Snow leopard population in the southern part of Shapshal and Tsagaan - Shibetu Ridges is in good condition.
In February-March WWF supported the field research to count snow leopard and Siberian ibex in Tsagan-Shibetu Ridge and southern portion of Shapshal ridge. The research team was represented by the experts of Ubsunurskaya Kotlovina Nature Reserve as well as wardens of Game Mangement Department of Tuva.
The researchers discovered the signs of a snow leopard presence along all the river valleys in the study area. 23 tracks of snow leopards were found, among them two tracks of leopard females with three cabs. One leopard was spotted on the slope of the mountain: the cat was walking a hundred meters from the observer. The total number of snow leopard in Tsagan-Shibetu Ridge and southern part of Shapshal Ridge was estimated at 15-17 individuals. Probably this number is a little bit exaggerated but this snow leopard population is in really good conditions now. It is obvious that snow leopards successfully breed in the area so young snow leopard are regularly recruited in the population..
“Presumably the size of the population has even grown up since 2004 when in the same area we found only 13 leopard tracks belonging to 8 – 10 cats”, says Alexander Kuksin, one of the leading snow leopard experts in Altai – Sayan Ecoregion.
Conflict with herders is still one of the main threats for Tsagan-Shibetu population of snow leopard however since 2007 the number of livestock killed by snow leopards has not exceeded 10-12 individuals annually. In 2007-2008 nearly all corrals in Tsagan-Shibetu Range were protected from snow leopard’s attack by metal mesh and number of livestock killed by the leopards has decreased 8-10 times. In 2010-2011 only 7 domestic animals were killed by the cats. Protected corrals really help to save snow leopards in Western Tuva.
Poaching, especially snaring for musk-deer, remains the threat for a snow leopard in the area. During the research period the wardens caught three local poachers for illegal harvesting a roe deer. All winter period the poachers stay in the area. They illegally harvest musk deer using forbidden wire snares. One or two snow leopard get caught in a snare by accident annually.
WWF experts consider eco-tourism as an effective tool in raising livelihood of the local people in favor of snow leopards. Tsagan-Shibetu Ridge is a part of the Land of Snow Leopard Project devoted to community based eco-tourism development in Altai-sayan Ecoregion. Shuiskiy Nature Park planned to be established with WWF support will contribute to conservation of a snow leopard in Western Tuva as well.