Rare Snow Leopards Are Returning to Russia

An expedition found the fresh tracks of a mother and her cubs during a recent search.

(Photo: Julie Larsen Maher/Courtesy Wildlife Conservation Society)

Apr 1, 2015· 0 MIN READ
Emily J. Gertz is an associate editor for environment and wildlife at TakePart.

A ranger and volunteers hiking in Russia’s rugged Altai Mountains have found proof that endangered snow leopards have returned to the region: tracks in the snow of a young female leopard and her two cubs.

Tracks of a female snow leopard and two cubs in Ak Cholushpa Nature Park, Russia, in late 2014. (Photo: A. Tokoyev/Courtesy of WWF Russia)

The World Wildlife Fund announced confirmation of the discovery, made in December in Siberia’s Ak-Cholushpa Nature Park, on Wednesday.

“It’s really the first authenticated snow leopard encounter in the park,” said Tatiana Yashina, coordinator for the Altai-Sayan branch of WWF, in a statement. “In the past we found only old claw marks from the animals, and the presence of the snow leopard in this territory was considered unconfirmed.”

In 2014, WWF held training sessions in the region on how to identify signs of the rare leopards in the Altai protected areas, nature zones and parks established to protect pristine wilderness, as well as buffer the migration routes of snow leopards and other native wildlife.

Native to the mountains of Central Asia, snow leopards were heavily poached in their Russian range following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. There are perhaps 4,000 to 6,000 left alive in the wild, according to the IUCN, with conservationists from almost a dozen countries working to save the species from extinction. The Altai and Sayan mountains are considered one of their essential habitats.