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Премия рунета 2017

New snow leopards found on the Ukok Plateau

29 june 2018
The female snow leopard and two of her cubs whose images last year became the first unquestionable evidence of the snow leopard presence on the Plateau Ukok are safe and sound.

Snow leopard monitoring in one of the most remote habitat at the junction of Russia, Mongolia and China brings some surprises.

Since January 2018 minimum 5 snow leopards have been fixed by camera traps on the Ukok Plateau. About 300 images of the snow leopards have been captured. The female snow leopard who was called Yuzhanka (Southerner) and two of her cubs whose images became the sensation in 2017 are safe and sound. The cubs have grown up and look well. The cameras also captured two more snow leopards presumably males. One of them can be a father of Yuzhanka’s cubs.

The Ukok Plateau remained the blind spot among the snow leopard habitats before August 2017 when the first ever camera trap were set there by WWF, Sailugemsky National Park, Zona Pokoya Ukok Nature Park with the support of M-Video Company. The scientists expected no snow leopards to be found here due to the low density of the main prey, the Siberian ibex. However, it turns out that the small group of the rare predator minimum 5 individuals inhabits the remote plateau and deserves the protection. 

One of the cubs of Yuzhanka female snow leopards captured in 2018.
The second cub captured behind its sibling.
Yuzhanka, the mother.
The male, presumable the father of Yuzhanka's cubs.
The second male on the Ukok Plateau.
The snow leopards of the Plateau Ukok.
(c) WWF / Sailugemsky National Park
Alexander Karnaukhov, Senior Coordinator of WWF Altai-Sayan Programme, said: Zona Pokoya Nature Park was established on the Ukok Plateau in 2005. The quiet zone is also a part of the Golden Mountains of Altai, the UNESCO World Heritage Site. However, the Nature Park of the regional subordinate is underfinanced and badly managed. New finding of the snow leopard here draws attention to the need for better protection. In 2017 thanks to WWF Russia supporters we managed to raise funding for a four-wheel drive vehicle for the rangers of the Nature Park to enhance the law enforcement. We’ll keep supporting the nature park.

The hunters of the nearby villages have been trained in camera-trapping, received equipment and field uniform to work as the voluntary assistants to the park rangers and scientists.

For instance, Myrzabek Kairymov who lives in Kosh-Agach village has participated in field expeditions several times and learned the basics of camera-trapping. He’s given a right to patrol the particular area, remove snares, set the cameras and report on violations.

It’s been 3 years since WWF has tried to involve local hunters into conservation instead of using the police methods. With the support of a corporate donor, Pernod Ricard Rouss, in partnership with Altaisky Nature Reserve and later with Sailugemsky National Park.

Mergen Markov, a local hunter.
The local hunters are involved into conservation.
(c) WWF / Sailugemsky National Park, Yevgeny Butushev
Alexander Karnaukhov, Senior Coordinator of WWF Altai-Sayan Programme, said: The Republic of Altai is vast, law enforcement is very weak, the snow leopard is remote and large. So several years ago it became clear that strict patrolling brings just temporary results. To make conservation results sustainable and fight poaching in the long perspective we need to change the attitude of the local people who live in the snow leopard habitats. We made a serious research and collected information about those hunters who might still poach the snow leopards or who grew up in the families who used to poach or are known as the poachers. We carefully tried to approach them and slowly tried to introduce our idea: the local hunters have to agree to stop poaching, become “Snow Leopards Guards”, work in partnership with conservationists. In reward to patrolling the area and saving the snow leopards who live close to their area they receive field uniform, equipment. If the cameras still capture the animals by the end of the year, the hunters receive a reward too.

In 2018 within the project frameworks the local hunters received about 8k images from the camera traps out of these 8000 images there 500 images of the snow leopard. They set 20 cameras and each of them patrol the area from 40 to 123 thousand hectares.

In 2017 six ex-poachers of the remote and depressed villages near Russian-Mongolian border were involved into conservation project. The hunters of the Republic of Altai (Russia) became the voluntary helpers of the conservationists who strive to save snow leopard. All hunters involved into conservation live in the depressed villages near the border between Russia and Mongolia. The unemployment rate of the villagers amounts up to 100% and the local people survive through cattle-breeding and hunting. All of perfectly know the animals tracks and traditional hunting methods that are not always legal. Changing the attitude of local hunters towards snow leopard and raising the awareness on the importance of rare species conservation is the main target of the project initiated by WWF and Pernod Ricard Company. 

For additional information please contact
Altai-Sayan ecoregional press-officer