Tibetan monks partner with conservationists to protect the snow leopard
by Jeremy Hance
Tibetan monks could be the key to safeguarding the snow leopard (Panthera uncia) from extinction, according to an innovative program by big cat NGO Panthera which is partnering with Buddhist monasteries deep in leopard territory. Listed as Endangered by the IUCN Red List, snow leopard populations have dropped by a fifth in the last 16 years or so. Large, beautiful, and almost never-seen, snow leopards are the apex predators of the high plateaus and mountains of central Asia, but their survival like so many big predators is in jeopardy.
Tom McCarthy the head of the Snow Leopard Program at Panthera told mongabay.com that the high-altitude predators are facing three major threats: poaching for illegal snow leopard skins, fur, and parts; decline in natural prey; and revenge killing by locals over livestock losses.
“Snow leopards share their mountain habitat with poor herding families whose lives are highly dependent on livestock,” McCarthy says. “When a snow leopard kills a sheep, goat, yak or even a young camel, it is a huge economic loss to the herder. It is hard to blame them for wanting to kill the snow leopard in retaliation.”…
(read more: MongaBay) (photo: Steve Winter/National Geo)
Cats on the Brink - Endangered Felids: Snow Leopard
by Jaymi Heimbuch
This iconic cat lives in the unbelievably cold habitats of alpine and subalpine areas Central Asia and is rarely ever seen in the wild based in part because of its elusive nature and in part because there are so few left in the world. The estimated population of this endangered species is somewhere between 4,000 and 6,5000 individuals…
In this photograph taken by a WWF remote camera trap, a rare snow leopard is pictured in the Kangchenjunga conservation area, east of the Nepalese capital Kathmandu. An innovative insurance plan for yak and other livestock is deterring herders from killing snow leopards that attack their animals, conservationists say, giving hope for the species’ survival.
(via: Guardian UK) (Photo: Wwf Nepal/AFP/Getty Images)
Yak Insurance Plan Helping to Save Nepal’s Snow Leopards
by Frankie Taggart
The remorse felt by Himali Chungda Sherpa after he killed three snow leopard cubs in retaliation for his lost cattle inspired him to set up a scheme to prevent other herders from doing the same.
Sherpa lost his cattle near Ghunsa village at the base of Mount Kangchenjunga on the Nepal-India border, later finding their remains in a cave beside three sleeping snow leopard cubs. The Nepalese herder put the cubs in a sack and threw them into the river, finding their bodies the next day.
“From that night onwards the mother snow leopard started crying from the mountain for her cubs, and my cattle were crying for the loss of their calves. “I realised how big a sin I had committed and promised myself that I would never do such a thing in the future.”
Four years ago Sherpa, 48, founded with other locals an insurance plan for livestock that conservationists say is deterring herders from killing snow leopards that attack their animals. In doing so the scheme has given hope for the endangered cat, whose numbers across the mountains of 12 countries in south and central Asia are thought to have declined by 20 percent over the past 16 years…
Snow leopards don’t invite scientists along on their solitary hunts. So the usual ways to find out what the endangered Asian cats eat are to ask the local people, find the animals’ kill sites, or analyze the little presents they leave behind - i.e. collecting snow leopard poop and examining the bits of hair, bone, and teeth that pass through their guts. But a lot of hairs look alike, and scientists have a hard time figuring out if they’re looking at scat from a snow leopard or from another local predator.
So a group of researchers tried out a new method in the mountains of southern Mongolia: analyzing DNA in 88 fecal samples. Each sample had remains of only one species of prey, the team reports today in PloS One, and there were only five different prey animals: Siberian ibex, by far the most common; the endangered argali sheep; domestic goat; domestic sheep; and, in one sample, a chukar partridge. Wild animals made up 79% of the prey, which is more than other studies have found—and good news for local livestock owners.
Snow leopards are one of the most elusive cats on Earth. Not only is the species endangered, but it is notoriously shy, and much about where snow leopards live in the wild remains mysterious.
So researchers got a big surprise when a set of 11 camera traps installed in a lonely corner of Tajikistan revealed at least five snow leopards were living in the region, including a mother with two young cubs.
Over the three-month study period, the cameras snapped pictures of a parade of creatures — mountain ibex, Marco Polo sheep (the largest in the world), a rare mountain weasel, a variety of birds and the family of snow leopards…
To traverse rocky slopes and survive in cold mountain climes—even at altitudes as high as 18,000 feet—snow leopards are well equipped. Long hair with thick underfur, wide, well-padded paws, and a big chest and strong lungs keep these cats running up where the air gets thin.
These rare, beautiful gray leopards live in the mountains of Central Asia. They are insulated by thick hair, and their wide, fur-covered feet act as natural snowshoes. Snow leopards have powerful legs and are tremendous leapers, able to jump as far as 50 feet (15 meters). They use their long tails for balance and as blankets to cover sensitive body parts against the severe mountain chill.
Snow leopards prey upon the blue sheep (bharal) of Tibet and the Himalaya, as well as the mountain ibex found over most of the rest of their range. Though these powerful predators can kill animals three times their weight, they also eat smaller fare, such as marmots, hares, and game birds.
One Indian snow leopard, protected and observed in a national park, is reported to have consumed five blue sheep, nine Tibetan woolly hares, twenty-five marmots, five domestic goats, one domestic sheep, and fifteen birds in a single year…