Saturday, February 18, 2006

Snow leopard sightings in west China, hopes for endangered cats raised


Snow leopard sightings in west China, hopes for endangered cats raised


Updated: 2006-02-17 16:32



Scientists in China and Kyrgyzstan have photographed rare snow leopards, raising hopes there may be more of the endangered animals in the wild than previously thought, a researcher said Friday.


Chinese researchers captured five big cats on film on a mountain in country's northwest, their first clear sightings after a year of tracking the elusive big cats. Scientists across the border in Kyrgyzstan snapped 13 pictures, although they were comparing the spots on the animals to figure out how many were actually photographed.


"This is a very encouraging achievement," said Ma Ming, a Chinese researcher with the Xinjiang Institute of Ecology and Geography. "It was really hard to track snow leopards down due to their nature and habits, since they live at high altitudes and usually only come out after dark."


The shots in China were taken between October 18 and December 27 in a river valley near Mount Tomur, a 7,435-meter (24,535-foot) peak in the Tianshan mountains in northwestern China's Xinjiang region, the institute said. Five different cats were visible in the 32 clear shots the researchers were able to gather, it said.


The snow leopard lives in mountains and plateaus scattered across China, Mongolia, Afghanistan, India and Nepal, among other countries. The number surviving in the wild is estimated at 3,500-7,000, more than half of which are thought to be in western China.


Ma said the sightings suggest the number of snow leopards in Xinjiang may be higher than expected.


A report by the official Xinhua News Agency said the cameras, which are triggered by animals' body heat, also captured shots of ibexes, wild boars and partridge-like bird known as chukars _ all potential prey for snow leopards.


The researchers, whose institute is affiliated with the government's China Academy of Sciences, are conducting the country's first comprehensive survey of wild snow leopards, a project partly funded by the World Wildlife Fund, the report said.


A parallel study using 48 infrared cameras over 14 weeks was conducted in Kyrgyzstan, according to the Snow Leopard Trust, a conservation group based in Seattle, Washington.


Shots from China posted on the institute's Web site showed fully grown cats padding through the snow, in one frame, two together.


The Chinese study is also focusing on poaching and trade in snow leopard products. Skins of the animal, which are a smoky-gray with dark gray spots, can sell for more than 10,000 yuan (US$1,200; euro1,000) _ a small fortune for people living in remote rural areas.


Ma said local authorities were making progress in protecting the leopards and have set up several nature reserves in the area.

For the cats,


Carole Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue

an Educational Sanctuary home

to more than 100 big cats

12802 Easy Street Tampa, FL  33625

813.493.4564 fax 885.4457

Sign our petition here:


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