Wide open landscapes, remote wide steppes and craggy magical mountains are home to snow leopards in Mongolia.
Katey Duffey has an M.A. in Zoology from Miami University and her research interests are in carnivore ecology and mitigating human-carnivore conflicts.
This article is about her work in Otgontenger Strictly Protected Area (SPA), Zavkhan province of Western Mongolia, in the Khangai Mountains. The area encompasses 1,000 square kilometres and is best known for the country’s most sacred mountain, Otgon Tenger Uul. The mountain is the only peak in the Khangai range that is capped with a permanent glacier and since the introduction of Buddhism, traditional Mongolian beliefs surround the deities that inhabit this and other of Mongolia’s mountains.
Mongolia has the second largest snow leopard population of all range countries after China. It is estimated there may be around 700-1300 snow leopards in the country. The species is threatened by retaliation killing by herders who have lost livestock to the cat, as well as habitat loss and in some areas, mining development.
Kate’s partners in this work are the Mongolian Academy of Sciences and Irbis (snow leopard) Mongolia Centre, Snow Leopard Conservancy and senior biologist, Dr. Bariushaa Munkhtsog.
She reports on the first ever data collected in Otgontenger and surrounding areas from mid-June-mid-July of 2014.
The team gathered data including scat samples, recording scratch marks and location of urine spray as well as photographs from remote camera traps.
They also interviewed local herders on livestock losses and their attitudes towards snow leopards when they threaten their precious sheep and goats. Surprisingly Kate says, many herders admitted, “The snow leopards have just as much right to the land as the people. It is the people’s responsibility to take better care of their animals.”
It’s so wonderful to hear people say things like this, when often they are suffering economically due to a snow leopard’s prey on their animals.
You can read this fascinating article – Understanding a Culture to Protect an Iconic Predator in Zoomorphic Magazine, May 2015.