First ever photos of snow leopards taken in Uzbekistan
In November and December of 2013, a team of rangers and biologists led by Bakhtiyor Aromov and Yelizaveta Protas, in collaboration with global wild cat conservation organization, Panthera, and WWF Central Asia Program, conducted a snow leopard camera trap study in the Kizilsu area of Gissar Nature Reserve, on the border of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Images taken through the study have confirmed the presence of at least two individual snow leopards in the region, along with other large predators – lynx and bear – and an abundance of prey animals, including ibex, wild boar, and hare.
Today, the snow leopard is classified as endangered, with as few as 3,500-7,000 individuals remaining in 12 countries across Asia. For years, snow leopards have been reported in this area; however, until now, their presence has only been confirmed through traditional surveys and very rare visual encounters.
Panthera’s Snow Leopard Program Executive Director, Dr. Tom McCarthy, stated, “It is very exciting to document snow leopards within the Gissar Nature Reserve in Uzbekistan using camera trap technology. Panthera has provided over 300 camera traps through partnerships such as this to better document the range of this elusive and endangered cat of central Asia’s mountains. With an improved understanding of their range and numbers we have a better chance to save them.”
Situated on the western edge of the Pamir mountain range, the Gissar Nature Reserve serves as the largest protected area in Uzbekistan, strictly guarded by border patrols and reserve rangers, with visitors allowed only for scientific research. The reserve protects several species of rare and endangered animals, including the snow leopard, lynx, Himalayan brown bear and otter, which are listed in the Red Book of Uzbekistan and the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species.
Formerly part of the great Silk Road and Soviet Union, the reserve has more recently been home to armed conflicts resulting from the dissolution of the USSR and formation of newly independent states in the 1990s. Fortunately, this strife resulted in even stricter protection for the reserve.
Alexandr Grigoryants, Executive Director of the State Biocontrol Agency of the Republic of Uzbekistan, commented, “The State Biocontrol Agency of the Republic of Uzbekistan is particularly focused on the protection and increasing the numbers of rare and endangered fauna in Uzbekistan. Thanks to the hard work of the reserve employees, and with the active help of state protection officers and international conservation organizations, such as WWF, UNDP, Panthera and others, the population numbers of endangered animals in Uzbekistan will increase.”
The confirmed presence of snow leopards in Uzbekistan, in the westernmost part of the species’ range, and the availability of prey as confirmed through this study’s camera trap images, provides hope for the survival of this endangered wild cat in Uzbekistan and throughout its range.