence

April 1, 2013

Gustaf Samelius saw a cat – a big cat.

Samelius was in southern Mongolia last November. His trip into the Tost Mountains near the border with China took two days, the ground covered by a skiff of snow.

Vultures flew above him in the mountains one day. He used binoculars to look at a shadowy image near a creek in the valley. He saw a dead horse. Next to the horse was a mountain ghost – a snow leopard.

“They’re majestic,” Samelius said. “They’re mystic.”

Samelius is an assistant science director with Snow Leopard Trust, an international group that protects the cats. A native of Sweden, he has a masters and PhD in biology from the University of Saskatchewan.

He joined Snow Leopard Trust last October. A month later he saw a snow leopard for the first time, going to the South Gobi in Mongolia to help Sweden’s Orjan Johansson do field work. Johansson has collared 19 snow leopards since 2008, tracking leopards by GPS radio signals for PhD research. Johansson finds out where the cats travel in the mountains, the size of their territorial range, their interaction with people and livestock.

Much about snow leopards is still being learned. What is known is their tail is like an extension cord. A metre long, the tail gives the cat balance on narrow mountain ridges and around loose rock. Snow leopards usually hunt at dawn and dusk. They eat Siberian ibex and blue sheep and partridge. In some areas they eat livestock. Instead of roaring, snow leopards make a puffing sound called a chuff. They can jump the length of a Greyhound bus.

After Johansson collared a young male early last spring he posted a message on his blog.

“Now we are eagerly waiting for the females,” Johansson said. “Pretty much the same as a lot of other guys on a Friday evening.”

The head office for Snow Leopard Trust is in Seattle. Samelius’s base is a wildlife research station in the forest of Riddarhyttan, Sweden, two hours west of Stockholm. His job with the trust is to promote and develop its conservation program. He travels. The trust has teams in Mongolia, China, India, Pakistan and Kyrgyzstan. The five countries are home to about three-quarters of the estimated 4,000 snow leopards in the world.

“People in the mountains don’t have a problem with snow leopards per se, but they don’t want to lose their livestock,” Samelius said. “My driving principle is let’s not forget the local people. Collaborate. Keep the local people involved. All the people with the trust in Mongolia are from Mongolia. The same goes for the other countries we work in.”

Because herders in remote mountain areas make less than $2 a day, the trust has a three-point plan to help them and to protect snow leopards. Vaccinating livestock reduces the number of animals lost to disease. Insurance pays herders for livestock killed by snow leopards and discourages poaching. The trust buys crafts made by the families, selling camel wool hats and felt rugs and embroidered slippers on its website.

After visiting Mongolia last fall, Samelius plans to return in June.

When Samelius first arrived at the University of Saskatchewan in 1991, he thought he would be here for a year. It became 13 years. Ray Alisauskas, a research scientist in Saskatoon who is a PhD adviser, landed Samelius a technician’s job with the Canadian Wildlife Service. Samelius went to the tundra in Canada’s high north for a combination of work and school.

Nicknamed Goose, he studied snow geese on Egg River at Banks Island in the Northwest Territories. In Nunavut he tracked and caught Arctic fox at Karrak Lake south of the Arctic Ocean. He started each day by listening to Led Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love. To bait fox traps he used sardines.

“A friend said if I ever write a memoir, call it Another Can of Sardines,” Samelius said.

“We gave ID numbers to each fox, but it’s easier to remember them by name. In the evening we’d sit around and talk about different names. Foxes could have rabies, so we always made sure to put welding gloves on. One time I had a young American guy with me. I said I would hand a fox to him. The fox pinched me hard. When I took my hand out of the glove my thumb was covered with blood. I’m thinking this is not good. I soon realized (the bite) didn’t go through the glove, which was good. We called the fox Captain Insaneo.

“Kangowan was a male I caught at his den in May. One of his eyes was all infected. Cloudy. Puffy. Next spring we caught him again. His socket was empty. I don’t know if the eye fell out or what. He was a tough bugger.”

Samelius enjoys adventure. When he was younger he read Robinson Crusoe, following his older sister Lotta’s interest in reading. He has studied wolverines and lynx. Last weekend he went orienteering, using a compass and map to travel by foot.

“I am a curious person,” he said. “I want to learn. I want to grow.”

Bring on the snow leopard.

Unique Indian snow leopard photo


The snow leopard photographed with its kill in Kugti Wildlife Sanctuary. Photo credit Wildlife Trust of India

From Wildlife Extra:

Snow leopard photographed in India’s Kugti Wildlife Sanctuary for the first time

Snow leopard study in India

January 2013. The Wildlife Trust of India have recently published the first photographic proof that snow leopard inhabit Kugti Wildlife Sanctuary in India’s Himachal Pradesh region.

Very little specific information exists on the snow leopard distribution and population in India. Rough estimates put the population at 400-600 along the Himalayan region in India, and about 4080 – 6590 across the world (12 countries where it is found).

The snow leopard in Kugti WLS was sighted dragging its kill (a young ibex) by researchers – Neeraj Mahar and Sajid Idrisi, during a WTI survey in 2010 to help the Forest Department prepare an inventory of the area’s wildlife. It was recorded at an altitude of 3376 metres.

Permanent or temporary residents?

“While this opportunistic sighting by our team established snow leopard presence in Kugti, it raised a number of questions. Is Kugti WLS and nearby protected areas a snow leopard habitat? Or do they follow the prey to lower altitudes during winter, possibly from Lahaul or other nearby areas? This can only be verified with further focused studies,” said Dr Rahul Kaul, Chief Ecologist, Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), one of the authors of the recent study.

Five states, three in the western Himalayan region – Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Uttarakhand, and two in the north-eastern region – Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim, are known to host snow leopards in India.

Snow leopard habitat

Snow leopards inhabit the non-forested zone above the tree line – around 3,200 metres in the western Himalayas and around 4,200 metres in the eastern Himalayas, going over the Greater Himalayan crest into the Trans Himalayan region,” explained Dr Yash Veer Bhatnagar of the Snow Leopard Trust and Nature Conservation Foundation, adding that the common leopards are ‘replaced’ by snow leopards in these areas.

“However, there is not yet any concrete range distribution map for the species in India. While there is some developing information about snow leopard from the Trans Himalaya, information from the southern face of the Himalaya is very scarce. Such information thus becomes even more useful,” he added.

A recently-published paper has recommended further studies to help generate baseline information for conservation of this endangered species.

The snow leopard is listed in Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, and is classified as ‘endangered’ by the IUCN Red List. Yet, as other carnivores in India, it is threatened due to conflicts with people, retaliatory attacks, prey depletion due to competition with livestock and hunting, poaching, and unplanned development in their habitat.