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Премия рунета 2017

WWF set the camera traps in one of the most remote snow leopard habitats in Russia

16 august 2017
Ukok Plateau located at the junction of Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan and China borders used to be one of the blind spots for snow leopard experts

The expedition of snow leopard camera trapping took place in Republic of Altai on Ukok Plateau on initiative of WWF Altai-Sayan Programme funded by M.Video company. The area has always been considered a potential snow leopard habitats, WWF experts received information about snow leopard tracks on the plateau but not a single serious field survey has ever been done on Ukok to search for snow leopard. WWF Altai-Sayan Programme has been planned to search the area but the lack of funding was the reason why the survey of the remote and vast plateau was delayed. Thanks to the support of M.Video, WWF Russia corporate donor this year WWF organized the expedition to Ukok Plateau, one the spots that remained for the snow leopard conservation experts, in partnership with Sailugemsky National Park, Ukok Nature Park.

Alexei Kuzhlekov, Sailugemsku National Park is prepering the camera trap for setting
The rocks on Ukok are quite steppe so the inspectors had to be careful
is a remote and pristine grasslands area located in the heart of southwestern Siberia, the Altai Mountains region of Russia near the borders with China, Kazakhstan and Mongolia.
The rangers walked over 25 routes.
The rangers of Sailugemsky National Parks and Ukok Nature Park took place inexpedition. Foe some of them camera trapping was new and they learned.
(c) I. Usanov
Unfortunately the snow leopard number and density on Ukok Plateau was much less than we expected, says Alexander Karnaukhov, WWF Altai-Sayan Programme Senior Coordinator. We found very little number of tracks, marking places and scats all samples of which was collected for DNA-analyses. We definitely proved only the presence of one snow leopard, we presume that 2 or 3 individuals can be found in Russian side of Southern Altai Ridge and Tabin-Bogdo-Ola Ridge. Tabin-Bogdo-Ola Ridge where it merges Sailugem and Southern Altai Ridges is the most favorable habitat for snow leopard.

Initially the experts planned to set 30 cameratraps on the plateau but as they found very little suitable places to make the next field expedition to the cold and remote plateau easier for the rangers they set only 10 cameras on the spots that are very likely to be visited by snow leopard.

We observed very little ibexes and other ungulates on Ukok Plateau so there is little for snow leopard to prey on. The number of wild ungulates is the least at the border with China and Kazakhstan on Southern Altai Ridge, says Alexander Karnaukhov.
Ukok Plateau used to be one of the blind spots for snow leopard experts
(с) Ivan Usanov

There is another problem on Ukok Plateau. Barbed wire border fence was constructed by Mongolia years ago. There is a 50-kilometres-long fence along Russian-Mongolian border that is a clear obstacle for wild animals to migrate. The experts and local people have met dead animals hung on the fence who tried to jump over. At the moment the experts consider removing the fence having agreed upon the issue by both countries’ Governments. 

This year we met a lot of tourists on Ukok Plateau who drove 4-drive vehicles which leave deep roads on a fragile soil of the upland plateau in snow leopard habitats. The tourist flow has increased since the ancient  mummy of Paziryk culture so-called Altai Princess was found here in and the area was widely known thanks to media. We presume that the tourists might have contributed to the disturbance of the wild ungulates and the predator that prey on them, says Denis Malikov, Conservation Director of Sailugemsky National Park. 

(c) I. Usanov

In September all cameras will be checked to see whether they managed to catch an elusive animal. All identified animals will be given full description and receive so-called “passport”, a fully described card of all peculiarities of the individual. The information will be added to the unique online database of all snow leopard of Russia. The e-database was developed in 2015 by WWF Russia and is the unique online database of its kind in Russia.  
For additional information please contact
Altai-Sayan ecoregional press-officer
Senior Project Coordinator