A First in Kazakhstan – Snow leopard monitoring vigils via satellite telemetry

December 8, 2021

Photo credit: UNDP Kazakhstan

8 December 2021, Nur-Sultan – The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), together with the Ministry of Ecology, Geology and Natural Resources of Republic of Kazakhstan and the Barys Hockey Club, have launched an initiative tagging snow leopards (Panthera uncia) using satellite telemetry. The work started in the Altyn Emel State National Park, where the telemetry of the female snow leopard was carried out.

The initiative is being implemented in Kazakhstan for the first time,  part of a joint project of UNDP, the Government of Kazakhstan and the Global Environment Facility on “Conservation and Sustainable Management of Key Globally Important Ecosystems for Multiple Benefits” with a view to determining the habitat and migration routes of the snow leopard.

Satellite equipment consists of collars that send information about the animal’s movements to specialists for further study of migration, identification of threats and development of proposals for their minimization. The collars are absolutely eco-friendly, safe, and trapping takes place by a humane and safe method, which has been successfully and repeatedly carried out in a range countries such as Afghanistan, India, China, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan and Russia. 

Under this methodology trapping takes place without direct human involvement, which greatly reduces the risk of stress and injury to the animal.

"The study and protection of the snow leopard population in Kazakhstan is of great value for the conservation of the country's biodiversity. Through the joint efforts, we have seen considerable progress in the study of this predator in the country. New habitats were recorded in the country in 2010-2020, so determining migration routes is important for taking further measures to study and preserve Kazakhstan’s population of this species," said Yakup Beris, UNDP Resident Representative in Kazakhstan.

The work on satellite telemetry of the snow leopard started at the end of November this year in its habitats on the territory of Altyn-Emel State National Park, where the predator was firstly registered by camera traps in 2020. International experts of the Severtsov Institute - Andrey Poyarkov, Dmitry Alexandrov and Jose Antonio Hernandez-Blanco installed the equipment. All have experience in tagging snow leopards, tigers and other felines from Mongolia and Russia. Scientists conducted satellite tagging of the first adult snow leopard. In total, the plan is to install six more satellite collars in the areas of Zhetysu and Zailiysky Alatau, Altai and Western Tien Shan.

Kazakh scientists from the Institute of Zoology of the Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Kazakhstan took part in the activity. This was an excellent learning opportunity for the Kazakhstani specialists.

According to Yerlan Kutpanbayev, Deputy Chairman of the Forestry and Wildlife Committee of the Ministry of Ecology, Geology and Natural Resources of the Republic of Kazakhstan, today satellite tagging is the modern and safest method of tracking habitats and the migration of animals.

"Satellite tagging of the snow leopard is used in a number of countries, including China, India, Mongolia and Russia. This method is being applied for the first time in Kazakhstan. Since our republic is located on the periphery of the snow leopard habitat, we hope that satellite tagging will give a positive result in terms of improving monitoring and further actions to protect this threatened species. Moreover, in recent years a positive trend towards an increase in the population of this iconic species has emerged. Thanks to camera traps, potential habitats are being monitored, population are being counted," said Yerlan Kutpanbayev.

The initiative on satellite tagging of the snow leopard was supported by the Barys Hockey Сlub, which has been actively involved in the conservation of the snow leopard for several years. The Club has purchased an additional unit of the satellite collar, which will be used as part of the tagging of the snow leopard. The President of Barys HC, Boris Ivanishchev, noted that "the club's contribution to the study of the snow leopard will attract the attention of a large audience of fans to the problem of preserving the International Union for the Conservation of Nature  (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, and also emphasized the club's commitment to wildlife conservation."

The snow leopard is included in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and it has the status of a rare or endangered species in all 12 range countries, including Kazakhstan.