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Numbers and populations

Snow leopard in Altai Sayan region of Mongolia. (Photo WWF.)

Snow leopard in Altai Sayan region of Mongolia. (Photo WWF.)

Snow leopard populations survive in a number of mountain areas – the Mongolian Altai and Gobi Altai, the Harhiraa, Han Hohey and Turgen mountains of the north-west, lower mountains in the Trans-Altai Gobi and the southern end of the Sayan mountains around Lake Hovsgol. Snow leopard range is estimated at 103,000 km2 and the population at 1000 animals. (See studies in Snow Leopard Survival Strategy.)

The highest densities are said to occur in the South Gobi, Central Transaltai Gobi, and Northern Altai, with remnant populations in Khangai and possibly Khovsgol. Surveys indicate that snow leopards cross 20-65 km of open steppe in traveling between isolated massifs.

20% of Mongolia’s snow leopard range is in ten types of Protected Areas such as  national parks, nature reserves, national conservation parks and special protected areas.

Snow leopard prey in Mongolia

Wild ungulates like argali (a type of sheep) and Siberian ibex (a type of goat) are the main prey for snow leopards in Mongolia. Both these species are themselves also under threat so it is often not clear if enough prey exists to sustain snow leopard populations.

Threats to snow leopards in Mongolia

Oyu Tolgoi mine in Mongolia's South Gobi region . (Photo Jonathan Watts / The Guardian.)

Oyu Tolgoi mine in Mongolia’s South Gobi region . (Photo Jonathan Watts / The Guardian.)

As in other range countries the threats facing snow leopard populations include- conflict over livestock depredation, poaching for fur and bones, retaliation killings and loss of prey species as humans overhunt ibex, argali, marmots and other animals the snow leopard depends on. Traditionally snow leopard pelts have been used as decorative wall mountings in Mongolia although this is now less evident since it is illegal. During the 10 years of 1993-2002 Mongolian customs authorities confiscated snow leopard 67 skins.

Secondary killing of snow leopards (‘by-catch’) also occurs as when snares set out for other animals like wolves catch snow leopard instead. In South Gobi in Mongolia, a radio-collared snow leopard was captured and killed by a herder in a snare supposedly set out for is wolves.

Metal and wire snares, often used to catch wolves and other animals, can cause injury and death to snow leopards.

Metal and wire snares, often used to catch wolves and other animals, can cause injury and death to snow leopards.

Mongolia is one of the snow leopard countries rich in minerals, natural gas and oil. Mining infrastructure, building of roads and other large scale developments often have huge environmental impacts.

Mongolia already has mining, road and dam building projects being introduced into snow leopard habitat like the South Gobi and faces the possibility of much more such development over the coming years. Already this development is bringing other associated indirect threats to snow leopards, such as landscape disturbance and incoming workers poaching snow leopard prey (wild sheep and wild goats). (Sources.)

Snow Leopard Conservation Actions

Mongolia is a partner in the Global Snow Leopard and Eco-system Protection Program (GSLEP). Mongolia has signed the Bishkek Declaration and agreed to work together with the other 11 range countries to identify and secure at least 20 snow leopard landscapes across the cat’s range by 2020 or, in short – “Secure 20 by 2020.”

Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation (SLCF).

Thw SLCF was founded in Mongolia in 2007 and it is the key Non-Government Organisation (NGO) dedicated to conservation of snow leopard and it’s habitat in Mongolia. Working across seven provinces in Mongolia, the SLCF manages grassroots conservation programs, research, educational outreach and political advocacy.

Snow Leopard Trust / Panthera. The Snow Leopard Trust (SLT) has been conducting research and conservation in Mongolia since 1992. The SLT partners with the Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation (SLCF).  In early 2008 the SLT, with Panthera, began a ten year program in co-operation with the Mongolian government and several other conservation groups. To date they have captured and radio collared 20 snow leopards and are following their movements and collecting data on range and predation.

SLT and Panthera study a wild snow leopard den for first time ever in Mongolia 2012. (Photo SLT/Panthera).

SLT and Panthera study a wild snow leopard den for first time ever in Mongolia 2012. (Photo SLT/Panthera).

Using technology like GPS collars and remote camera traps, SLT scientists have been able to observe Tost’s snow leopard population and gather new and unique data. In 2013 the team was the first ever to locate a mother snow leopard with wild cubs in a den which offered them a unique and ground breaking opportunity to gather data on two wild cubs. Another first for this team was the collaring of a female snow leopard and one of its sub-adult offspring. Being able to monitor the movement of mother and cub meant the team gathered information on when and how the maternal bond is broken and the young cat becomes independent.

See SLT video of the wild den with mother and cubs.

The project has been able to track and photograph 20 snow leopards over a period of many years and found that the cats migrate huge distances over mountains and across steppes. All of this information helped convince Mongolian authorities to grant parts of Tost “Local Protected Area” status and thus preserve this area of snow leopard habitat for future cat populations.

Mongolia was chosen for the new study because it has some 1,000 snow leopards in the wild, the second largest population after China, and hosts existing conservation programs involving more than 400 herder families in the remote Altai mountains in the far west of the country.

Sainbileg from Snow Leopard enterprises in Mongolia. Photo courtesy of SLT.

Sainbileg from Snow Leopard enterprises in Mongolia. Photo courtesy of SLT.

The SLT also runs Snow Leopard Enterprises, a Community Conservation Program, supporting villagers in the making of beautiful hand made rugs using the wool from their own livestock. When herder communities join Snow Leopard Enterprises, they sign “Conservation Contracts” in which they agree to protect snow leopards and key wild prey species from poaching or retribution killing. In return the products like  rugs and other items are sold through the Trust and all the money goes back to the women and their communities, providing money for food, medicine and education. Where people have an alternative source of income it is less likely they need to kill snow leopards either to sell illegally or in retaliation for livestock killings.

WWF Mongolia. WWF has had many snow leopard programs in Mongolia since the 1990’s. These include research programs trying to establish snow leopard numbers, programs setting up antipoaching units and snow leopard educational programs for rural people.

WWF Mongolia developed a program where teachers are introduced to education for sustainable development. A national network of teams has been created in all the provinces in Mongolia and these teams provide expertise and experience in how to increase environmental awareness to school teachers in their areas so they in turn can teach children to be more environmentally aware.

As part of the the Conservation and Adaptation in Asia’s High Mountain Landscapes and Communities (AHM) project, established in 2012 and funded by US Aid, WWF Mongolia trains local local herders and equips them to collect basic snow leopard data on the remote mountains they call home. The herders are trained to conduct snow leopard sign and prey species surveys, and to use automated camera traps for monitoring snow leopards. They use technology like camera traps which are left in the fields for months at a time. In theose communitities where local herders are now getting income from this work and support to protect their livestock they now protect the cats and are no longer engaging in hunting snow leopards. The more of these programs can be implemented across snow leopard range in Mongolia the more local communities will improve their livelihoods and snow leopards will be protected in return.

Snow Leopard Conservancy.

Snow leopard GPS collar Mongolia

Dr. Rodney Jackson and Dr. B. Munkhtsog with sedated snow leopard. (Photo SLC)

The Snow Leopard Conservancy (SLC)  has been involved in conservation work in Mongolia since 2007. SLC partners with Dr. B. Munkhtsog, Director of the NGO Irbis Mongolia and Senior Scientist with the Mongolian Academy of Sciences. Since then Director of the SLC Dr. Rodney Jackson, along with Dr. Jan Janecka of Texas A&M University has trained Mongolian biologists in camera trapping and noninvasive genotyping of scats (using technology to learn from snow leopard feces).

In September, 2008, a team including Rodney Jackson, Dr. B Munkhtsog, Duggin Wroe, mountain lion and jaguar tracker and trapper, and a volunteer veterinarian experienced in wildlife immobilisation, captured an adult male snow leopard in Mongolia and fitted him with a satellite collar. The team named the cat “Togoldor”, which means very great, amazing, incredible. The snow leopard’s GPS collar sent data about “Tolgoldor’s” movements to the SLC, enabling them to learn he was the resident dominat male in the area and that he made a large kill every 10-21 days.

The SLC also partners with the women-run Mongolian NGO Nomadic Nature Conservation (NNC) in community education programs which bring science and environmental teachings based on local and indigenous stories and beliefs to schools and communities into rural Mongolia.

See more news about snow leopards in Mongolia.