By Olga Gertcyk
Photo traps capture beauty of the big cat stalking the landscape by day and night in shadow of Altai Mountains.
Majestic images of one of the world’s rarest big cats have been captured in a new Siberian national park for the first time.
Cameras managed to get photos and video footage of the snow leopard in its natural habitat during the day and at night in the shadow of the Altai Mountains.
The new pictures are the first evidence that the species is living within the Saylyugem National park, which was created five years ago to protect wildlife in the region.
They are particularly timely, given that 2015 has been designated the International Year of the Snow Leopard, with a special global campaign to raise awareness of the animal’s plight.
‘Our scientific research began in February and in less than a month we got the first photos,’ said Aleksei Kuzhlekov, a researcher at reserve. ‘The snow leopard was spotted four times, at different times. It is difficult to say though how many were caught by cameras, whether it was one or two.’
Another senior researcher, Sergey Spitsyn, said the videos and images could be of three or four different leopards.
He said: ‘Two of them were in footage and they have different patterns on their tails. The others were captured on the photo cameras, but it’s hard to tell if there is any different patterns because of low quality of the photos.’
Park staff collected droppings from two of the three spots where the leopards were recorded, and will pass on the biological material to the laboratory for DNA analysis.
Igor Ivanitsky, head of conservation department, said: ‘The snow leopards’ movement routes are properly marked, so by changing the spots where our photo traps were placed, we eventually found the right place. You can see in the footage that the snow leopard is scratching the ground. That tells us this is the main route for them moving around the reserve.’
The snow leopard is in the endangered category on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species with as little as 4,000 left in the world, of which only 2,500 may reproduce.
The Saylyugem National park was only created in 2010 to help protect the wildlife living in the shadow of the Altai range, particularly the snow leopard and argali mountain sheep.
It stretches to a total area of 118,380 hectares and is divided into three separate areas with different protection remits.
The creation of the reserve was essential because hunters killed more than 10 snow leopards alone in the Argut river valley in the 1990s. Their hides were sold as were parts of their bodies for eastern-style medicine.
Until the park was created, rangers had no way of protecting the area from poachers. The new images could inspire animal lovers to travel to the Siberian region and see the snow leopards living in the wild.
The reserve is open for tourists to visit and explore the animals in the wild, as well as get an understanding of the unique peoples and cultures of the region, where the border of Russia meets China, Mongolia and Kazakhstan.
Foreign visitors are welcome, although they do have to obtain a special visa and additional visitor documents since the region is close to the State borders.