Camera-Trapping the snow leopard

*The original article can be found in the article entitled ‘Camera-Trapping of Snow Leopards’ by. Rodney M. Jackson et al.

From a bird’s eye view emerges a black dot which appears to be a group of people moving slowly from one point to another. It is in the middle of nowhere. The dense snow coupled with low temperature in which a slight howling wind could pierce through one’s down jacket without failure. There is only one explanation for a group of researchers to escape their comfort zone and travel to a treacherous location…To study the snow leopard.

The researchers embraced two consecutive winter seasons in India’s Hemis High Altitude National Park (HNP) for census taking of the snow leopard using camera-traps. Although setting up camera-traps is a common practice, the expedition however adapted unique techniques to count Bengal tigers pioneered by the tiger expert Ullas Karanth.

The snow leopard is known for being elusive, which is why it is also known as the mountain ghost. Enthusiastic conservationists at times spent years but only able to see its pug marks rather than the snow leopard itself. With the adapted techniques, the researchers expect to establish a standardised field method and protocol to procure extensive information about the elusive cat.

Throughout the expedition 112 (2003) and 82 (2004) photos were images of the snow leopard procured from the camera traps. They were set at the elevation of 3, 500m.

Commonly, the snow leopard can be identified based on their pelage pattern such as the spots, rosettes and rosette groupings. At times spots on their forehead too distinguish one snow leopard from another.

The article however posits that the best body parts to distinguish and identify the snow leopard are by looking at its lower forelimbs, forequarters, flanks and the dorsal surface o the tail. The challenge however are that the snow leopard’s extremely long and soft coat and pelage patterns at times varies while its moving or sitting in different postures.

Unlike other big cats however, the snow leopard’s pelage patterns are also surprising challenging to be captured on camera traps as snow leopards typically walk very close to boulders or the base of a cliff, which is a location that is safe for the camera traps to be set up.

Regardless, out of the two years the researchers successfully captured 10 individuals for a statistical test to survey the snow leopard’s migration frequency, emigration, birth or death. The article however also suggested that a larger sample size is required to obtain robust results of this beautiful creature.

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