Thursday, 16 January 2014

University researchers win grant to help protect snow leopard population

Image courtesy Snow Leopard Network
The future of the snow leopard may seem far removed from life in rainy Britain, but researchers at the University of Cumbria have just secured a grant for research to help preserve the species in southern Kazakhstan.

A Snow Leopard Conservation Grant has been awarded by the Snow Leopard Network, for a project to be undertaken in partnership with Almaty State Nature Reserve, Kazakhstan, Kazakh National University and Central Queensland University, Australia.

During 2014-15, a team of five experienced scientists and conservationists from the University of Cumbria will be using ‘trailcams’ or camera traps to carry out a population survey of snow leopard numbers in the nature reserve. They will also model the potential impacts of climate change in the reserve, mainly in relation to changes in the treeline.


Image courtesy Snow Leopard Network
Principal investigator Dr Ian Convery, from the university’s Centre for Wildlife Conservation explains:

“The snow leopard is one of the most charismatic species on the planet. Climate change represents one of the biggest challenges to its survival, and this research will enable us to make some predictions about the future for snow leopard numbers in an important area of its range, the Tian Shen mountains in Central Asia.

“This research builds on existing good working relationships that the university has forged with institutions in Kazakhstan. There are currently no reliable estimates of snow leopard numbers in the nature reserve, one of only two stable populations of snow leopards in the country.

“We have already used these cameras for research in a range of different environments, such as the high Rocky Mountains in Alberta and temperate rainforest in British Columbia, Canada. Trailcam technology has improved dramatically over the last few years. Cameras can function down to extremely low temperatures and can be left in the field for up to 12 months on one set of batteries.”

The Snow Leopard Network is a worldwide organization dedicated to facilitating the exchange of information between individuals around the world for the purpose of snow leopard conservation. Its membership includes leading snow leopard experts in the public, private, and non-profit sectors.


The main goal of the organization is to implement the Snow Leopard Survival Strategy, which offers a comprehensive analysis of the issues facing snow leopard conservation today.


The SLN also maintains a Snow Leopard Bibliography, which providitses  members with access to scholarly articles on snow leopards and related issues.

“We are dealing with a highly endangered, yet the least studied of all large cats," explains Dr. Charudutt Mishra, executive director of the Snow Leopard Network. "So far, not a single study in Kazakhstan has undertaken a robust population estimation of the snow leopard, let alone population monitoring. The work of Dr. Convery’s team and their Kazakh collaborators is a very important first step in population monitoring and understanding the impacts of climate change on the snow leopard in Kazakhstan”.

In the long term, the researchers plan to establish a permanent network of trailcams in Almaty State Nature Reserve to monitor both snow leopard and prey species population numbers. Reserve staff will be trained in the management and maintenance of the camera traps, allowing the project to continue long after the grant funding has ceased, strengthening the capacity to monitor and protect snow leopard populations for the future.

• Snow Leopard Network: www.snowleopardnetwork.org/sln/Homepage_En.php

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