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Премия рунета 2017

The first ever close-up images of a snow leopard captured by WWF Russia expert in the wild by an ordinary camera

30 march 2020
The story of the unique pictures and one 10-year-long dream that came true

 

The stunning images of an elusive snow leopard, an iconic species of big cats, captured in the Republic of Altai, Russia, are the sensation for Russian conservationists. The photos of snow leopards in the wild had never been captured in Russia before from such a short distance.

A snow leopard female peers back curiously at a scientist. Then she lies down pretending she is safe between the rocks almost invisible due to her fantastic fur camouflage.  Alexey Kuzhlekov, WWF Russia expert and a scientist of Sailugemsky national park took these pictures and video of the male and female snow leopard on Friday, March, 27, the first in his ten-year-long professional journey to study and save the rare cat from extinction. Sailugemsky national park is used to study the snow leopards by the images of the automatic cameras registered with no human close by. This time the scientists have a chance to look at animals who looked back at them back from a distance of 20 metres.

Snow leopard first close-up pictures, Russia
(c) Alexey Kuzhlekov / Sailugemsky NP
“The paw prints of two snow leopards we had spotted three days before and presumed they belonged to a female and a cub. The other night we heard a mating call, a very distinctive sound, of a female on the mountain ridge. I tried to come closer to the animals but could only see them from a very long distance. I shot the video anyway! It was clear that they were a female and a male. It is such a rare chance to see them together as snow leopards lead the solitary life, a male and a female can only be spotted together during the mating season. On March, 27 I came as close as 20 metres! I was tracking a big snow leopard, obviously a male, I had to take picture to identify the individual. Suddenly a female snow leopard appeared in front of me from behind a rock. I stopped stoned, trying not to move not to scare her. She stared at me for a while. We looked at each other’s eyes. Then the female lied down trying to hide. I lifted the camera carefully and started shooting”, says Alexey Kuzhkekov.

Footage of a female snow leopard taken by Alexey Kuzhlekov

Alexey also took a picture of a male sitting on an opposite rock but the images did not come out well. In 2019 WWF Russia made a video about Alexey tracking the snow leopard but he couldn’t see him. This year his dream came true. Alexey is a professional biologist, born and raised in Altai. He has worked for 10 years in the field of snow leopard survey and conservation. This pictures are not a lucky coincidence but a comprehensive and persuasive work of a professional scientists. 

Snow leopard census in Altai
(c) Natalia Sudets

The pictures were taken during the annual snow leopard census in Russia initiated and supported by WWF Russia and  World Around You Foundation of Siberian Wellness corporation. WWF experts claim that seeing a snow leopard from such a short distance is a good sign.

“The Republic of Altai is the one of the key snow leopard habitat in Russia. In 2010 with WWF support Sailugemsky national park was established in the region to conserve the snow leopard as one of the key goals. Since than the numbers of snow leopard population in Altai has been stable and even slightly increasing at some spots. Regular patrolling, involving local people into conservation, environmental education has contributed a lot to snow leopard conservation”, says Alexander Karnaukhov, Senior Coordinator of Altai-Sayan programme of WWF Russia.

Wide –scale snow leopard census in 2020 srated in mid-February in the republics of Altai, Tyva and Buryatia, key snow leopard habitats in Russia. The participants follow the regulations of the Snow leopard monitoring programme developed by WWF Russia in 2016 and use the mobile application developed in 2019.

WWF Russia is grateful for the information support to the information centre of Ministry of Natural Resources of the RF and personally to Natalia Sudets.
For additional information please contact
Altai-Sayan ecoregional press-officer
Senior Project Coordinator