Snow Leopards in Altai, Russia, roam free in the area that used to be full of traps
The unique images of the snow leopard registered in the Argut River valley of the Republic of Altai, Russia. First of all, they are bright and light as they were captured at daytime! Most of the snow leopard camera traps’ images captured in Russia are dark or grey as the elusive animal is active in the dusk. Such nicely captured images are the treasure for the snow leopard conservation experts.
There are also two cubs captured by the camera. For the snow leopard experts, it is a positive sign as the snow leopard population in Russia amounts only to 2% of the world species population so each cub counts. It means that the females feel safe and breed successfully.
The most striking thing is the log that is sniffed and walked over by the animals. It is an old poachers’ trap used to attach the snares made of metal wire for catching the animals including the snow leopard.
Look at the images again! Years ago the snares used to be in the area by hundreds. According to the information collected from the local hunters at least two snow leopards were poached using this log. Now with WWF support the area is well protected and trap free so the whole family of the snow leopard roam free walking over the ex-trap. The snow leopard female on the picture was identified by the experts as Yunchi snow leopard, the female snow leopard the experts have been following for ages with the help of local people.
The poachers were active in the area of the Argut Valley in the 90th years of the last century when the Soviet Union collapsed having left the economy in ruins, the people with no source of income and the area with no rangers. The snow leopard population was dramatically poached out at that time. The local people confess that either their parents and relatives and themselves used to poach snow leopards in the area.
For the last several years WWF has been observing the slightest increase in snow leopard numbers in the Argut Valley. To a great extend WWF contribution matters. WWF has been supporting antipoaching and education activities in the Republic of Altai actively for many years. In 2013 Sailugemsky National Park with great support from WWF was established in the region and its cluster Argut covered the snow leopard habitat in this remote area. The rangers patrolling the area regularly made it hard for poachers to set snares again.
Another unique conservation project started in 2014. WWF with its corporate partner, Pernod Ricard Rouss, tried to involve the local people into snow leoaprd protection project to raise the awareness on snow leopard conservation among the potential poachers. Several local hunters were carefully chosen and approached by WWF experts to examine whether they will to join the conservation project or not.
Today six hunter’s ex-poachers of Altai actively work in partnership with conservationists in the very heart of the snow leopard land in Russia. They were trained in camera trapping. Each hunter has its own area where one or two snow leopard roam. They monitor the animals with camera traps and deliver the images to the experts. If by the end of the year, the animals are still alive the hunters get additional award. Gradually the attitude towards the animal change to positive and the hunters see the snow leopard as the treasure they need to save.
The camera that captured Yunchi and her cubs was set by Mergen Markov, the hunter who monitor her and Kryuk, another famous snow leopard WWF has been following in the Argut Valley since 2012.