Snow Leopard Selfies Matter

The Nemegt Mountains in Southern Mongolia lie in the Gobi-Gurvansaikhan National Park, part of our focal South Gobi snow leopard landscape. Nemegt is one of the “mountain islands” dotting the Gobi Desert that serves as critical habitat for snow leopards and other wildlife. We have monitored these mountains since 2008, adding camera surveys for the last decade, and have found the area to be home to a stable population of resident snow leopards.

In our 2020 and 2021 surveys, 37 cameras were placed along the valleys, saddles, ridgelines and canyons in Nemegt, covering an area of more than 1100km2. Our team from Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation, Gobi-Gurvansaikhan National Park and the community rangers from Tost Mountains set up the cameras.

We are excited to share the preliminary results after reviewing all photos collected from both years. Our cameras recorded a total of 110 and 123 capture events of snow leopards, where one “capture” is a single visit by a snow leopard to the camera. This is the highest camera capture rate we have recorded in the Nemegt Mountains.

We identified 13 resident adult snow leopards on cameras, including seven females and six to seven males. Incredibly, every resident female observed in 2019 was detected again in 2020 or 2021. Three of these females have been detected in Nemegt since 2013 (when they were each seen with new cubs), suggesting that they are now at least 13 years old in 2022. Of the males we observed in 2019, all but one were observed in these recent surveys. 

In addition to the residents we have observed year after year, we detected up to five “floater” adults in the area. These individuals, traveling alone and recorded for the first time in Nemegt, are either transients or recently dispersed young snow leopards who have left their mothers and are looking to establish a territory of their own. Fascinatingly, we recorded three subadult snow leopards in Nemegt who had dispersed from Tost mountains. Nemegt and Tost (both “mountain islands”) are separated by about a 40km stretch of steppes. These were offspring born to Dagina, Willian and Aka. Another adult, Loko, was observed in Nemegt on June 28 and then again in Tost on October 1. These observations further show how important the desert steppe between Tost and Nemegt is as a corridor for dispersal of snow leopards.

Our cameras also captured a male and female together in June 2021. “Spotless” and “New Family” likely only met briefly, as this timing is outside of  the mating season of snow leopards.