Thursday 26 May 2016

Elusive Snow Leopard Collared in Kyrgyzstan

By Tia Ghose, Senior Writer | May 24, 2016 12:45pm ET

Scientists have collared an elusive snow leopard in the remote, rugged mountains of Kyrgyzstan.

The female cat was collared in the Sarychat-Ertash Strict Nature Reserve of Eastern Kyrgyzstan by biologists with the wild cat conservation organization Panthera, the State Agency on Environment Protection and Forestry and the National Academy of Sciences. The mama cat showed signs of having lactated in the past, suggesting she had given birth  to at least one cub. This was the second time in six months that conservationists had succeeded in spotting and collaring a fertile female snow leopard in the country.

The sighting suggests the population of snow leopards (Panthera uncia) in this region could be recovering , after decades of relentless poaching, according to the scientists involved.

"It is so exciting to have two young productive females collared early in this study. It is a clear indication that Sarychat-Ertash, a place where snow leopards were nearly extirpated in the 1990s, is once again a stronghold for the species," Tom McCarthy, executive director of Panthera's Snow Leopard Program, said in a statement. "Kyrgyzstan can be very proud of this turnaround."

Mysterious creatures
The mysterious snow leopard lurks in the frigid, mountainous regions of 12 different countries in Asia. Yet these majestic creatures are often incredibly hard to spot; they glide silently through the snow on big, padded paws, and their thick, mottled white coats provide the perfect camouflage against the rocky, snow-flecked areas they prowl. The big cats are also highly reclusive by nature , meaning many locals who live alongside the cats have never seen them.

For decades, shepherds have hunted the cats to keep them from preying on their flocks.  Poachers have also targeted the majestic snow beasts for their fur and internal organs, which are prized in Chinese medicine.

The snow leopard has been listed as endangered since at least 1986 by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. However, in recent years, scientists and lawmakers have increased conservation efforts dramatically, expanding the size of protected regions and using everything from camera traps to DNA analysis of snow leopard poop to learn more about the elusive creatures. Those efforts have begun to pay off, and researchers estimate that the population is on the rise, with between 4,500 and 10,000 snow leopards now living throughout Asia.

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