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31 SNOW LEOPARDS HAVE BEEN CONFIRMED TO LIVE IN GORNY ALTAI

19 may 2020
WWF Russia is summing up the results of the annual count of snow leopards in the Republic of Altai

Field expeditions aimed at counting snow leopards in the Republic of Altai took place from mid-February to May 2020. Snow leopard count in the Altai is part of the annual Russian snow leopard count, which has been conducted in our country since 2016 at the initiative of the WWF-Russia in key habitats of the species. Apart from the Republic of Altai, snow leopards were also counted in the republics of Tuva and Buryatia; the results will be announced at the end of May. In 2020, the World Around You Foundation of the Siberian Wellness Corporation provided financial support for the project.

According to the results of counting in the Republic of Altai, the presence of at least 31 snow leopards has been confirmed in the following ranges: Katunsky, Severo- and Yuzhno-Chuisky, Kuraisky, Sailyugem, Yuzhno-Altaisky and Chikhachev. This is 13 snow leopard individuals less than in 2019. 

A SNOW LEOPARD IS MAKING SCRATCH MARKS IN AK CHOLUSHPA NATURE PARK

"The number of snow leopards in 2020 is lower than last year, not because of the death of animals, but because some of the species' habitats remained unexplored due to bad weather conditions. For example, the Argut river did not have ice, so the participants of the expedition were not able to cross the river and some routes were not passed. Beside that, strong winds in winter and spring blew out the tracks of wild animals in the snow, and the height of the snow cover was higher than normal, which made it difficult for the experts to move," says Alexander Karnaukhov, senior coordinator of the WWF Russia office in the Altai-Sayan ecoregion. "The participants of the expedition note: the appearance of a camp site in the Kuraisky Range has affected the number of snow leopards. Tourists are a factor of concern, and instead of three previously recorded snow leopard individuals, this year only one male was registered."

Employees of Sailyugemsky National Park confirmed the presence of snow leopards in the clusters of Argut and Sailyugem national parks and adjacent areas of the Kuraisky and Yuzhno-Chuisky ranges. In 38 days, the specialists covered more than 3,500 km by car, about 300 km on horseback and more than 300 kilometers on foot, checked 27 previously installed automatic cameras, received and analyzed more than 34,600 frames, of which 313 photos and 20 videos contained images of snow leopards. During the count, the national park inspectors saved the life of a snow leopard by having detected and eliminated a loop on an animal trail, and researcher Alexey Kuzhlekov took a close-up photo and video of a snow leopard with an ordinary camera. This spring, Alexey also won the Laura Williams Award for wildlife conservation established by the WWF. 

Employees of Sailyugemsky National Park during the count of snow leopards in 2020 and photos of snow leopards
(c) WWF / Denis Gulyaev, camera traps footage

Employees of the Directorate of Protected Areas of the Republic of Altai also examined and registered the traces of snow leopards in the following ranges: Severo-Chuisky, Yuzhno-Chuisky, Kuraisky, and Yuzhno-Altaisky on the territory of the Ak Cholushpa, Belukha, and Ukok Quiet Zone nature parks, as well as in the Shavlinsky regional reserve. In total, the inspectors and local residents passed 12 routes with a length of about 4,116 kilometers using a car, snowmobiles, horses and on foot, and checked 25 camera traps. In April, within the boundaries of the Shavlinsky reserve, the staff of the Directorate of Protected Areas found and eliminated a poaching snare made of wire set for musk deer, made a report and handed it to the police. Further inspection of the area showed that musk deer are caught in snares along the left bank of the Kara-Ayra river. This is evidenced by freshly cut young trees, from which special barriers have been made in the places of musk deer crossings. 

Employees of the Directorate of Protected Areas of the Republic of Altai during the snow leopard count in 2020 and footage from camera traps
(C) WWF Russia / Directorate of Protected Areas of the Republic of Altai

The number and state of snow leopards in Russia is estimated in accordance with the standardized snow leopard monitoring program developed by WWF Russia in 2016 using the NextGIS Collector app, the world's only smartphone app for snow leopard tracking. 

In the Russian Federation, the snow leopard count has been performed annually since 2016 in the key habitats of the rare predator — the republics of Altai, Tuva and Buryatia. All works are initiated and coordinated by the WWF-Russia with the support of partners. In 2020, the snow leopard count in Russia took place with the help of the World Around You Foundation of the Siberian Wellness Corporation. According to WWF Russia specialists, the number of snow leopards in Russia has remained stable at the level of 70-90 individuals over the past few years.

For additional information please contact
Altai-Sayan ecoregional press-officer
Senior Project Coordinator