Mongolia Steps Up in Big Way to Support Snow Leopard Protection

Celebrate, snow leopard fans. The government of Mongolia just made a critical decision that creates a true safe haven for the beloved but endangered big cat.

More than 8,000 square kilometers of prime habitat in the Tost Mountains are now a legally protected Nature Reserve, the Snow Leopard Trust has announced. A Nature Reserve is one of four levels of protected land areas under Mongolia’s National Park system.

Beginning immediately, no hunting, construction or mining will be allowed in this new National Reserve. Only traditional economic activities that won’t harm the land, such as livestock grazing, will be permitted. The local government has 60 days to work out how to deal with 12 licenses and two active mining sites within park boundaries. Either they will revoke the licenses with compensation, or adjust the park boundary to keep mining activity outside the protected area.

Map showing showing the proposed area for Tost Nature Reserve (red) and existing Protected Areas (dark grey).  Photo credit: Snow Leopard Trust

Map showing showing the proposed area for Tost Nature Reserve (red) and existing Protected Areas (dark grey). Photo credit: Snow Leopard Trust

Best of all, the Nature Reserve designation geographically links Tost with two neighboring protected areas on either side. For leopard protection here, nothing could be better.

The Tost Mountains are the ideal location to study these gorgeous animals, as the Snow Leopard Trust’s (SLT) researchers well know. Since 2008, they’ve been in Tost conducting what they call the world’s most comprehensive long-term snow leopard research study.

Local communities got behind the idea to better protect Tost many years ago, according to SLT. That local support proved crucial to this effort. Tost became a Local Protected Area in 2010. Locals and SLT have worked since then to achieve even stronger protection. It’s a credit to the Great Ikh Hural, Mongolia’s parliament, that they heard and understood the need for immediate action.

“This is a huge step forward for the protection of the endangered snow leopard in this part of its range,” Charu Mishra, the Snow Leopard Trust’s Science & Conservation Director, said in a press release. “This Nature Reserve will be a bridge between two existing Protected Areas, the Great Gobi and the Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park. The resulting landscape will be one of the world’s largest continuous protected snow leopard habitats.”

The Beautiful, Secretive “Mountain Ghost”

The elusive snow leopard is an enigma. Hard to find in the wild, it lives primarily in the frozen mountains of Central Asia. Known as the “mountain ghost,” it favors steep, often rocky terrain and preys on goats, sheep and ibex.

Watch some rare remote-sensor camera footage captured in the Tost Mountains by the Snow Leopard Trust in 2015:

Experts estimate there are between 4,000 and 6,500 snow leopards left in the wild. Perhaps 500 to 1,000 of them are in Mongolia. Overall, snow leopard populations dropped by an estimated 20 percent over the past 16 years, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The IUCN has considered the snow leopard to be endangered since 1986.

Principal threats include poachers, habitat loss, retribution killing by herders, and mining activities. Yes, every threat to these beautiful creatures is man made. Did you doubt it?

snow leopard

Photo credit: SLCF Mongolia / Snow Leopard Trust

Fortunately, the protections in place in Tost are actually working. SLT says five years’ worth of remote-sensor camera data shows snow leopards in Tost are reproducing and populations are stable. At least 12 adult leopard are in the area at any given time, they report.

Take a Moment to Acknowledge This Young Man’s Contribution

Lkhagvasumberel “Sumbe” Tomorsukh, 27, dedicated his heart and soul to snow leopard conservation. He was camp manager and research assistant with the Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation, a Mongolian partner working closely with SLT.

Tragically, Sumbe died unexpectedly in 2015. An investigation into his death began after his body was found in the Khuvsgul area of Mongolia, and is ongoing.

Sumbe did some amazing things, like carrying several hundred pounds of ice up a mountain by himself when water holes froze over, just to ensure the animals at the top would have enough to drink. His work contributed directly to Mongolia’s decision to legally protect Tost.

sumbe carrying ice

Sumbe Tomorsukh carrying ice. Photo credit: Snow Leopard Trust

“Sumbee lived for Tost and its snow leopards,” Bayarjargal Agvantseeren, leader of Mongolia’s Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation and Director of SLT’s Mongolia Programs, said in SLT’s press release. “If he were among us today, he’d be the happiest person on earth. The new Nature Reserve is a fitting tribute to this amazing young man.”

Thank you Sumbe, and thank you Snow Leopard Trust. What you do takes hard work, infinite patience and political savvy. Snow leopards seem to be holding their own in the Tost area. Its new status as a Nature Preserve will only increase this rare cat’s chances of survival. That’s worth applauding, isn’t it?

Photo credit (main image): Thinkstock

138 comments

william Miller
william Millerabout a year ago

Thanks

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallusabout a year ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Quanta Kiran
Quanta Kiranabout a year ago

wonderful news!

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sandy Gardner
sandy Gardnerabout a year ago

GREAT NEWS!

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Maggie A.
Maggie Dabout a year ago

It's fantastic to see two cubs! Wouldn't it be great if they'd re-name a mountain Sumbe in honor of his tireless work?

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Patricia Barclay
Patricia Barclayabout a year ago

great news - thank you

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Christina W.
Christina Habout a year ago

That's so wonderful!

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Sharon R.
Past Member about a year ago

Snow leopards are majestic and beautiful animals. Signed petition. Thank you :). Hugs, Sharon

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Aeri H.
aeriel Habout a year ago

Thank you so much!

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Dianne D.
Dianne Dabout a year ago

It's a baby step and every baby step helps.

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