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Nine Lives: Meet the Snow Leopards On The Air Right Now

Animals  (tags: endangered, Afghanistan, Tibet, India, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Kyrgyz Republic, Bhutan, Nepal, UzbekistanTajikistan, CITES, World Conservation Union, IUCN, Tost Mountains, Mongolia, Snow Leopard, Tibet, China, Qinghai-Tibet, Sichuan, Xinjiang, Qinghai, GPS collars )

- 9 days ago -
The Snow Leopard Trust's research team is currently tracking a record nine wild snow leopards in Mongolias Tost Mountains with GPS collars


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fly bird (26)
Saturday December 8, 2018, 9:19 am
Nine Lives: Meet the Snow Leopards On The Air Right Now

The Snow Leopard Trust's research team is currently tracking a record nine wild snow leopards in Mongolia's Tost Mountains with GPS collars. Here's a look at these nine cats and what we know about them.

Anu (F5) – Snow Leopard Supermom

Anu is nothing short of a snow leopard star! She’s been in the spotlight since her birth in 2009, contributing to our study and successfully raising three litters of cubs. Her latest offspring, F11, is also wearing a GPS collar right now, and should soon disperse from her mother to find her own home range. We can’t wait to see if Anu will have cubs again next year!

We’ve written a lot about Anu in the past – check out some of these stories below:

Dagina (F8) – Pioneer Spirit

Dagina lives on the northwestern edge of our study area, in the Tosonbumba mountain range and the adjacent badlands. Like Anu, she’s been part of our study almost since birth, and has contributed to many groundbreaking insights into her species. And like Anu, Dagina is currently raising a cub (at least her second!). At nine years old, this trailblazer is still going strong, and we’re excited to see what she has in store for us next!

Read more about Dagina in this story:

Khurhuun ach (F10) – Beautiful Granddaughter (and mom)

This snow leopard mom, named by Mark and Vickie Nysether family in honor of their granddaughter, lives in the northwestern part of Tost, overlapping in part with Anu and her cub (F11) and another female, F12, as well as with M15 (The Dude).

Tracking her movements, our team located and visited her den in 2017 and found two cubs there.

This September, Khurhuun ach has started to increasingly venture outside of her normal territory, leaving on a few expeditions. Another female – perhaps F12 – may be pushing her out of the territory. It will be interesting to observe her movements going forward.

F11 – Baby Anu

F11 is Anu’s latest offsprig – and she’s her mother’s cub! “A feisty little girl”, says snow leopard researcher Örjan Johansson, who equipped her with a GPS collar in October 2018.

We first saw F11 a few weeks before collaring her on a camera trap photo. Together with her mom Anu, she had inspected a cage we’d built to try and catch ibex for collaring, and found it interesting enough to play with.

We don’t know much about F11 yet, but if all goes according to plan, we’ll be able to watch her disperse and find her own territory in the early part of 2019. This will add invaluable new information about how snow leopards migrate and disperse!


This female of about four to five years is overlapping with Anu and F11 is range – and it appears the may even share some meals! Her location data showed F11 visiting the exact location where Anu had taken down a prey animal just a few days earlier, after Anu and her daughter had eaten and moved on.

F12 must have had at least one litter of cubs at some point in her life, but we don’t know if she currently has any offspring with her.

Nachin Devee (M13) – Fighting Falcon

This young male was named in honor of our late colleague, Sumbee Tumursukh. It was Sumbee’s family who chose the cat’s name. We’ve collared M13 twice – first in April 2017, and again a year later in April 2018.

Lives almost entirely within M14’s territory. He moves around a lot -His range covers more than 40km of the length of the Tost Mountains – and behaves like a young (2-3 years old) male. He should settle down now as he is almost four years old. However, M13 is small for his age, perhaps he is a small male and will not reach the size needed to maintain a territory but will remain a ’floater’ for his entire life. Time will tell.

In spring 2018, we filmed M13 as he passed along a ridge just above our research camp.

Read about Sumbee’s legacy here:

Read more about M13’s collaring in this story:

Genghis (M14) – the Ruler

Genghis, named after the famed Mongolian ruler Genghis Khan by the Huston family, is a big young male. We believe he is only 3 years old, but he already weighs more than 41 kg. “He might grow up to become a really big dude”, Örjan Johansson says.

Genghis use more or less exactly the same territory as his predecessors Tsagaan and Aztai – two male snow leopards we had tracked earlier. It’s another indication that territorial borders appear to stay largely the same across several generations of snow leopards. We believe this may be due to natural landmarks or barriers, such as e.g. big valleys the cats don’t like to cross; as well as to existing neighbors that set boundaries of their own territories.

M15 aka “The Dude” – Destroyer of Cameras

“The Dude”, as we’ve nicknamed him for now, is HUGE. He likes to destroy our cameras. He appears to be as confident as he is big – “when we approached him in the snare to collar him, he was very calm. He didn’t even flinch when the tranquilizer dart struck him. He just let out a long, low growl. Other male usually put on a display of strength when we approach them; baring their teeth, hissing and growling loudly. This guy doesn’t bother with any such tactics. He just lets it be known that he doesn’t like us very much”, Örjan recalls.

M15 seems to have taken over the range that was previously occupied by M12 (Uulin ezen), another male we’d tracked for a while before his collar failed. This is the same territory our first-ever collared cat, Aztai, used before taking over a better area when it became available after the death of the cat that had lived there before.

However, M15 uses a smaller portion of this range so far – the smallest area of any of our collared males. This could well change in the future though – after all, we’ve only tracked him for a few months.

Read more about “The Dude” and his habit of destroying our camera traps:


M16 is a young male – he is probably 2.5 years old and lives inside M15’s territory. He frequently ventures out of his core range though. So far, his behavior appears to be consistent with that of other young males we’ve tracked – he mainly stays within another male’s territory, but isn’t quite settled there. This may be a form of “truce” – an older, stronger male tolerating the younger, smaller cat in his range as long as he keeps a “low profile”.

M16’s approach may be safer for a young male rather than moving around constantly and risking to encounter lots of different territorial males. Such encounters would carry a high risk of fights and injuries to the younger cat. M16 seems to have largely avoided such spats – he didn’t have a single scar on his nose when he was collared!

fly bird (26)
Saturday December 8, 2018, 9:21 am
International Snow Leopard Conference in Shenzhen.

This September, an international snow leopard conference brought together experts, government officials and NGO representatives in Shenzhen, China.

By Zhang Qian.
This article originally appeared in the Shenzhen Daily and is reposted here with slight edits with the author’s permission.

An international conference focusing on the protection and conservation of the snow leopard opened in Shenzhen yesterday morning, with over 210 government officials, experts, scientists and NGO representatives from 12 snow leopard range countries, including China, India, Russia, Mongolia and Pakistan, in attendance.

Major topics around the conservation of the snow leopard in the range countries, as well as other wildlife, will be discussed by the experts at the conference.

The global academic gathering is hosted by the National Forestry and Grassland Administration, National Park Administration, Guangdong Provincial People’s Government and China Wildlife Conservation Association.

The global event is organized by the Shenzhen Municipal People’s Government, with assistance from Guangdong Provincial Forestry Department, Shenzhen Municipal Forestry Bureau, China Conservation and Research Center for Giant Panda and Beijing Forestry University.

International NGOs, including Global Snow Leopard & Ecosystem Protection Program (GSLEP) and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), have provided support in organizing the conference.

Li Chunliang, deputy director of the National Forestry and Grassland Administration and National Park Administration, shared the Chinese Government’s efforts and achievements regarding the protection and conservation of the snow leopard, a Class I protected species in China, in recent years.

The snow leopard is also listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as its global population is estimated to number less than 10,000 mature individuals.

China has the largest habitat area for snow leopards in the world, with an estimated population of 2,000 to 2,500. The nation has tailored and rolled out comprehensive action plans to protect the species, said Li, especially exploring the establishment of more national parks for snow leopards in addition to the 26 conservation zones existing in 2017.

Li also addressed how the Chinese Government has included in the national strategy the building of an ecological civilization and will further cooperate with other snow leopard range countries and international organizations to protect and raise public awareness of the big cats.

Ye Zhenqin, vice governor of Guangdong Provincial People’s Government, and Liu Qingsheng, executive vice mayor of Shenzhen, also attended the opening ceremony yesterday and gave speeches to welcome the conference participants from home and abroad.

“Guangdong Province has been attaching great importance to wildlife protection by following the related national laws,” said Ye. “Governments of all levels have invited professional institutions to monitor and conduct researches on wildlife, strengthened supervision over wildlife resources and built conservation areas for wild animals.”

The province is a rich habitat for 774 wild terrestrial vertebrates and over 8,130 species of wild plants, including many endangered and valuable species, according to Ye.

Although Shenzhen is not a habitat for snow leopards, it shares some responsibility for protecting this valuable species, said Liu at the opening ceremony.

“Shenzhen will actively promote knowledge about snow leopards among residents and cooperate with other international organizations to protect wildlife,” said Liu.

“We have been working hard to win the title of the National Forest City for the past three years, and the city’s current forest coverage is around 40.68 percent,” said Liu.

The city is home to 499 wild terrestrial animals and nearly 2,100 kinds of wild plants, including some very precious species.

Koustubh Sharma, a representative from GSLEP’s committee, delivered a speech introducing the progress made by the range countries in protecting snow leopards, underscoring the significance of international cooperation in conservation work.

The large cat is native to the mountain ranges of 12 countries in Central and South Asia (China, Nepal, Bhutan, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, Mongolia, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan).

According to Sharma, the snow leopard habitat area in China accounts for more than 60 percent of the world’s total. And “China also shares its borders with 10 of the 11 other snow leopard range countries. By default, this makes China the hub of every snow leopard conservation action,” he said.

“We, on behalf of the GSLEP program, are humbled today to have China host this important conference, bringing together the global community of experts working on snow leopard research and conservation.”

Up to 2,500 wild snow leopards live in China. They mainly inhabit the mountainous regions of Tibet, Sichuan, Xinjiang, Qinghai, Gansu, Ningxia and Inner Mongolia, especially the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau.

Nepal has about 350 to 500 snow leopards. There are around 100 to 200 snow leopards in Bhutan, around 200 to 600 in India, about 200 in Kazakhstan, no fewer than 200 in Kyrgyzstan, no more than 100 in Afghanistan, 500 to 1,000 in Mongolia, 200 to 420 in Pakistan, 150 to 200 in Russia, 180 to 220 in Tajikistan and 20 to 50 in Uzbekistan.

The snow leopard’s fur is whitish gray with black spots on the head and neck and larger rosettes on the back and flanks. The belly is whitish and it has a bushy tail. Its shoulder height reaches up to 56 cm, and its full body head-to-toe ranges in size from 110 to 130 cm. Its tail is 80 to 105 cm long, and its eyes are pale green or grey in color. Its muzzle is short and its forehead domed. It can weigh between 38 and 75 kg.

The snow leopard has several adaptations for living in cold, mountainous environments. Its fur is thick, with hairs between 5 and 12 cm long. Its body is stocky, and its ears are small and rounded, which are features that help minimize heat loss. Its broad paws distribute its body weight well for walking on snow, and the fur on the underside of its paws increases grip for walking on steep and unstable surfaces, and also helps to minimize heat loss. Its long and flexible tail helps it maintain balance on rocky terrain. The tail is also very thick, providing fat storage, and it is covered with very thick fur, which allows the cat to use it like a blanket to protect its face while it sleeps.

Snow leopards normally live up to 10 years. It is difficult to artificially inseminate them. They are often hunted for their precious fur.

The Shenzhen conference resulted in the Shenzhen Consensus, a document endorsed by all representatives of snow leopard range countries present in Shenzhen. The Consensus reaffirms the countries’ commitment to saving this endangered species.

Download the Shenzhen Consensus here.

fly bird (26)
Saturday December 8, 2018, 9:26 am
More: The World's Most Elusive Big Cat.

In 1972, the World Conservation Union (IUCN) placed Snow Leopards on the endangered species red list, the same classification given to Giant Pandas and Siberian Tigers. In 1975, under the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES), trafficking of live snow leopards and their fur or body parts was made illegal in much of its native habitat. Today, almost 40 years later, the population of these beautiful big cats is still declining dangerously. Why? What can be done to help? This treehouse will provide information regarding many aspects of Snow Leopards with the hope of promoting conservation not only for these big cats, but also for other endangered species.

Kitty Facts


There has been some debate over the classification of Snow Leopards. Molecular studies suggest commonalities with big cats among the genus Panthera, such as Lions (Panthera leo), Tigers (Panthera tigris), Jaguars (Panthera onca) and Leopards (Panthera pardus). However unlike these big cats, Snow Leopards do not have the anatomical ability to roar, and so taxonomists sometimes place them in their own genus Uncia. Although they cannot roar, they do growl, moan, hiss, and mew just like other felines. Many experts believe they are an intermediate species between big cats and smaller felines, similar to the Clouded Leopard (Neofelis nebulosa).

Habitat and Range

Snow Leopards are native to high mountain ranges in central and south Asia extending through twelve countries: Afghanistan, Tibet, India, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Russia, the Kyrgyz Republic, Bhutan, Mongolia, Nepal, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Although this total range seems extremely large, the areas where the cats are usually found are relatively small and fragmented. In these regions, Snow Leopards spend much of their time 3,000 to 5,400 meters above sea level. At these elevations, the environment is cold and dry, while the terrain consists chiefly of very steep, rocky slopes. The only time these cats can be found at lower elevations is during the coldest winter months, when they follow their prey to the lowland forests that cover some of their homeland.

Perfectly Built for Their Extreme Habitat

Weighing between 30 and 60 kilograms, Snow Leopards are slightly smaller than other Leopards. They stand roughly 2 feet tall at the shoulder, and reach lengths of 6-8 feet from their head to the tip of their tail. They possess many unique adaptations which enable them to live in such a harsh climate.

Tail: Growing the length of its body, a Snow Leopard's tail is one of its most distinguishable and beneficial features. When hunting, Snow Leopards stalk their prey high up on mountain ridges. They then leap down, sometimes more than 40 feet, to chase and attack their target. The cats meter long tail aids in this process by helping them keep their balance while leaping and running among the steep mountain slopes. Not only is the tail used for balance, it is also used for warmth in the harsh cold climate. Snow Leopards are often seen with their tail wrapped around their face, protecting their noses from frost-bite.

Fur: Its beautiful coat is perfectly coloured for camouflage among the steep rocky slopes of a mountainous habitat. This helps the Snow Leopard sneak up on prey, but it also makes it very difficult for scientists to find them when doing research. Its thick, dense fur can grow up to 12 cm long, which provides much needed warmth in the often bitterly cold region. Unfortunately these features also make the Snow Leopard a target for the fur trade. Although the trafficking of Snow Leopard fur was made illegal many years ago, pelts are sold on the black market in Central Asia, Eastern Europe, and Russia where coats and other garments are quite popular.

Left: Can you spot the Snow Leopard among the rocks? Right: Snow Leopard rosettes. Images © 2008 Snow Leopard Trust

Paws: Their large, fur-covered feet act as snowshoes, slippers, and aide in balance all at the same time. Unfortunately, their paws, among other body parts, are also in demand for use in traditional Asian medicine.

Respiration: Powerful lungs and a large chest capacity help Snow Leopards get the oxygen they need from the thin mountain air. They also possess an enlarged nasal cavity which warms the cold air they breathe before it reaches the lungs.


Being very shy creatures, Snow Leopards are rarely seen in the wild. However through much hard work and collaboration, researchers have been able to piece together much about the behavioural patterns of these elusive cats.

Feeding: Being an opportunistic feeder, Snow Leopards will kill and eat whatever meat they can find. This includes wild game native to the area such as Ibexes and Bharal, as well as Pikas, Marmots and other small rodents. However due to increasing human encroachment into Snow Leopard territory, the big cats have also been known to attack domestic livestock. Unfortunately herders’ economic stability relies heavily on their domestic animals, and they often retaliate to such killings with a vengeance.

Reproduction: Being largely solitary creatures, individual Snow Leopards are rarely seen with others. The exceptions are during mating season, or when a mother is rearing her cubs. Females become sexually mature around 2-3 years of age, and males at 4 years. A single pair will be together for a short period between January and mid-March after which the male leaves the female to raise the cubs. Female snow leopards are pregnant for about three months before giving birth to 2-3 cubs. Like other felines, cubs are quite helpless when they are born and do not open their eyes for 7 days. By 2-3 months, they are eating solid food and following their mother around, but they do not become independent until 18-22 months of age. As a result, female snow leopards give birth every other year.

Territory Markings: Individual snow leopards inhabit a defined home range. These home ranges may vary greatly in size depending on the abundance of prey. To avoid potential conflict and find mates, Snow Leopards mark their territory. They do this in a number of ways, including spraying urine against rocks, defecating in specific areas, or scraping the ground with their hind legs. Scientists also use these marks while tracking and researching Snow Leopards.

Aggressive Tendencies: Snow Leopards have a crepuscular activity pattern, which means they are most active at dawn and dusk. When there is a significant human presence, however, they have been known to become primarily nocturnal in order to avoid contact. On the rare occasion when there is contact with humans, Snow Leopards are rarely aggressive. Even if they are disturbed while feeding, the big cats are more likely to run away than try to defend their kill. Only if they feel threatened, or their cubs are threatened will they display aggressive behaviour.

Population and Threats

Due to the Snow Leopard's shy, solitary nature, and the inaccessibility to its habitat, population sizes are quite difficult to estimate. It is thought that 4,500 – 7,500 remain in the wild with an additional 600 – 700 in zoos worldwide. Unfortunately these numbers continue to decline. A number of factors influence Snow Leopard populations, the main threat being human activity.


Snow Leopards are hunted illegally for many of their body parts. Their lustrous fur is made into coats, hats and other garments. Pelts sell for thousands of dollars on the black market, and it typically takes 6-12 skins to make one coat. Snow Leopard skeletons sell for twice the amount of their furs. Over the past five years, their bones have become in demand as a substitute for Tiger bones in traditional Asian medicine. With so much media and conservation attention, Tiger bones are becoming difficult for poachers to acquire, so they have turned to alternative felines. Many poachers are local people from Snow Leopard areas who are barely able to survive on a few dollars a day. To them, poaching is an extra source of income to help feed their families.

Conflict with Herders

When Snow Leopards and humans come into close contact, conflict usually arises. The cats often attack livestock because they are much easier to stalk and kill then wild prey. Herders in the area depend heavily on the well being of their animals, and so the loss of a single sheep, goat or horse presents a huge setback. Herders often retaliate for these losses by poisoning, shooting or trapping Snow Leopards. Killings of this nature rarely get reported, and so the number of Snow Leopards killed in this manner is unknown.

Habitat and Prey Loss

The habitat to which the Snow Leopard has adapted is a very specific and fragile environment. These snow covered mountanous areas are being threated by both global warming and the encroachment of humans. Snow Leopards typically inhabit the area between the tree line and the permanent snow line. Temperature changes have caused the permanent snow line to recede, which causes the Snow Leopards to move further up mountain slopes. At these high elevations, vegetation is scarce, as are the herbivorous animals on which the big cats prey. Not only is global warming posing a threat, but as humans become more mobile, they push further into Snow Leopard territory. Livestock overgraze and damage mountain grasslands, leaving less food for the big cats' wild prey. This situation also increases conflict with local herders since livestock is more likely to be killed when natural prey is scarce.

Lack of Cooperation, Policy Implementation and Funding

There is no shortage of laws designed to protect the Snow Leopard, but creating laws is only half of what is required. Implementing these laws requires cooperation between not only governments and conservation agencies, but also the general public. Local people in Snow Leopard areas are struggling to provide for themselves and their families. They have little time or energy to devote to the protection of these felines. Similarly, many governments in Snow Leopard areas are focused on other issues. Environmental protection policies are usually not a top priority when governments need to worry about economic development or political instability. This also leaves very little money to enforce laws and patrol protected area boundaries for poachers.

Why are they so Important?

Indicator Species

The presence, absence, or relative well-being of an indicator species in its environment indicates the heath of the surrounding ecosystem as a whole. Being one of the top predators in the high mountain food web of Central Asia, the Snow Leopard helps to keep the ecosystem in balance by preying on marmots, ibexes and other native herbivores. If there are too many herbivores in the area, they will degrade the alpine meadows, leaving no food for both wild herbivores and domesticated livestock. If Snow Leopards disappear from the area, the rest of the ecosystem will fall apart.

Native Beliefs

There are many ancient beliefs and traditions surrounding the Snow Leopard in areas where they are commonly found. Many have been preserved for centuries and are still incorporated into some religious rituals today.

Nepal: In northern Nepalese societies, many indigenous and shamanistic practices incorporate the Snow Leopard. Some folklore describes Snow Leopards as a "fence" for crops, meaning that if there are none around, native animals would be free to invade crop fields. Other inhabitants believe Snow Leopards are born to remove sins from past lives, and that killing one means transferring their sins to your own life.

Tibet: Milarepa, one of Tibet's most famous poets and yogis, is said to have transformed himself into a Snow Leopard while stranded on a mountain in the winter. By doing this, he was able to survive six months until his disciples could travel up the mountain and search for him.

The Wakhi: The Wakhi are a group of people native to northern Pakistan, China, Tajikistan and Afghanistan. They believe that supernatural beings, called mergichan, inhabit the high mountains of the region. The mergichan are holy and very powerful, and so the area they inhabit is pure and sacred. The Wakhi believe the mergichan often take the form of a Snow Leopard, since the animal exemplifies many of the qualities of the mergichan: elusive, powerful, beautiful, and potentially dangerous.

What is being Done to Help?

Since 1972 when Snow Leopards were first placed on the endangered species list, many things have been done to try to save these magnificent creatures.

Local Governments

Various international and national treaties and laws protect the Snow Leopard. All Snow Leopard range countries except the Kyrgyz Republic and Tajikistan have made the trafficking of live Snow Leopards or their fur/body parts illegal. A number of governments have also created national parks in order to preserve and protect Snow Leopard habitat.

Protected areas include:
•Chitral Gol National Park, in the N.W.F.P province, Pakistan
•Hemis National Park, in east Ladakh, India
•Khunjerab National Park, Northern Areas, Pakistan
•Nanda Devi National Park, in the state of Uttarakhand, India
•Qomolangma National Park preserve, Tibet, China
•Sagarmatha National Park, Nepal
•Tumor Feng Nature Reserve, Western Tianshan mountains, Xinjiang, China
•Valley of Flowers National Park, Uttaranchal, India
•Shey-Phoksundo National Park, Dolpa, Nepal
•Dhorpatan Hunting Reserve, Baglung, Nepal
•Annapurna Conservation Area, Western Nepal
•Jigme Dorji National Park, Bhutan
•Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park, Mongolia
•Ubsunur Hollow, on the territorial border of Mongolia and the Republic of Tuva

Conservation Agencies

Many private conservation agencies have also been created to save the Snow Leopards. These agencies implement a number of different programs aimed at research, education and preservation.

Research: In these programs, scientists go out into Snow Leopard territory to try to learn as much about the animals as possible. Wild Snow Leopards are rarely seen, therefore indirect methods are usually used to track animals and estimate population sizes. Indirect studies include setting up cameras or analyzing trails left by Snow Leopards including tracks, scrapings, feces, or urine-sprays. Scientists also observe the herds of wild sheep and goats that are the Snow Leopard's primary prey. Population sizes of native herbivores can indicate how many Snow Leopards are potentially in the area. Genetic studies are also in their early stages to help design new conservation programs and evaluate old ones.

Click on an image to view larger version & data in a new window

Local Village Programs: Many conservation agencies have set up programs in local villages near Snow Leopard territory with many different goals. One of the most important is to help local herders protect their livestock from Snow Leopard attacks. Wire mesh and wood is provided to cover unprotected windows in stables. If an animal is attacked, many conservation agencies also have an insurance program designed to compensate families for their loss. In return, herders agree not to kill Snow Leopards and to leave some room for the Snow Leopard's prey species to graze. Herders are also encouraged to dismantle traps, report sightings of Snow Leopards, record livestock losses due to attacks, and practice the best possible livestock guarding techniques. Other programs aim at improving the economy of local communities. Villages are provided with equipment to produce products made from the wool of their sheep and camels. The products are then sold at local tourist attractions, or the conservation agencies may sell them online.

Cher C (1426)
Saturday December 8, 2018, 9:38 am

So beautiful!!!!! Thnx for posting Hun!

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