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электронный журнал "Новые исследования Тувы"

WWF proposes to Russian businessmen to "adopt" the snow leopard

Experts from WWF, after the discovery of total numbers of red Book snow leopards who live  on the territory of pastures of south-west Tuva, are turning to members of Russian business community  with a plea to "adopt" the irbis.

Voluntary contributions by the "adoptive parents" will help to compensate herders for losses of livestock to attacks of the predator, to discourage the herders from killing the animals, as RIA Novosti was told by the press-secretary of Altai-Sayan project of WWF in Russia, Tatiana Ivanitskaya.

This fall, automatic cameras were set up in the snow leopard habitat on the mountain massif Mongun-Taiga and Chikhachev's Ridge. The main task of the project was to figure out the exact numbers of the rare predator in South-West Tuva , and to involve the local population in protection of the rare animal.

The cameras worked here for about a month, and documented such rare species of animals as rock marten and feathered-leg owl; snapshots also documented wolves and Siberian mountain goats. So far, irbis was not photographed, even though the researchers documented the predator's tracks in immediate vicinity from the objective of the camera.  Using the obtained data, experts adjusted the positioning of the cameras and widened the platform of the research.

Don't kill, protect

"The special feature of our work is that we are striving to involve the local population in protecting the spotty predator.. That means, first and foremost, sheep-herders of the high mountain districts of Tuva, who pasture their livestock in the snow leopard habitat. Unfortunately, for local herders, irbis is not a rare animal, but a predator, who attacks their livestock just like wolves," - Ivanitskaya quotes the director of "Ubsunur depression" nature preserve, Alexander Kuksin.

In her words, earlier, irbis attacks were a problem for the herders, when the animal would invade into a koshara (roofed barn for sheep) through a round ventilation opening in the roof and could kill several dozen animals. The herder, running there to investigate the noise, would most often kill the leopard.

As a solution, the WWF specialists with the help of experts from the program of Development  of OON (PROON) and Global Ecologic Foundation (GEF), covered up the openings in most kosharas with metal netting. Now, in most cases snow leopard attacks on livestock occur at the pastures, where the sheep cannot be fenced off from the predators.

The idea to involve Tuvan herders in protection of the irbis is being worked out by WWF and "Ubsunur depression" experts.

"The main goal is to figure out a system of encouraging the herders to protect the snow leopard. The compensation should amply cover the livestock losses of local population caused by the predator. First of all, it is planned to account for all the irbises living on the pasture territory of South-West Tuva herders, to document the presence of the animals using the photo-traps, and then, contacting members of Russian business community with the proposal to "adopt the irbis".  Donations from the companies would then go into a compensation fund to replace losses incurred by the herders," she said.

To find the "culprit" by photographs

In November, in Ivanitskaya's words, specialists taught people of Tolaylig village, right in the heart of "irbis country" on Tsagan-Shibetu range, to work with the photo-traps. Now, oriented on reports about predator attacks on livestock, the locals can themselves set up cameras around a discovered carcass or a koshara, and investigate when the animals show up. This measure, as the scientists believe, will allow to identify the culprit in the attack - whether it was a wolf or a snow leopard.

Currently, monitoring of irbis with photo-traps is being carried out with the help of WWF of Russia and WWF of Mongolia simultaneously in the south part of Chikhachev's Ridge in Tuva,  Gorniy Altai and Mongolia. The goal of this research is to study the trans-border group of 10-15 irbises, which is crucial for preserving the species.  This group is a type of a bridging population between the core population of irbises in Western Mongolia and the small Russian groups of this species. At the end of October, on Chikhachev's Ridge in Gorniy Altai, for the first time in the history of the region, two irbises were photographed.

Snow leopard (irbis) is a rare species of few individuals. The Red Book of RF lists irbis in Category 1 - "species under threat of extinction in the area". According to expert analysis of 2002, the irbis population in the Russian part of the area consisted of 150-200 individuals. By today,  according to preliminary counts by scientists, these numbers have decreased three times because of poaching.

South-West Tuva is a priority region for protection of irbis in Russia; it has the potential to support other Russian groups on the territory of Gorniy Altai, south of Krasnoyarsk Krai and Khakassia. According to WWF data, the total numbers of irbises on this territory (Chikhachev's Ridge, Tsagan-Shibetu and Mongun-taiga in Russia) consist of about 15-20 individuals.

RIA Novosti, translated by Heda Jindrak
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