Known as the ‘Roof of the World,’ the Pamir Mountains of Tajikistan are situated at the intersection of several of Asia’s greatest mountain ranges, and fittingly may represent some of the richest habitat for ‘Asia’s Mountain Ghost’ – the elusive snow leopard.
Today, as many as 300 of the remaining 3,500-7,000 wild snow leopards are thought to live in the Tajik Pamirs – an area which provides a potentially critical link between the southern and northern regions of the snow leopard’s range, and may serve as a vital genetic corridor for the species.
Given the potential of this region as one of the world’s last snow leopard strongholds, Panthera recently carried out two extensive camera trap surveys in the Pamir Mountains, including one in Tajikistan’s Jartygumbez Istyk River region in collaboration with University of Delaware graduate student Shannon Kachel and the Tajik Academy of Sciences.
While reviewing photos from the survey’s 40 camera traps, our field staff recently uncovered incredible new images of a snow leopard mother and her two cubs, which we have made into a video. In true holiday form, the playful cubs are shown licking and pawing icicles, and attempting to climb a rock. Along with this entertaining footage, also included are stunning images of the snow leopard mother and one of her cubs inspecting the camera trap, their quizzical faces pressed up against the camera lens.
In addition to this special glimpse into the hidden lives of snow leopards, this footage also potentially indicates that a healthy, breeding snow leopard population exists in the Jartygumbez Istyk River region of Tajikistan, within a well-managed trophy hunting concession. These data are particularly positive for the region’s snow leopard population when paired with evidence gathered in the summer of 2011 of snow leopard cubs (stealing a camera trap) in the Zorkul region of Tajikistan’s Pamir Mountains (a collaborative project with Fauna and Flora International), approximately 100 km south of the Jartygumbez Istyk River region.
Currently, our scientists are reviewing all of the camera trap photos from the surveys to assess the size of the region’s snow leopard population and the significance of the Pamirs as a part of the snow leopard’s corridor. In addition, Panthera’s field staff and partners have collected snow leopard scat samples for diet analysis, are conducting surveys to evaluate the abundance of snow leopard prey species and are also assessing the management and impact of local trophy hunting concessions and nature reserves, which target snow leopard prey species.
Panthera’s scientists have identified poaching and unsustainable hunting of snow leopard prey, including ibex and Marco polo sheep, as a major threat to Tajikistan’s snow leopards. To address this issue, our field staff are working with local villagers and a trophy “prey” hunting expert to analyze the infrastructure and training needed to establish a community-based hunting program of prey species. Scheduled to begin in 2013, this program aims to better regulate the current unsustainable hunting of ibex and Marco polo sheep to conserve Tajikistan’s snow leopards, while bringing direct economic benefits to local villagers through tourism operations. Ultimately, if successful, Panthera hopes to use this community-based prey hunting program model to implement similar operations in other Central Asian countries.
Check back with us for updates on the development of this initiative in the New Year.
Learn more about Panthera’s work in Tajikistan, including helping to establish the Tajik Snow Leopard Action Plan, training Tajik biologists and other valuable conservation work.
Read more about this footage featured in the following media outlets: