Mongol is free!

Mongol was released on Saturday March 19 at the site of his capture in Sayano-Shushensky Zapovednik, on the shore of the reservoir.

Despite assertions by Putin’s press office to the contrary just hours earlier, the Prime Minister dropped in to visit Mongol at his enclosure in Khakassiya.

In total, Mongol was held captive for almost 7 days, including two helicopter transfers in a small wooden crate. During his captivity, he was sedated at least 3 times. From the footage available on the internet (see links below), it is clear that he was quite stressed at times. There is footage of him throwing himself against the metal enclosure and with fresh blood on his nose and snout, probably from hitting his head against the metal cage.

Media coverage of Mongol’s captivity often referred back to Putin’s past involvement in the capture and satellite-tracking of other rare wildlife, including a polar bear (held captive for several days before Putin arrived on the scene), a Siberian tiger, and a beluga whale. Severtsov Institute scientists claim that Mongol had wounds requiring treatment, although the media cites sources close to the events as saying that there were no signs of any wounds requiring such extended and invasive treatment in any photographs or film footage that they saw.

The Severtsov Institute and Prime Minister Putin’s office report that the first satellite data was received upon Mongol’s release and also stated that visitors to the PM’s website could view Mongol’s movements there. Despite those statements, no further evidence of the snow leopard’s movements have been made public. Is the satellite collar operating as planned?

Video links:
http://www.gazeta.ru/social/2011/03/21/3560933.shtml
http://kp.ru/daily/25654/817727/
http://eco.rian.ru/ecovideo/20110320/355999402.html

Here is a translation of a Gazeta.ru article published on March 21.

He saw Putin

The snow leopard that spent almost a week in a cage in Khakassiya awaiting a visit from Putin has been returned to freedom. Officially, it was announced that the rare animal needed to be moved two times by helicopter between two regions in order to house it in a large enclosure and treat wounds it received in fights with other snow leopards. Sources in Sayano-Shushensky Zapovednik say that the animal could have been wounded during its transportation to Khakassiya. During his visit, Putin was satisfied by the snow leopard’s condition and called the animal “a generalized image” of Russia.

Following its meeting with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Mongol the snow leopard was released, having spent several days in a cage. The animal was again transported by helicopter from Khakassky Zapovednik to Sayano-Shushensky Zapovednik, an event that occurred almost immediately after Putin saw the snow leopard. Federal channels showed footage of Mongol wearing his GLONASS satellite-tracking collar and jumping out of the crate, disappearing into the zapovednik’s landscape. According to official sources, the first data of the snow leopard’s movements have already been received.

In a few days, visitors will be able to observe Mongol’s movements on the federal government’s website.

According to Gazeta.ru’s environmental conservation sources in the Altai-Sayan ecoregion, organizers from the “On the trail of the snow leopard” event during which Putin viewed the animal had planned that the Prime Minister would personally release Mongol. The source reported that it was for this exact reason that the snow leopard was moved by helicopter from Sayano-Shushensky Zapovednik to Khakassiya. Ecologists go on to assert that special permission must be obtained in order to transport Red Book-listed animals, and that without that permit, the capture would be considered illegal. But after ecologists sounded the alarm, demanding that the snow leopard not be released anywhere other than his own natural environment, let alone in a completely different zapovednik, the organizers began to retreat from their original plan. Putin did not release the animal, but he did personally see the enclosure in which he was being held.

On Saturday, the Severtsov Institute for Ecology and Evolution Problem’s snow leopard conservation program officially announced that the snow leopard was moved to Khakassiya for treatment and that by no means was it to meet with the Prime Minister.

“The captured animal had scarring from a poacher’s snare on his neck and inflamed wounds on his face (above the left eye and on the cheekbone) and on his shoulders,” the Institute reported. The Institute believes that the animal could have been wounded in fights with other leopards. The injuries noted in the announcement were earlier recorded using camera traps installed in the zapovednik. The Russian Environmental Oversight Agency (RosPrirodNadzor)’s Krasnoyarsk Kray office told Gazeta.ru that the Institute received permission to transport the snow leopard to Khakassiya. RosPrirodNadzor’s administration said that the request was sent on March 14. The application indicated the transportation was necessary in order to “hold the animal in a larger enclosure” not available in Sayano-Shushensky Zapovednik. Following receipt of the required permit on March 15, the animal was moved to a base camp in Khakassiya and placed in “a 4m x 4m x 2m (high) enclosure containing a wooden shelter.”

Khakassiya’s Information Agency (“Vladimir Putin met a snow leopard in the accompaniment of Viktor Zimin, head of Khakassiya”) did not mention to Gazeta.ru the transport of the animal from Krasnoyarsk Krai. Sources in the Republic government did say that the facilities at Krasnoyarsk Krai biosphere reserve base were “on an order of magnitude fewer” than those of Khakassky Zapovednik and that that could explain the matter.

Khakassky Zapovednik staff declined to explain why the animal was captured in Krasnoyarsk Krai and brought to Khakassiya, referring to “instructions.” Unofficially, we were told in the zapovednik that the snow leopard’s habitat is specifically within Sayano-Shushensky Biosphere Zapovednik and that the snow leopard was likely captured in order to show him to the Prime Minister, but that since he had signs of trauma, Mongol was “treated at the same time.” In addition, sources in Sayano-Shushensky Zapovednik told Gazeta.ru that there was no permit to transport the snow leopard, nor there wounds on his face visible prior to capture.

Sources say that the snow leopard could have received those injuries during his capture when he resisted and threw himself at the cage (there is information that he broke a canine biting the iron bars) or during transportation by helicopter in a small cage.

“No one has seen any camera-trap images that would indicate old wounds on Mongol. There is a photograph of the sedated snow leopard being fitted with a satellite-tracking collar. There is a video on the internet that shows that Mongol’s entire snout covered in fresh blood,” said the source.

Ecologists fear that the stressful situation that the animal was forced to endure over several days’ time may have a serious impact on the snow leopard’s health. “This incident may have negative consequences for the already very small population of snow leopard in the Altai-Sayan ecoregion. The length of the captivity, the cage, and the number of medications administered are particularly troubling, given that this is the dominant male,” Aleksandr Bondarev, director of WWF’s Altai-Sayan program told Gazeta.ru. We reported earlier that according to official sources, the wounds were treated with a healing ointment and injected with 10% Baytril. Official reports stated that the snow leopard received 3 injections. “But there could have been more. Snow leopards are extremely rare animals. In Krasnoyarsk Krai, their total population is 7-8 individuals, and removing just one of these animals can have fatal results,” said Bondarev.

Following his acquaintance with the snow leopard, Vladimir Putin gave interviews to TV broadcasters Vesti and Moya Planeta [My Planet].

During the interview with journalists, he reminded them that the snow leopard is a symbol of the upcoming Olympics in Sochi and noted that this is a “generalized image that tells us that Russia is a very diverse place.”

He also said that he plans to further participate in conservation and research programs for several species of wild animals. Putin is interested in freshwater seals living in Lake Baikal and Lake Ladoga, dolphins in the Black Sea, and saiga antelope; the prime minister also raised the issue of reviving the population of Przewalski horses.

Translation by Jennifer Castner.

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