Monitoring snow leopards is a demanding task. Researchers must brave steep peaks and harsh, snowy conditions to collect data over long periods of time, sometimes walking and skiing hundreds of miles during one expedition. It’s important work, though, especially in the Eastern Sayan Ridge—key snow leopard habitat that’s been poorly studied due to its remoteness.
Without an accurate count of the world’s snow leopard populations, explains Karnaukhov, protecting the species in the long-term will be incredibly difficult.
In 2015, WWF-Russia developed a new scientific method for counting and monitoring these elusive cats. Created in partnership with New York University and the Snow Leopard Conservancy, the method, called Snow Leopard Grid, combines computer modeling with in-the-field observations to help researchers better analyze the data they collect, such as poaching levels and population densities.
Much of that information comes from camera traps that are carefully placed throughout snow leopard habitat. These special cameras send messages that allow researchers to track snow leopards as they move across the landscape, as well as to prevent poaching incidents in protected areas.
WWF is now working to expand its monitoring efforts to other snow leopard range countries, including Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. With a greater understanding of where and how many snow leopards exist, we’ll be better equipped to develop landscape-level land management plans aimed at conserving critical snow leopard habitat and trans-boundary wildlife corridors. We’ll also be able to scale up anti-poaching initiatives, making sure that these “ghosts of the mountain” can live in harmony with local people and communities.