Participants in an expedition sponsored jointly by Arkhar and Altaisky State Biosphere Reserve have obtained the first images of snow leopard and manul (Pallas) cat on the Russian side of Altai Republic’s Chikhacheva Ridge using camera traps.
The first stage of efforts to survey Chikhacheva Ridge’s snow leopard population using camera traps has been completed. This was also the first time that the population living on this ridge that bridges the Russia-Mongolia border was surveyed simultaneously on both sides of the border. In Altai Republic, staff from Arkhar and Altaisky Biosphere Reserve participated in the field expedition, joined by staff from Ubsunurskaya Basin Biosphere Reserve in Tyva Republic and Mongolian specialists from Silkkhemin Nuru National Park and WWF-Mongolia. The Altai Republic expedition was supported technically and financially and otherwise by Snow Leopard Conservancy, WWF-Russia, SUNY-ESF, and Panthera Foundation. Particular thanks to SUNY-ESF and Panthera Foundation for providing the camera traps that were used.
The traditional methodology used for this survey is based on the fact that each individual snow leopard has unique markings on its coat. Comparing photos from different cameras permits identification of individual animals and enables a count of the number of snow leopards living in the study region. Arkhar’s and Altaisky Biosphere Reserve’s expedition participants were able to capture snow leopard and manul (Pallas) cat images for the first time ever on the Russian side of Chikhacheva Ridge. In May 2011, a joint Russian-Mongolian expedition obtained a brief video of a snow leopard on the Mongolian side. To date, photographs of what are assumed to be two snow leopards were obtained at a distance of approximately 20 km apart. One camera recorded a night image of another member of the cat family – the manul (Pallas) cat, also listed in the Russian Red Book.
These camera traps work in extreme conditions at over 3000 m (9842 ft) above sea level. There are 10 such cameras in operation on Chikhacheva Ridge. These “smart” tools will track snow leopard movements on the ridge throughout the winter and will help scientists to evaluate the number of animals in this transboundary population of snow leopards. Simultaneous operation of camera traps along the full length of the ridge in both Altai and Tyva Republics in Russia and in Mongolia will gather unique data about snow leopards in this region.
WWF experts believe that the transboundary population of snow leopard living on Chikhacheva Ridge is a key group, essential to the survival of this species within Russia. This population connects Russian snow leopards with the nearest group in Mongolia. The total transboundary snow leopard population on Chikhacheva Ridge is estimated at 10-15 animals.
Sergei Spitsyn, Arkhar NGO
Mikhail Paltsyn, Project Coordinator, WWF-Russia
The Altai Project has worked in partnership with Arkhar, Altaisky Biosphere Reserve, SUNY-ESF, Snow Leopard Conservancy, and WWF-Altai-Sayan to provide extensive logistical and linguistic support of snow leopard conservation in Altai, as well as providing its own small grants program for anti-poaching and enforcement patrols across the entire Republic.