In a region where this endangered species was once nearly eliminated, things may be looking up.
Scientists have recently collared an endangered female snow leopard in Kyrgyzstan, a country located in Central Asia, for the second time ever.
Panthera, the global wild cat conservation organization, teamed up with the State Agency on Environment Protection and Forestry and the National Academy of Sciences to operate the snow leopard conservation project. They were responsible for the collaring on May 8 in the protected Sarychat-Ertash Strict Nature Reserve of eastern Kyrgyzstan.
The country’s first snow leopard collaring took place six months ago in the same reserve, just four kilometers (2.5 miles) away.
The newly collared female showed evidence of prior lactation, suggesting she had previously given birth to at least one cub. The first female was photographed with three large cubs in late 2015. Together, these findings indicate that the snow leopards in this region are breeding and have access to the prey needed to raise cubs to maturity.
Tom McCarthy, Executive Director of Panthera’s Snow Leopard Program, said in a press release: “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 1990's, is once again a stronghold for the species. Kyrgyzstan can be very proud of this turnaround.”
Scientists estimate between 4,500 and 10,000 adult snow leopards are living in the wild, restricted to the high mountain regions of Central Asia. Kyrgyzstan potentially serves as a critical corridor through which snow leopards can journey from the northern end of their habitat in Russia to their southern habitats in China, India, Nepal, and Bhutan, where more than half of the world’s snow leopards are found.
By tracking collared snow leopards, scientists can gain valuable insights into things like how much land and prey are required to support a healthy population and what factors facilitate reproduction in the species. Already, the investigation of 45 kill sites of the first collared female has suggested that a mother with a dependent cub needs a source of prey every three to four days.
Abdikalik Rustamov, State Agency for Environmental Protection and Forestry of the Kyrgyz Republic Director, said: "This current research is important for the conservation of snow leopards. Through collaring, we learn of snow leopards’ migration corridors, food preferences and threats to their survival.”
Editor's note (May 27): The original version of this article stated that China alone is home to more than half of the worl'd snow leopards when, in fact, it is China, India, Nepal, and Bhutan.