First photograph of a rare snow leopard in Altai Republic, Russia

No one has captured a snow leopard on camera in Russia’s Altai Republic – until now.

Snow leopard steps behind rock as it travels uphill

Snow leopard steps behind rock as it travels uphill

On July 9, The Altai Project’s expedition leader Jennifer Castner, guiding a party of intrepid Wild Altai Expedition adventurers near the Russia-Mongolia border, photographed the snow leopard. “We had been trekking along a narrow mountain valley for several hours,” said Castner, “and I heard Mimi Kessler say, “Look, it’s a snow leopard!’ We all gasped when we saw it, and then I started taking pictures.”

Castner was leading seven conservation-minded explorers on a ten-day trekking series to document signs of snow leopards, Siberian ibex, argali sheep, and rare bird species. “The pressure from poaching and habitat fragmentation is so great that there are only 80 or 90 snow leopards in Russia, so we thought we’d be lucky to even find marking sites and a few camera-trap images. But we watched the leopard walk calmly up the ridge about 15 seconds. This is a triumph for The Altai Project and its partners and our joint efforts to protect this precious species.”

The Altai Project has been protecting nature and strengthening communities in Altai for 15 years. On the ground in Russia, Wild Altai Expeditions are led by scientists Sergei Spitsyn (Arkhar/Altaisky State Nature Reserve), who has been studying and protecting snow leopards and argali sheep for over 30 years, and Mikhail Paltsyn (WWF-Altai-Sayan), who also has decades of conservation and community development experience.

In 2014 the Altai Project will offer two new summer expeditions in the Wild Altai Expedition series, focusing again on snow leopards, their prey, and raptors. Dates for 2014 expeditions will be announced in October 2013 at

The project is jointly led by the Altai Project and Arkhar with support from WWF-Altai-Sayan, Altaisky State Nature Reserve, and Roosevelt Wild Life Station. The snow leopard was also observed by Elizabeth Johnson and Karly Trinite. Mimi Kessler, who first spotted the feline, is a researcher at Arizona State University and the Central Asian Great Bustard Project. Because of their elusiveness and rarity, movement-triggered remote camera traps are the primary means of studying snow leopards throughout much of its range, including in Russia. Previously in Russia, researcher Aleksandr Kuksin photographed a snow leopard in 2010 in nearby Tuva Republic; such documented sightings are vanishingly rare.

Some participation was made possible with a grant from the Trust for Mutual Understanding.

See more trip pictures here.

Learn more about Wild Altai Expeditions.