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.
- Watch an Extremely Rare Snow Leopard Get Nosy with a Camera (motherboard.vice.com)
- Snow Leopards…Ghosts of the Mountains (primortus.wordpress.com)
- In Search Of The Snow Leopard – An Extreme Adventure (forbes.com)
- Watch: Rare Snow Leopard Is Caught on Camera in China (news.softpedia.com)
- Friday felid final: Snow leopard in the wild, and mom rescues tree-bound kitten (whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com)