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Премия рунета 2017

Snow leopard female and her cubs died in a poacher’s wire loop

30 may 2016
Vita, the beautiful female, was one of the first snow leopards captured by photo--trap at the beginning of camera-trapping in Russia.

In 2010 WWF Altai-Sayan Programme started first camera-trapping in Republic of Altai, one of the critical snow leopard habitats in Russia. The cameras were set in the Argut River valley. The experts believed that the area used to be inhabited by a group of snow leopards estimated at 40 individuals years ago.

One month after the experts received thousands images of different species but not a single one of a snow leopard. The hope to a successful future of snow leopard in Altai was melting.

Only two years later in Spring 2012 the photoe-traps captured more than 50 images of a snow leopard in Argut. There were two adult snow leopard. The male was named Kryuk (Hook) after a specific group of spots on his left side hook-shaped. The female was named Vita after Viktor Samoilov, a local resident who participated in snow leopard monitoring project. Viktor died tragically short before the camera-trap set by him finally captured the snow leopard. He never knew that his dream to take a picture of an elusive cat came true.

The pictures of Vita and Hook were the first and so long-awaited luck that inspired the experts. There was a hope that the resurrection of Argut snow leopard population was theoretically possible. The images of Vita appeared widely in local and federal media. The female snow leopard became a true star. People followed her way, both experts and local people finally had a chance to see these beautiful legendary creatures with the own eyes.

A year after Sergey Spitsyn, one of the leading snow leopard conservation experts in Russia still showed the pictures of Vita. She was obviously pregnant and later had cubs.

Since 2013 there has not been a single picture of Vita captured by cameras. The experts tried to change the cameras’ location and widen the monitoring area. More and more other snow leopards posed in front of the photo-traps as well as Hook, Vita’s neighbor. There was a slight hope that Vita could have migrated to the other area.

Unfortunately the tragic news came in 2016. In some local hunters while talking in private with conservationists revealed the information that years ago two snow leopard cubs got into metal snares. The tracks of an adult snow leopard were found near the cubs and later the female snow leopard itself got into the snare.

It was obvious for the experts that it was the story about Vita and her cubs. Snare poaching remains one of the major threats for snow leopard in Russia. In economically poor regions earning a living using derivatives of rare animals is a source of brining soul and body together. Metal wire is cheap. Local people use these snares in thousands usually hunting other species such as musk deer which musk they get to sell at the black market for the needs of oriental medicine.

WWF has been warning about the treats of snare poaching for years. Using snares are illegal in Russia but law enforcement is so weak and the area so vast that sometimes all attempts fail. The snare removing antipoaching raids are supported and thousands of these metal. WWF provide means for protected areas, create new national parks to provide for a more effective conservation within the borders of PAs. In 2012 WWF started to use a new and innovative approach to involve former poachers and hunters into conservation. WWF and Citi Programmes aims at providing the locals with a business incentives such as green tourism, crafts and producing local products.

Vita captured by a camera - trap in Altai in 2012.
© WWF Russia / S. Spitsyn
Metal wires remain cheap and horrific poachers' tool in Altai-Sayan.
© WWF Russia
An inspector removing a poacher's wire set on an animal trail.
© WWF Russia
For additional information please contact
Altai-Sayan ecoregional press-officer