Snow Leopard Census 2019 in Russia: the Argut River Valley results
The tracks of minimum seven snow leopards were registered in the Argut river valley in the Republic of Altai, Russia during the annual snow leopard census initiated in Russia by Altai-Sayan programme of WWF Russia. The main goal of the census is to tell the minimum number of the snow leopards in the key habitats in Russia, report on the condition of the snow leopard and the Siberian ibex population, the snow leopard main prey in Russia.
In 2019 for the first time in the world Russian snow leopard experts use the smartphones with the specific application especially developed in 2018 on the initiative and support of WWF Russia by NextGIS, Moscow’s IT-company, to monitor the snow leopard. The results of the first expeditions are inspiring. The smartphones work well in the hard conditions of Russian winter and the applications saves time and resources as the experts insert all data just by tapping the screen instead of filling the numerous paper tables as they did in 2018. The census was completed in one of the most remote snow leopard habitats in Russia, the Ukok Plateau. Today the experts report on the monitoring results in the Argut river valley.
Snow Leopard captured by camera trap
This year as well as they did in 2018 the local hunters joined the census. Those hunters participate in WWF Russia and Pernod Ricard Programme to involve local communities into snow leopard conservation to help experts set the cameras, track the animals and collect scat for DNA-analyzes.
WWF has been paying especial attention to protecting the snow leopard habitat in the Argut river valley as the area is perfect for hosting the stable group of the snow leopards due to the remoteness, suitable landscape conditions and the big number of the Siberian ibex, the main snow leopard prey in Russia. The snow leopard used to be poached hardly in the Argut area by local people in the 90th years of the last century after the collapse of the Soviet Union. During the transition period of the Russian economy the poaching of the village dwellers were driven by unemployment and the weakness of law enforcement. Some local people are known to have poached as many as ten snow leopards. The illegal hunters usually use metal snares set on the animal trails to catch the snow leopard that move along the same paths. In 2013 with WWF Russia support Sailugemsky National Park was established in the area having provided for regular patrolling. The slight increase in snow leopard numbers was reported by the experts in the Argut due to regular raids. The snow leopards now roam free in the areas where the snares used to be set by hundreds.