New York, NY – An international team of researchers studying snow leopards in Kyrgyzstan, led by Panthera, have succeeded in placing a satellite collar on a female snow leopard - a first for the Republic and a milestone for snow leopard conservation. The project is a collaboration between Panthera, the global wild cat conservation organization, and a number of Kyrgyz state agencies and research institutions, including: the National Center for Mountain Regions Development (NCMRD) and its Kaiberen project, the State Agency on Environment Protection and Forestry (SAEF), and the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), as well as Shinshu University of Japan and the University of Washington in Seattle.
Speaking at a press conference in Bishkek last week, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry highlighted this international collaboration that resulted in Kyrgyzstan’s first snow leopard collaring, and which is strengthening diplomacy between the United States and the Kyrgyz Republic.
The snow leopard, which is estimated to be between six and seven years old, was located in the Sarychat-Ertash Strict Nature Reserve in the Issyk-kul Province of Eastern Kyrgyzstan, near the border with China.
The collaboration is made possible through the support of Muhtar Musaev, Director of Sarychat-Ertash Reserve, Almaz Musaev, Director, Department of Sustainable Use of Natural Resources, Ruslan Akulov, Director of Department of Protected Areas of the State Agency, Snow Leopard Trust and Snow Leopard Foundation-Kyrgyzstan and the Global Snow Leopard & Ecosystem Protection Plan (GSLEP) Program Secretariat.
Thomas McCarthy, Executive Director of Panthera’s Snow Leopard Program, said, “The understanding we gain on snow leopard life history and conservation needs from such collaring studies is available from only a small fraction of their vast range. Once again, Kyrgyzstan is taking the lead by hosting this ground-breaking study in the Tien Shan range which will shed light on snow leopard ecology in Central Asia, a key portion of snow leopard habitat.”
Sabir Atadjanov, Director of SAEF stated, “I am pleased to see that Kyrgyzstan is at the forefront of snow leopard research and conservation efforts. Through this long-term ecological study, we will learn critical knowledge on the ecology of snow leopards that will inform important conservation measures of the species and the ecosystem it lives in.”
Askar Davletbakov, Chief Scientist, NAS, said, “This project confirms the commitment of the Kyrgyz government to snow leopard conservation in the face of so many threats the snow leopards are confronted with.”
Data gathered through GPS collaring is critical to shaping conservation initiatives the team is conducting in the region.
"Each and every snow leopard we collar gives us invaluable new insights into the conservation of the entire species as well as the high mountain habitats they need to survive,” said Shannon Kachel, Principal Investigator and University of Washington’s School of Environmental and Forest Sciences (Seattle, WA) PhD student. “GPS collars give us an intimate view of the world as snow leopards see it. Each collared animal teaches us new lessons about how snow leopards interact with their habitat and prey, with one another, and with us—lessons which ultimately help us protect this beautiful and elusive species and the landscapes that it depends on."
The project team includes: principal investigator Shannon Kachel, Tatjana Rosen Michel, Director of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan Snow Leopard Programs for Panthera, Ric Berlinski, Senior Staff Veterinarian at the Toledo Zoo in Toledo, OH, and Bishkek Humanities University student, Rahim Kulenbekov.
The snow leopard is one of the most enigmatic and least understood of the big cats. Today, scientists believe that between 4,500 and 10,000 adult snow leopards remain in the wild; their exact number is relatively unknown given they are extremely elusive and challenging to survey. The species is very rarely seen, even by local people, but technologies such as radio collaring and camera-trapping, as well as the collection of fecal samples for DNA analysis, and ungulate prey surveys, provide researchers critical insight into their behavior. The snow leopard is listed as “Endangered” on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.
Panthera’s Snow Leopard Program in the Kyrgyz Republic
Panthera began working in the Kyrgyz Republic in 2014 in the framework of the Kaiberen project with the establishment of three community-based conservancies in the Alai Valley of the Osh Province. Community-based conservancies aim to empower local people by utilizing their important traditional knowledge of their lands to manage their natural resources in a sustainable manner. With training from Panthera staff, conservancy members are learning to monitor snow leopard and prey populations through camera trapping and surveys.
Panthera is also establishing an anti-poaching network through these conservancies to discourage poaching and provide a metric for anthropogenic threats to the cat in this region, among other innovative strategies to conserve snow leopards.
Panthera, founded in 2006, is devoted exclusively to the conservation of wild cats and their landscapes, which sustain people and biodiversity. Panthera’s team of preeminent cat biologists develop and implement science-based conservation strategies for tigers, lions, jaguars, snow leopards, leopards, pumas and cheetahs. Representing the most comprehensive effort of its kind, Panthera works in partnership with NGOs, scientific institutions, communities, corporations and governments to create effective, replicable models that are saving wild cats around the globe. Visit Panthera.org