Snow Leopards Tagged in Afghanistan for the First Time

Candice Gaukel Andrews September 13, 2012 19

In a country that has seen war for more than thirty years, you’d expect to find very little megafauna left. That’s why the world was surprised when it was recently learned that in the high-elevation mountains of Afghanistan, there is a fairly large population of snow leopards managing to hang on.

Last year, in July 2011, local Afghan men who were being trained as rangers to help monitor and protect wildlife placed sixteen camera traps throughout a region known as the Wakhan Corridor. Because of its isolation, this mountainous place has seen less conflict than other parts of the country. Here cameras, triggered by motion, captured shots of a surprisingly robust population of snow leopards — possibly as many as a hundred animals. Previously, only 4,500 to 7,500 snow leopards were thought to exist.

Today, five major threats are taking their toll on snow leopards in the wild: 1) poaching for skins and for the traditional medicine trade; 2) loss of natural wild prey (wild sheep, goats, marmots, and smaller prey); 3) retaliatory killing by shepherds when the big cats take livestock as the only available alternative food source; 4) disturbance of habitat as people increasingly move into snow leopard ranges; and 5) lack of awareness by local communities and governments of the rapid disappearance of snow leopards and the need for their protection.

Following the good news of the summer of 2011, this summer the Wildlife Conservation Society announced that it had, for the first time, fitted satellite collars on two of Afghanistan’s male snow leopards — located with the help of the previous year’s camera traps. DNA samples were taken from each of the cats, after which they were weighed, measured, and fitted with the collars. Once released, the snow leopards headed up the Hindu Kush Mountains.

The hope is that the information gained from the tagged leopards will help us learn more about the range, behavior, movements, and habitat used by snow leopards. In turn, the data can help the Afghan government and local communities design protected areas and management strategies for the conservation of this big cat.

Watch the short video below on the tagging effort. The entire process was documented for a TV special titled “Snow Leopards of Afghanistan” premiering in December on the Nat Geo Wild National Geographic channel.

19 Comments »

  1. THOMAS APPLEBY September 14, 2012 at 8:44 am - Reply

    Amazing news for the species’s range. It’s so important that their prey populations are good too though, and hopefully their numbers haven’t been depleted as can happen in impoverished war torn areas.

  2. Alan G. September 14, 2012 at 8:45 am - Reply

    Thanks for this information. So good to hear!

  3. Dan Gordon-Lee September 14, 2012 at 9:00 am - Reply

    Great to hear – I was working just south of this area (Karambar Valley, Bar Valley in Pakistan) in 1999, where WWF & IUCN were working jointly on SL conservation approaches. Fantastic to know there are strong populations to the north..

  4. Solomon Ojiambo September 14, 2012 at 11:12 am - Reply

    This means that mother nature still hangs on with what has to offer so lets not give up the fight to protect her. Thanks a lot for the information coz it’s going to enable researchers to give us more information as to why that location and for how long have they lived in that environment.

  5. Phillip Tureck - FRGS September 14, 2012 at 11:15 am - Reply

    Iconic species – I support snow leopards and promote the work to conserve this incredibly wonderful creature. I see them as often as I can at the conservancy.

    www,catsurvivaltrust.org

  6. Patti September 14, 2012 at 5:48 pm - Reply

    Let’s hope that now that they have been discovered, they will stay safe.

  7. Chris R. September 14, 2012 at 5:50 pm - Reply

    I have only seen tracks of one in the snow above tree line high on Annapurna Dakshin in Nepal, and consider myself extremely privileged to see them!
    Snow Leopards are magnificent animals, and great news that nature survives through hardship, while us humans are trying to wipe each other out in the same hostile environment….Great news.

  8. Sibylle Noras September 15, 2012 at 4:26 am - Reply

    Thanks Candice for writing about this news. It is wonderful that scientists have found snow leopards in this part of Afghanistan. With the numbers of snow leopards declining in all 12 range countries every single cat is important. The collaring project will follow the two cats and learn about them and the challenges they face in this area. The 300 biologists and members of the International Snow Leopard Network are working with little funds but big hearts to save snow leopards in the wild. They also support the people sharing snow leopard habitat with community-based conservation projects.

    Sibylle Noras
    Founder and Publisher “Saving Snow Leopards”
    http://www.snowleopardblog.com
    Member, Executive Committee, Snow Leopard Network

  9. Sugandha Iyer September 16, 2012 at 12:22 pm - Reply

    Amazing post.

  10. Ceres B. September 16, 2012 at 12:23 pm - Reply

    Thank you for sharing the news!

  11. Geri Thomas September 16, 2012 at 3:57 pm - Reply

    Interesting!

  12. C. Emenius September 17, 2012 at 7:32 am - Reply

    Thanks for sharing. :)

  13. Carlos Pratti, MBA September 17, 2012 at 7:36 am - Reply

    These are indeed very good news coming from a troubled land. Let’s hope for the best, for the snow leopards and for the Afghanistan people.

  14. Tracey September 17, 2012 at 7:37 am - Reply

    Super…

  15. Barbara September 17, 2012 at 7:31 pm - Reply

    What great news. It’s amazing with all the devastation that the Snow Leopards are hanging on. Wish us humans would be more aware of the world around them and what lives on this planet with us.

  16. Mia Christine Experiences LLC September 18, 2012 at 8:57 am - Reply

    Great news! I hope they stay safe, they’re beautiful.

  17. Vanessa September 20, 2012 at 1:31 pm - Reply

    Such exciting news! A glimmer of hope in this war ravaged land. I can hardly believe that the camera traps caught as many as 100, amazing.

  18. Kirsten September 22, 2012 at 7:10 am - Reply

    Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful news. I’m also looking forward watching NatgraphWild to see more of these amazing animals.

  19. Flemming September 25, 2012 at 3:38 am - Reply

    very nice

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