Rare Female Snow Leopard Sends Signals to Help Save the Species
Second-Ever Snow Leopard Collared by Panthera in Kyrgyzstan Suggests Growth in Region Where Species Was Once Nearly Eliminated
May 23, 2016
NEW YORK, NY — The second-ever collaring of a female snow leopard in Kyrgyzstan by Panthera and a team of international scientists suggests improved conservation conditions are allowing for the species’ growth in a region where it was nearly eliminated several decades ago due to excessive poaching.
Panthera, the global wild cat conservation organization, the State Agency on Environment Protection and Forestry, and the National Academy of Sciences operate the snow leopard conservation project responsible for the collaring on May 8 (Mother’s Day), carried out in the Sarychat-Ertash Strict Nature Reserve of Eastern Kyrgyzstan.
A positive sign for the growth of the region’s snow leopards, the female snow leopard showed evidence of prior lactation, suggesting she had previously given birth to at least one cub. The first collared female was photographed with three large cubs in late 2015 by Snow Leopard Foundation-Kyrgyzstan and Snow Leopard Trust. These findings suggest that regional conservation efforts are working: snow leopards are protected enough to breed and have access to the prey needed to raise cubs to maturity.
Dr. Tom McCarthy, Executive Director of Panthera’s Snow Leopard Program, shared, “It is so exciting to have two young productive females collared early in this study. It is a clear indication that Sarychat-Ertash, a place where snow leopards were nearly extirpated in the 1990's, is once again a stronghold for the species. Kyrgyzstan can be very proud of this turnaround.”
Snow leopards like this female collared through the Kyrgyzstan study are providing a legacy of knowledge informing the conservation of the country’s populations and the species overall. Each cat’s movements are monitored using satellite tracking to determine how much land and prey are required to support a healthy population, what factors facilitate reproduction and more. In just six months, the investigation of 45 kill sites of the first collared snow leopard has suggested a female with a dependent cub needs a source of prey every three to four days. These efforts are led by principal investigator Shannon Kachel of the University of Washington.
Abdikalik Rustamov, State Agency for Environmental Protection and Forestry of the Kyrgyz Republic Director, said, "This current research is important for the conservation of snow leopards. Through collaring, we learn of snow leopards’ migration corridors, food preferences and threats to their survival.”
Today, scientists believe that between 4,500 and 10,000 adult snow leopards remain in the wild. The Central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan serves as a potentially critical corridor for snow leopards moving between their northern and southern range and into neighboring China, where more than half of the world’s endangered snow leopards are found.
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 scientists critical insight into their behavior and ecology. The snow leopard is listed as “Endangered” on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.
Muhtar Musaev, Sarychat-Ertash Strict Nature Reserve Director, shared, “For the second time Panthera researchers have collared a snow leopard. This means that in our territory the snow leopard population is growing, translating to positive change for the region and the species."
Panthera’s Snow Leopard Program in Kyrgyzstan
Panthera began working in Kyrgyzstan in 2014 with the establishment of three community-based conservancies in the Alai Valley. Community-based conservancies empower local people by utilizing their traditional knowledge of their lands to manage the region’s natural resources in a sustainable manner. With training from Panthera, conservancy members monitor snow leopard and prey populations through camera trapping and surveys. Panthera is also working with the Kyrgyz Customs Service in the training and deployment of wildlife detection dogs.
The Kyrgyzstan program is made possible with the support of Muhtar Musaev, Director of Sarychat-Ertash Reserve, Almaz Musaev, Director, Department of Sustainable Use of Natural Resources, Ruslan Akulov, Director of the Department of Protected Areas of the State Agency, Snow Leopard Foundation-Kyrgyzstan, the Snow Leopard Trust, and the Global Snow Leopard & Ecosystem Protection Plan (GSLEP) Program Secretariat. The recent collaring was carried out with technical veterinary assistance from the Wildlife Conservation Society.
Panthera, founded in 2006, is devoted exclusively to preserving wild cats and their critical role in the world’s ecosystems. Panthera’s team of leading biologists, law enforcement experts and wild cat advocates develop innovative strategies based on the best available science to protect cheetahs, jaguars, leopards, lions, pumas, snow leopards and tigers and their vast landscapes. In 50 countries around the world, Panthera works with a wide variety of stakeholders to reduce or eliminate the most pressing threats to wild cats—securing their future, and ours.