Not Just Any Kittens!

Meet Argut and Batyr, the newest additions to the Altai’s snow leopard family!

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(click on the pictures to enlarge)

These wonderful images of snow leopard kittens cavorting in Altai Republic represent so many important successes thanks to the hard work of our Altai conservation partners, local herders, and The Altai Project and other international partners.

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Sergei Spitsyn and his team of skilled local residents have been continuously monitoring the snow leopard population in Argut since 2010. Over those years, camera traps have identified new individual cats, and today’s images of these two playful kittens show that the population may be increasing!

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Poaching is down more than 80%, the lowest level for more than 30 years. Our winter enforcement patrols, creative anti-poaching technology, and “boots on the ground” during regular data collection expeditions have hugely decreased poaching. Poachers fear being caught with illegal prey, and it’s just too cold and too much trouble to maintain snares that are rapidly confiscated by our team.

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We are turning poachers into snow leopard protectors.
Together with Arkhar and other partners, we are reaching out to known local poachers and training them in the use of camera traps and snow leopard surveying techniques in order to convert them into allies. Our first success story is Mergen Markov, of Argut village. He recently joined our team and began placing camera traps in his old hunting grounds. In May 2013, he obtained an image of a previously unknown cat and received an initial payment for his important find.

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Since then, Mergen has been employed as a valued team member, and these kittens were “trapped” in October by a camera he deployed. At the end of a year’s apprenticeship and upon photographic demonstration that the cat discovered in May is still alive next year, he will earn $3,000, the equivalent of a year’s earnings as a poacher, but obtained legally and at much less risk. Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund is providing critical support for this initiative in 2013-2014.

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The Altai Project is proud to have invested more than $80,000 in direct support of snow leopard conservation and science in Altai since 2010. We are so grateful for generous individual donors, as well as support from Weeden Foundation, US Fish & Wildlife Service, Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund, and Global GreenGrants Fund. We’d also like to acknowledge our international snow leopard partners – Snow Leopard Conservancy, Roosevelt Wild Life Station (SUNY-ESF), and WWF-Russia.

Much work remains to be done to protect and grow future generations of snow leopards in Altai, but let’s all take a moment to savor these joyful, wild, and free snow leopard kittens!