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VIDEOS: Baby snow leopards recorded for the first time in history

12:25 PM, Jul 13, 2012   |    comments
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MONGOLIA - For the first time ever, the den sites of two female snow leopards and their cubs have been located and videos of the cubs have been recorded, said scientists from Panthera, a wild cat conservation organization, and the Snow Leopard Trust (SLT).

Researchers have been trying for decades to study the snow leopards secretive lives, but the animal's elusive nature and the extremely treacherous landscape they inhabit makes tracking them nearly impossible.

Until now.

PHOTO: Baby snow leopards

The discovery provides invaluable insight into the life story of the snow leopard, SLT researchers 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," said Dr. Tom McCarthy, Executive Director of Panthera's Snow Leopard Program

Orjan Johansson, Panthera's  field scientist and Ph.D. student attached a camera to a pole to record two females and their cubs. The camera was then extended a safe distance from the leopards.


Video courtesy Panthera/Snow Leopard Trust

Discovering the location of the den offered a team, which included a veterinarian, to enter the two dens while the mothers were away hunting. Three cubs were carefully weighed, measured, photographed while two of the cubs were fixed with microchip GPS  tags that will track their exact locations.


Video courtesy Panthera/Snow Leopard Trust

Researchers monitored the mothers' locations to ensure they returned to their dens and their cubs, which they successfully did.

"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," said Dr. Howard Quigley, Panthera's Executive Director of both Jaguar and Cougar Programs.

Many have nicknamed this species of leopard 'Asia's Mountain Ghost' because of the cat's elusive nature. Up until now, very little has been known about rearing cubs and cub survival in the wild. 

Although snow leopard litters typically consist of one to three cubs in a captive zoo environment, no information exists about litter sizes in the wild. In the wild snow leopard cubs are subject to natural predators, disease, and also human threats such as poaching or capture for the illegal wildlife market, the percentage of cubs which survive to adulthood has until now only been speculated.

Studies will help scientists learn how a den is selected, how long snow leopard cubs remain in dens, when cubs begin to follow their mothers outside of the dens, how often and how long the mother leaves the cubs alone to hunt, how many cubs are typically born in the wild, and other valuable data.

All of these data and more, gathered through camera-trapping and GPS collaring, help to inform effective conservation initiatives undertaken by Panthera across the snow leopard's range.

Panthera operates on donations from the public and works to conserve threatened species.

Science Daily

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