Counting the Cats

With remote-sense research cameras, scientists are monitoring the snow leopard populations across the range

Elusive and rare, the snow leopard remains one of the least understood big cats - but pioneering research projects are slowly unveiling many of the Ghost of the Mountain's secrets. We're supporting a variety of long-term research studies into the snow leopard's behaviour and ecology and aiming to learn more about the cats' needs for survival in a changing habitat.

Among the projects we're supporting is the (International) Snow Leopard Trust's research camera study in Kyrgyzstan.

The goal of the survey is come up with a robust estimate of the snow leopards population within specific landscapes in Kyrgyzstan, and to identify key areas for their protection. While there have been a few smaller, isolated camera studies in Kyrgyzstan before, this in an unprecedented effort in terms of scale, with a total of 40 cameras being deployed.

In 2013, the team in Kyrgyzstan used the first 10 cameras they received to lay the groundwork for the main survey, started in 2014. Led by the Snow Leopard Trust's Kyrgyzstan Program Director Kuban Jumabai Uulu, the team ran a first series of tests, deploying the 10 cameras in the main valley of the Sarychat-Ertash Nature reserve, testing out settings such as exposure and sensitivity; and ideal camera locations, such as ledges.

“Our main goal was to learn how to best use the cameras”, Kuban says, “not necessarily to get great photos”. But when Kuban and his colleagues retrieved the cameras after a couple of weeks, they were in for a pleasant surprise: Seven of the ten cameras had captured snow leopard photos; most of them crisp and clear and some simply stunning!

In the summer of 2014, Kuban and his team have begun the systematic population study – which should yield invaluable insights into the number of cats in the area and their distribution - and will undoubtedly produce even more amazing photos!