Update from our snow leopard conservation expedition to the high mountains of the Altai Republic in Central Asia (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/altai)

I wanted to thank you everyone who joined us this year on the Altai expedition. I arrived back in Germany yesterday and I am very happy with what we have achieved this year. It was the first year we placed camera traps and with your help we have been able to set up 10 camera traps around Sailugem and Talduiar and two more on Chickachova ridge.

Camera trap locations 2012
Camera trap locations 2012

Camera traps CT5, CT 6, CT 9 and the two camera traps at Chickachova are still out and will be checked by our partners at WWF Russia / Arkhar NGO later in the year.

On CT 2 we were able to get some Pallas Cat pictures which is very good news as this cat wasn’t known to climb to that altitude (3100 m). The other camera traps showed lots of prey species, which I will put into our statistics and the expedition report.

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We did not get a photo of our elusive mountain ghost (but Sergei Spitsyn from Arkhar NGO did on Chickachova Ridge), but I am very happy to announce that we were successful in finding the all important snow leopard scrapes on the ridges in Slot 2, Slot 3 and Slot 4  On Chickachova we were able to find six scrapes and we set up one of our camera traps (CT- Ch01) in front of one. Most of the scrapes around Sailugem and Talduiar were found on the Sailugem valley ridge, where two more camera traps are still “on the hunt” for us.

A big thanks to slot 4 who found a scrape with scat up on the ridge at Talduiar and managed to set up two more camera trapos. The scat is already 98 confirmed as snow leopard scat has been passed on to WWF for DNA analysis. Another big predator scat was found near Talduiar at 2900 m and we are waiting for the results.

Prey species were found and counted during each slot and my preliminary analyses show that prey numbers in our study area are increasing.

In summary our 2012 expedition set up twelve camera traps, checked and removed seven camera traps, found up to twelve scrapes, observed more than 100 prey species and interviewed nine local families.

As you know conservation is partly research and partly conservation action with animals, local stakeholders, etc. Please don’t feel that you have not contributed if you were not one of the mountain goats putting camera traps up on the high ridges. We need to take a holisitc view and all data we collect about prey and predators and with local stakeholders, high or low, is a useful piece of the puzzle. And also remember that it is YOU who make all this research possible in the first place. Without you, there would be no Biosphere expedition to the Altai, no expedition reports and none of the local economic incentives that come with a largish multi-month expedition such as ours. The Altai is at a crossroad, just as Montana was perhaps a hundred years ago when in transformed from a cattle-based to a tourism-based economy or the Alps when they transformed from an isolated, poverty-stricken rural backwater to a prosperous tourism-based economy. With our low-impact, high local involvement conservation expedition we are at the spearhead of what could be a very positive transformation for local wildlife and people. The transformation will take time, one or two generations perhaps, but if we can help our local partners avoid the mistakes we have made in Europe or North America, then we will have won. Do not underestimate the power our mere presence has on shaping people’s opinions on the value of wildlife and a nature-based economy. “What pays, stays” is what conservationists often say, and we together are a perfect example of how things can work for everyone, which will not be lost on local people. This aspect of our expedition is only set to increase as we deepen our relationship with local operators and NGOs, so thank you again everyone for being a part of this in 2012.

Jenny Kraushaar
Expedition scientist

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