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Seven snow leopards registered on the Chikhacheva ridge

16 september 2022
Scientists believe that there is no reason for joy, only one snow leopard lives on the ridge all the time, the rest of the individuals migrate from Mongolia and back

In the Republic of Altai, the XV Volunteer Expedition Tracking Snow Leopard has ended. The expedition became a jubilee, the volunteers dedicated it to the Year of the Snow Leopard in the Altai Republic and the 90th anniversary of the Altai Nature Reserve.

The expedition members traditionally searched for traces of the snow leopard on the Chikhachev Ridge in the Kosh-Agachsky district of the Altai Republic. From September 2 to September 11, 2022, four employees of the Altai Biosphere Reserve and thirteen volunteers from different regions of Russia took part in the work. The leadership was carried out by the senior researcher of the Altai Biosphere Reserve Sergey Spitsyn.

The expedition was supported by WWF Russia, World Around You Foundation of the Siberian Wellness company, the Altai Reserve, the Association of Volunteer Centers.

The expedition members checked 44 previously installed camera traps in 22 sites. A preliminary analysis of the images showed that in the summer period, the presence of seven snow leopards on the Chikhachev Ridge was reliably recorded.

XV Volunteer expedition Tracking Snow Leopard
(c) Tatiana Shukite and Vadim Nemtsov

Snow leopard captured by camera traps in Altai

“Unfortunately, the cameras did not record the oldest snow leopards that live here: the male Khorgai and the female Guta. Khorgay was last filmed by cameras in the neighboring Republic of Tuva. On the Altai part of the Chikhachev Ridge, Khorgai was recorded only in October 2021. Whether he is alive or not, we will find out in a few days, when our colleagues from the Ubsunur Hollow Reserve will check their camera traps on the Tuva side of the Chikhachev Ridge,” says Sergey Spitsyn, senior researcher at the Altai Biosphere Reserve, an expert at the World Wildlife Fund.

The female Guta has not been seen for last year and, possibly, she is in Mongolia. She could have been away for a long time before. The vacated section of Khorgai is being actively developed by a male snow leopard unknown to scientists. A young male Karagay appeared on the ridge only once during the summer. A female with two one-year-old kittens, presumably the same ones that fell into the lens in January, was recorded once in the southern part of the Chikhachev Ridge. Two unknown males briefly came from Mongolia to the Altai part of the Chikhachev Ridge.

Female with cubs registered by camera traps
(c) WWF
“Despite the fact that the cameras registered snow leopards, there is no time for joy. Only one snow leopard stays on the ridge all the time, the rest come and go from Mongolia. The reason is the low population of the Siberian ibex, the main prey of the snow leopard. The number of prey competitors of the snow leopard has increased. Bears have also been added to the traditional freeloaders, wolves, wolverines and foxes!”, - Sergey Spitsyn, senior researcher at the Altai Biosphere Reserve, WWF Russia expert.

Siberian ibex in Altai Republic

In addition to an increasing number of bears, camera traps recorded an Asian badger at an altitude of 3200 meters above sea level, a wild boar and a roe deer.

Members of the expedition noticed that the area of cattle breeding has expanded. Local herders have graze yaks and cows in places where there were no camps for more than twenty years, and only argali and mountain goats grazed.

Volunteers and scientists saw several small groups of Siberian ibex and single individuals, the total number of ibex in the southern part of the ridge is no more than 40 animals. Several adult male argali were recorded on camera traps, the total number of the species grouping in the summer period was no more than 70-80 heads.

In the near future, volunteers will analyze archival and new images to identify snow leopards.

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