24 Jan

An Unexpected Camera Trap Thief in Tajikistan (Caught on Camera!)


It’s no secret that big cats, just like their distant cousin, the domestic house cat, are characteristically curious, particularly when it comes to Panthera’s camera traps. Wild cats and other wildlife are naturally intrigued (and sometimes even spooked) when they pass through camera traps’ infrared sensors and trigger flashes of light, or spot the glowing, red light emitted by some of Panthera’s camera trap models. Most of the time, these cats react by taking a closer, quizzical look at the camera traps, and sometimes they sniff, paw and even ‘mark’ or spray Panthera’s camera traps to identify their territories.

As shown in the photos and videos below, this is especially true of snow leopards and other wildlife living in the Zorkul region of Tajikistan’s Pamir Mountains, where Panthera, lead by Snow Leopard Program Executive Director, Dr. Tom McCarthy, is carrying out a camera trap survey with Fauna and Flora International (FFI) to learn more about the conservation status and activities of snow leopards and their prey in this region. In fact, as many as 300 of the remaining 3,500-7,000 wild snow leopards are thought to live in Tajikistan’s Pamir Mountains, which provide a potentially critical link between the southern and northern regions of snow leopard range and may serve as a vital corridor for genetic interchange.

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While recently retrieving stored digital images from 11 camera traps set up last July throughout this area, Panthera’s snow leopard biologist, Nosirsho "Nosir" Kimatshoev, however, was shocked to find that one of the study’s camera traps had been stolen. (Typically, camera trap thefts occur in Latin America and Asia where jaguars and tigers live in very close proximity to human populations in warm climates; these thefts rarely occur in the much more sparsely populated range of the snow leopard.)

Luckily, Panthera and FFI’s scientists had set up two camera traps at this location to capture photographs of the spot patterns on each side of passing snow leopards, and identify individual cats by these unique patterns. While reviewing film from the second camera trap, Nosir discovered a photograph revealing that the culprit was a sneaky snow leopard cub! As far as we know, this is the first documented incident of a snow leopard stealing a camera trap (and he or she has now been added to Panthera’s Most Wanted List)!

Although this study has lost one camera trap, the good news is that in just two months the Panthera-FFI survey photographed four or five snow leopards (including two cubs) living in one valley system, potentially indicating a healthy, breeding snow leopard population in the Zorkul region of Tajikistan’s Pamir Mountains. Furthermore, Panthera’s scientists were pleased to find several photos of snow leopard prey species, including Marco Polo sheep and ibex. Threat assessment surveys conducted in May of 2010 revealed that a decline in snow leopard prey populations due to illegal poaching and poorly managed trophy hunting was significantly threatening snow leopard populations in the Pamir Mountains.

Be sure to check back with us for updates on this project and the whereabouts of the missing camera trap.

Camera Trap Videos and Photos

Video of snow leopard stealing camera trap.

Media Coverage


  • Learn more about Panthera’s snow leopard conservation work in Tajikistan, including the development of Tajikistan’s National Snow Leopard Action Plan in partnership with Tajikistan’s Academy of Sciences.
  • Sponsor a Camera Trap: A minimum gift of $1,000 provides you with first hand access to the images captured by one of Panthera’s camera traps.
  • See more camera trap videos of curious cats caught on camera.
  • Trekking with Tom: Follow in Panthera’s Snow Leopard Program Executive Director, Dr. Tom McCarthy’s, footsteps as he travels through Tajikistan’s Pamir Mountains and India’s Himalayas in search of the elusive “mountain ghost” and embarks on conservation strategies Panthera must employ to protect this rare and endangered species.