Snow Leopard Mother And Cubs Captured On Film In Mongolia
July 15, 2012

Snow Leopard Mother And Cubs Captured On Film In Mongolia

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

For the first time ever, two dens with mother snow leopards and their cubs have been located, allowing an extraordinary look into the lives of these mysterious cats. Located in the Tost Mountains in Mongolia, these snow leopards have given scientists from Panthera and the Snow Leopard Trust (SLT) the experience of capturing the first footage of the intimacies between a mother and her cubs.

Snow leopards are elusive and solitary creatures, and because their habitats hold dangerous terrain, it has been nearly impossible to locate these dens. The Executive Director of Panthera's Snow Leopard Program, Dr. Tom McCarthy, said, “We have spent years trying to determine when and where snow leopards give birth, the size of their litters, and the chances a cub has of surviving into adulthood. This is one of those exceptional moments in conservation where after years of effort, we get a rare glimpse into the life of an animal that needs our help in surviving in today's world. These data will help ensure a future for these incredible animals.”

Örjan Johansson, PhD student and Panthera´s Snow Leopard Field Scientist captured the short film of one of the mothers and her cubs, who resided in a den partly manufactured by humans, from a safe distance, utilizing a camera attached to an extension pole.

The group of scientists, including one veterinarian, entered the dens while the mothers were out, using extreme caution to examine the cubs. One den contained two cubs, while the other only contained one. These cubs were photographed, measured and weighed by the veterinarian, and two were given tiny microchip ID tags, placed just under the skin in order to track future movements. The team then observed the mothers, making sure that they would return to their dens, as the safety of the cubs was of utmost priority.

Dr. Howard Quigley, Panthera´s director of both the Cougar and Jaguar programs, stated, “Knowledge about the first days and weeks of life is vital to our understanding of how big cat populations work, and how likely it is for a newborn to reach adulthood and contribute to a healthy population. A valid conservation program requires such information, which this new development in snow leopard research provides.”

Because the snow leopards, known colloquially as “Asia's Mountain Ghost”, have been so difficult to locate and study, any previous knowledge about their habits and lives have been gathered from individuals in zoos.  Little is known about wild cubs and their ability to survive, so Panthera´s work in the field provides the opportunity to increase understanding in order to save these beautiful creatures.

In captivity, a typical litter can contain between one to three cubs, but the number of cubs in the wild is not yet definitive. Experts have only been able to theorize about cub survival, and with threats including poaching, natural predation, and disease, it is impossible to know, without further research, the percentage of cubs that survive to adulthood in the wild.

The research conducted by Panthera and the SLT, as well as the utilization of PIT tags, will allow scientists to know how mothers choose their birth dens, and how they raise their cubs in these dens. Gathered by camera trapping, GPS collaring, and other methods, scientists will have a better chance at understanding the habits of a mother snow leopard and her cubs, including when the young leave the den, how long the mother is away when hunting, and how many cubs are typically produced in each litter. This information, and many other data collected from across the snow leopard´s range, gives Panthera the opportunity to expand and improve conservation efforts.

The see all video and images, visit the Panthera website.