PTES is funding very important work in this area focusing on one of the main reasons for their decline – lack of available wild prey.
Critical wild snow leopard prey species in Mongolia are ibex and argali but their populations are under constant threat due to competition by increasing livestock numbers. The diminishing supply of these prey species is driving snow leopards to turn to domestic herds for sustenance, exacerbating the already worrying conflict between snow leopards and farmers. Despite the importance of a healthy and large population of wild ibex and argali, reliable estimates of the numbers left are hard to come by in these remote mountainous areas. And there is limited understanding of the extent of overlap of diet between wild and domestic ungulates and therefore how much they are competing for the same food source.
(Video from Snow Leopard: Beyond the Myth. courtesy of Snow Leopard Trust)
This project is designed to study and understand the abundance and population dynamics of important snow leopard prey species in Mongolia, and to begin working towards monitoring and stabilizing this population over time. The work is very challenging. The conservation team is working in an area of around 2000 km2 in the Tost Mountains of Mongolia’s South Gobi province, the site where the first ever long-term study on snow leopard ecology is on-going since 2008. They are using pioneering techniques, previously tested in India for monitoring blue sheep and ibex, to establish the population size for ibex and argali. And to understand the impact of intensifying livestock grazing on snow leopard prey availability, they are collecting dietry samples and painstakingly recording observations to quantify the seasonal diet of ibex and livestock species.
As a result of work previously funded by PTES, the team has a good working relationship with the local communities and the governing bodies of the area. All the findings from this research work will be incorporated into the formal management planning for a globally important 7,000 km2 Local Protected Area in the South Gobi, as well as conservation programs aimed at reducing competition among wild and domestic ungulates. This project is also leading to a long-term population monitoring program for snow leopards.
Only by really understanding how our actions are affecting this threatened big cat are we going to be able to bring about the change needed to save it.