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Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Observing and Studying the “King of the Snowy Mountains”: The Elusive Snow Leopard in Qinghai’s Qilian Mountains

CultureObserving and Studying the "King of the Snowy Mountains": The Elusive Snow Leopard in Qinghai's Qilian Mountains

A rarely seen predator, known as the “king of the snowy mountains,” is currently being observed and studied in its natural habitat in the Qilian Mountains of Qinghai province. The predator is being watched and studied by researchers who are conducting their work far from the lofty peaks of the animal’s habitat. Specifically, the observation is taking place in Tianjun county, which is located within the Haixi Mongolian and Tibetan autonomous prefecture of Qinghai province. The county is more than 400 kilometers away from the Laohugou Ecological Management and Protection Station, which is located in Menyuan Hui autonomous county.

Wang Dajun, a wildlife research and protection expert from Peking University’s School of Life Sciences, is particularly fascinated by the snow leopard, which is also known as the “big cat.” This animal species resides in the Qinghai area of the Qilian Mountain National Park. Despite the snow leopard’s elusive nature, the researchers are making progress in studying the animal. They are carefully observing the snow leopard’s behavior and movements in its natural habitat, which is essential for understanding its ecological role and conserving the species.

Due to the snow leopard’s status as an endangered species, it is vital to study and protect it. The researchers are also interested in the animal’s potential for serving as an indicator of ecosystem health. By observing the snow leopard and its habitat, they hope to gain insights into the broader health of the ecosystem in which it resides. This information could be used to make informed decisions about conservation efforts in the region.

The Qilian Mountains are a particularly important region for the conservation of the snow leopard. The mountains are home to several endangered species, and the region is a key source of water for the Yellow River, which is critical for China’s water supply. As a result, the conservation of the region’s wildlife is essential for protecting the ecosystem and the people who depend on it. By studying the snow leopard, researchers hope to contribute to these efforts and promote the long-term conservation of the Qilian Mountains.

the observation and study of the snow leopard in its natural habitat in the Qilian Mountains of Qinghai province is a crucial effort to better understand this elusive and endangered predator. The researchers involved in this work are making progress in observing the snow leopard’s behavior and movements, which will be essential for protecting the species and its ecosystem. By studying the snow leopard and its habitat, researchers hope to gain insights into the broader health of the ecosystem in which it resides and contribute to the conservation efforts in the region.

The snow leopard is a crucial apex predator and dominating species of its high and cold environment, playing an irreplaceable role in maintaining the ecosystem. These elusive animals are mainly found on bare rock at altitudes between 2,000 and 5,000 meters, and due to their secretive nature, they have a low population density. Despite this, the species is of significant importance, and monitoring their behavior and movements is essential for conservation efforts.

According to Wang, monitoring the snow leopard is like a game that requires communication and mutual understanding between humans and the natural world. The process involves carefully observing the species in its natural habitat, and this approach is fundamental to understanding the animal’s ecology and conserving its population.

Snow leopard monitoring efforts in the Qinghai area of the Qilian Mountains began in the mid-1980s, with sporadic surveys based on interviews conducted in parts of the Shule Nanshan Mountain from 1996 to 1998. However, few systematic and comprehensive field surveys and monitoring programs have been carried out in other areas.

After 19 years, the Qilian Mountain National Park pilot construction program was officially launched in 2017, and comprehensive and systematic snow leopard monitoring and assessment began. This program is aimed at increasing knowledge about the snow leopard’s behavior and movements in the Qilian Mountains, as well as its role in maintaining the ecosystem.

The snow leopard’s importance as an apex predator and indicator species cannot be overstated, and it is vital that efforts continue to monitor and conserve the population. Comprehensive and systematic monitoring programs are essential for achieving this goal, and the Qilian Mountain National Park pilot construction program is an excellent example of this effort. With continued monitoring, researchers can gain important insights into the snow leopard’s ecology and make informed decisions about conservation efforts in the region.

Over the past five years, researchers conducting snow leopard monitoring in an area of 4,172 square kilometers in the Qinghai area of the Qilian Mountain National Park have identified this region as potentially the main habitat of the elusive creatures. Within this area, they have discovered 95 reproduction and breeding points and identified 105 snow leopards.

In November 2021, the Qinghai administration bureau of Qilian Mountain National Park and Wang’s team from Peking University collaborated to form a working group to carry out satellite tracking of snow leopards in Suli township, Tianjun county. This process lasted for 45 days, during which 11 capture points were set up, and three snow leopards were successfully caught.

Before putting tracking collars on the three captured snow leopards, Wang observed one of them huddled in its cage and initially thought that it was too small and not yet an adult. He was concerned that wearing a collar might affect its predation and growth, so he made the decision to set it free. However, as the snow leopard leapt out of the cage and fully stretched its body, Wang realized that it was already an adult.

This discovery highlights the importance of carefully assessing the age and size of animals before making decisions about their management or conservation. The decision to release the adult snow leopard without a collar was a wise one, as it will now be free to continue contributing to the ecosystem as an apex predator.

The satellite tracking of snow leopards is a vital component of conservation efforts, as it allows researchers to monitor the animal’s movements and behavior in real-time. With this information, conservationists can make informed decisions about protecting the snow leopard’s habitat and managing its population in a sustainable way. The collaboration between the Qinghai administration bureau and Wang’s team from Peking University represents a significant step forward in these efforts.

The other two snow leopards caught during the satellite tracking and observation process have been closely monitored through periodic observation. So far, they have provided a total of 1,660 items of positioning data from their tracking collars, revealing their respective activity areas to be 13.8 sq km and 42 sq km.

Ten days after their release, one of the snow leopards was found in the wild nursing two cubs, with the carcass of a Himalayan blue sheep nearby. This discovery is crucial as it indicates that the snow leopard is hunting normally while wearing the collar.

Wang stresses the importance of gathering accurate information on the snow leopard population, distribution, individual life histories, as well as their reproduction and survival habits. This information is essential in promoting biodiversity conservation and in the construction and management of the national park.

With this data, researchers can better understand the behavior and habitat requirements of the snow leopard, and develop effective conservation strategies. This knowledge will enable conservationists to make informed decisions about land use and management practices that balance the needs of the ecosystem with the needs of human communities living nearby.

The successful tracking and monitoring of these snow leopards is a significant achievement for biodiversity conservation in the region. As apex predators, snow leopards play a crucial role in maintaining the balance of the ecosystem. The information gathered from this study will help to ensure the long-term survival of this magnificent species and the conservation of its habitat.

By tracking snow leopards, Wang’s team found that the density of the snow leopard population in the southern foothills of the Qilian Mountains, which are in the transition zone between the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and the Hexi Corridor, was much higher than expected.

The findings of the research are also refreshing Wang’s perception of snow leopards. Wang, who has had many chance encounters with snow leopards during his yearlong observation, proudly proclaims that there has never been a precedent of snow leopards actively attacking humans. He recalls that once he made tense, but generally friendly, contact with a snow leopard that he encountered at a rather close distance.

“When I got close to the snow leopard, it would stretch its paws out, show its teeth to me and it let out a low growl. I stopped moving closer and just stood still staring at it. After a while, it suddenly laid down and started washing its face with its outstretched paws as if to relieve its anxiety,” Wang says excitedly.

“It seems that the public perception is that the snow leopard is a fierce beast, but on the contrary, the snow leopards that I saw always move with grace and show a confident and comfortable posture, giving me the deep feeling that they are the real masters of their natural ecosystem.”

Wang uses the word “gentle” to describe the snow leopard, noting that it is not a large carnivore and only grows up to around 61 centimeters tall at shoulder height. He contrasts it with the smaller “Chinese desert cat,” Felis bieti, which is actually tougher than the snow leopard.

During one of their expeditions, Wang’s team spotted a snow leopard in the mountains. They noticed the animal’s exposed tail from a distance, but it was only when they zoomed in with their camera that they saw the snow leopard was also watching them. Through a gap in the rocks, the snow leopard was looking directly at them.

Wang muses that rather than them observing the snow leopard, it is the snow leopard that is observing them. He notes that it is much easier for the snow leopard to observe them, and he often feels that it is tracking them closely. By using the animal’s positioning data, he knows that it remains close to him even if he can’t see it.

The researcher expresses a desire for the snow leopard to observe him more, as he believes it could be very meaningful for their research. He sees the monitoring process as a game of communication and mutual understanding between humans and the natural world. Through this process, he hopes to learn more about the snow leopard’s behaviors, habits, and life history.

Obtaining accurate information on snow leopards and their population, distribution, and survival habits is crucial for promoting biodiversity conservation and the construction and management of the national park, according to Wang. He sees the snow leopard as a vital player in maintaining the ecosystem, and monitoring the species is an essential step towards preserving this fragile environment.

Wang expresses that there is still much to be learned about the elusive snow leopard, and that their research and understanding of the animal is only just beginning. With their unique environment and behaviors, snow leopards continue to captivate and mystify scientists and researchers alike.

According to Wang, the work of his team has been aided by the growing recognition of the importance of animal conservation among members of the local government and nearby residents. He also notes that other experts working on animal conservation have reached similar conclusions, with the population of snow leopards showing a marked increase in recent years.

As local communities become increasingly aware of the need to protect their environment, Wang notes that the government has taken steps to strengthen legislation surrounding animal protection. Additionally, many grassroots conservation groups have emerged, reflecting the growing importance placed on the preservation of the region’s natural resources.

Wang’s work highlights the critical role that collaboration between scientists, governments, and local communities plays in ensuring the protection of endangered species. By sharing knowledge and resources, we can continue to deepen our understanding of the natural world and work towards a more sustainable future.

Overall, Wang’s research into the snow leopard serves as a reminder of the importance of preserving biodiversity and the value of protecting endangered species. As we continue to learn more about these elusive animals, we can better understand the complex and delicate ecosystems that they inhabit and work to safeguard them for future generations.

Wang, a snow leopard researcher, describes the elusive snow leopard as a gentle animal. Despite being a carnivore, it is not large-sized, only growing to around 61 centimeters tall at shoulder height. In comparison, the smaller Chinese mountain cat is tougher than the snow leopard. Wang and his team once spotted a snow leopard in the mountains, and upon zooming in with their camera, they realized the animal was also watching them through a gap in the rocks.

Wang believes that rather than observing the snow leopard, the animal is observing them. By tracking the snow leopard’s positioning data, he knows that it remains close to him. Though he cannot see it with his eyes, he believes that it sees him. Wang wishes for the snow leopard to observe him more, as it could provide meaningful insights for their research. He also acknowledges that there are still many mysteries to uncover regarding this reclusive animal.

According to Wang, the growing awareness of animal conservation among local government members and nearby residents has aided their research efforts. Wang has also heard from other experts working on animal conservation that the snow leopard population is showing a significant increase. The local people are becoming more aware of the need to protect the area they live in, and the government has introduced strong legislation pertaining to animal protection. Many conservation groups have also emerged among the people themselves.

Wang attributes the local people’s reverence for living creatures to their religious beliefs. On the Tibetan plateau, a place where resources are relatively scarce, both people and animals know how to cherish nature wisely while respecting the equal relationship between them. Wang’s research work has only just begun, and he hopes to uncover more information about the snow leopard while promoting biodiversity conservation and national park management.

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