It is about as remote as we can imagine for us in the West. It is the beginning of life and a home for snow leopard cubs. I have a huge admiration for the elusive snow leopard living in the barren, cold and harsh rocky landscape that is its home range in Central Asia. Yet this is a magnificent landscape and it protects the snow leopard because it allows the snow leopard to distance itself from the human.
However, humans do find their way into these remote places. For example mining is a problem for the snow leopard and farmers struggle to cohabit with the snow leopard at it preys on their livestock. They retaliate by killing the snow leopard, which, incidentally, I am informed is easy to kill because it is innocently friendly towards people. It appears that it has not learnt that humans are dangerous.
The farmer-snow leopard conflict is being successful resolved by the Snow Leopard Trust (a fantastic organisation) setting up a insurance scheme so that farmers receive compensation for the loss of their livestock thereby precluding the need to kill the rare and endangered snow leopard. The Snow Leopard Trust also instigated a vaccination program which helps save the snow leopard. These may be linked programs. They are smart conservation programs and I love that sort of thinking. It is out of the box, enlightened thinking and it is working with the local people. You can’t really achieve much unless you have the local people on your side.
One of the great benefits of the remote home of the snow leopard and its elusive nature is that it appears to be non-commercial to poach the snow leopard for body parts. The Bengal tiger is desperately vulnerable to poaching in India’s poorly protected reserves. The tiger in India is a neighbour of the people in India. The snow leopard has no human neighbours. Thank God.
Well, for the first time conservationists have tracked mothers to their dens. These cats wear radio collars which allows conservationists to track them using GPS. This has been happening since 2008.
The dens were located on June 21st 2012. The two dens are 6 kilometers apart (3.73 miles). In one of the dens the mother and her two cubs were filmed by the international team of conservationists. The video is not great it has to be admitted, but it is unique. The camera was fixed with gaffa tape (heavy duct tape) to the end of the VHF antenna to allow the person to carefully position the camera over a wall behind which the snow leopard was resting with her cubs. Interestingly the wall was man made. People had been here. Would they return?
Brad Rutherford the Executive Director of the Snow Leopard Trust says:
“This is incredible. Snow leopards are so rare and elusive that people often talk about them as ‘ghosts’ of the mountains. This is the first documented visit of a den site with cubs and thanks to this video we can share it with the world.”
Disturbance to the den sites were absolutely minimised. Is there a danger that the scent and presence of humans will disturb the snow leopard and endanger the cubs? That might be a risk. At the second den the scientists were able to enter it and microchip the cubs with a tracking device, confirm their sex and measure weights.
Let’s make sure the devices that track these beautiful large cats do not fall into the wrong hands. Conservation has to be carried out with care and the Snow Leopard Trust do a great job. Has anyone discussed the dangers of GPS tracking of wild cat species in terms of poachers finding a way to pick up the radio signal and track down these cats? Is that a security problem? I have no idea. I suspect it is a potential problem but the remoteness of the snow leopard protects it. Poaching is about profit and loss, a balance sheet. If it takes months to get to a cat it is not financially viable to poach it.