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Tragedy as three snow leopards die in trap set by poachers in Altai Mountains

By 0 and 0 and 0
01 June 2016


'The kittens were around six months old at the time. For a long time their traces were not seen.' Picture: Altai Nature Reserve

These images show the healthy cubs  caught on camera in 2014, before they vanished, sparking a puzzle for environmentalists. Now the mystery in the Argut River valley has been solved, and the painful deaths of the leopardess, called Vita, and her two cubs confirmed. 

Altai Nature Reserve researcher Sergey Spitsyn said: 'Vita was the first female with kittens which was photographed by the camera traps in the Argut River valley. 

'The kittens were around six months old at the time. For a long time their traces were not seen. They were not spotted by other cameras. Later we learned that her cubs were caught in a loop-trap which was put out for musk deer. 

'The mother tried to free them, but she was apparently in a state of distress - and finally ate the cubs. Then she got caught in the same loop and died.' 

Leopardess Vita

'Vita was the first female with kittens which was photographed by the camera traps in the Argut River valley. Picture: Sergey Spitsyn

Wildlife officials annually removed hundreds of traps set by illegal poachers. But this one was missed. The traps pose a huge problem for the leopards, he said, while also saying there are signs of hope for the species.

'Its hard to fight with this, but there are changes,' said Sergey Spitsyn. 'The number of leopards is growing. There is a lot of new broods. This season we found seven in different areas.'

The pictures - made by a poacher turned gamekeeper in 2014 - were seen at the time as a clear sign of the return of the snow leopard to the Argut area.

The snow leopard, slightly smaller than other big cats, is native to the mountains of Central Asia. While not as endangered as the Amur leopard, fewer than 7,350 are believed to survive in the wild. 

Snow leopard cubs

Snow leopard cubs

Snow leopard cubs

'Later we learned that her cubs were caught in a loop-trap which was put out for musk deer.' Picture: Altai Nature Reserve

A much lower number are reproducing, hence international concern over their survival. Overall, snow leopards are found in Altai in small numbers but also in the Himalayas, the Pamirs, and the Tien Shan. 

A major threat to them is the surging global demand for cashmere, which is derived from the under hair of domestic goats and the livestock population of these animals has soared in recent years.

They consume the forage of mountain pastures that sustained a number of species of wild herbivores such as the ibex, the blue sheep, and the argali - the natural prey of snow leopards. Here in Russia, the snow leopards are known for their exceptional and highly valued fur.

Poacher's loops

Wildlife officials annually removed hundreds of traps set by illegal poachers. But this one was missed. Picture: WWF Russia

'Their bones and other body parts are in demand for use in traditional Asian medicine and wild snow leopards are sometimes captured for private animal collections in Central Asia,' states the Snow Leopard Trust. 

'Many poachers are local residents who live in snow leopard habitat areas. These regions face high levels of poverty, and poaching offers a source of extra income that can be used to meet the most basic necessities of life, including food and shelter'.

Comments (15)

Shame on you Chinese for your continued demands of whatever moves on this planet for your archaic medicines!
Matthew Tabone, Malta
07/11/2016 06:31
雲豹 稀有動物,金屬補獸器,人類的生活知識.
李肖先, 中華民國
08/06/2016 08:05
Russia needs to get tough with poachers. I say execute them.
Paul Gilbert, Canada
08/06/2016 07:11
Who kilsl animals must be prosecuted, easy and plain
Diego, Italy
07/06/2016 20:05
I am appalled with reading these news and am very empathetic with this mother leopard.

Yet, poverty can make humans behave cruelly.

What I particularly condemn is the fact that apparently the traps were not checked daily and deer/leopards would be left snared for a time long enough to die: that was adding unnecessary pain and there is no excuse whatsoever to it!
Sandro Lovari, Siena, Italy
07/06/2016 16:32
21st Century is supposed to enlighted humans to the extend that they are different from these animals, but NO!!! Such poachers should be punished for their act. Out here in Ladakh, a month ago, we had caught poachers and handed them to the police for poaching a rare Ladakh Urial. The Govt and community machinary need loop-holes-proof system to catch such paochers and mindless humans.
Lobzang Visuddha, Ladakh, India
07/06/2016 11:40
Outrageous!!! One of the most beautiful cats, although I do not condone violence, when it comes to children, elderly and animals I can not turn the other cheek. I wish the same pain or worse on these poachers and any other person who endagers the life, health, safety and freedom of animal or human.
Melissa, USA
07/06/2016 11:08
Terrible,I should not have read your news paper this morning,
this article really sadden me deeply.
06/06/2016 20:14
Please ban the use of these horrible barbaric animal traps that torture the poop animals.
Adrienne Neff, Little Falls, NY
06/06/2016 19:32
Very sad news about these beautiful animals. Such a cruel way to die. Don't people realise that at this rate of illegal poaching, we may see the loss of these animals. Sad world.
Valerie L, Australia
06/06/2016 16:00
Awful sad news about the snow leopard mother and cubs, learned first today 3/6 from a UK newspaper. I financially support WWF in respect to work with snow leopards . Good to know you monitor them as well as the big cat species like Amur leopard and Amur/Siberian tiger. Andrew below mentioning the red kite (raptor) and their deliberate destruction by poisoning bate.
Jessie , Scotland
03/06/2016 22:50
Hi Laurel, I am really happy that you purchase your clothes at second hand shops, I do the same. I like your comment on the heat conservation methods in Russia (Snow in June article). I agree we need to stop the ridiculous amount of wastage in Western countries. On the topic of cashmere, perhaps you would like to research the cashmere/angora industry or maybe you have already?

Hi Andy, I agree that we have an epidemic of criminal behavior driven by greed and/or "sport" and it is truly sickening all over the world. Thanks for adding that example.
Pamela Tetarenko, League City, USA
03/06/2016 20:02
Cashmere can also come from farmed Rabbits and farmed confined goats. so I for one wont be going without my cashmere jumpers. though I admit most of mine are obtained secondhand..its amazing what expensive products people will throw out.
Laurel, Australia
03/06/2016 17:50
You stated in your article; "The pictures - made by a poacher turned gamekeeper". I understand that this was probably an innocent statement, designed to show that a poacher has reformed, but this saying is now terribly out of date and inappropriate. In the UK, gamekeepers are responsible for very widespread and intense illegal killing of, particularly, our birds of prey, to the point that they are threatened with extinction. These gamekeepers, unlike the Russian poachers, are not trying to provide for their impoverished families; what they are doing is killing species to the extent that they are absent from large areas so that game bird numbers can be a little higher for their clients to shoot. Killing so that other species can be killed for 'sport'; it is a very sick industry full of criminality. I would far rather have a gamekeeper turned poacher; the damage he does to wildlife populations is far less.

It was a terrible tragedy that the Snow Leopards we're trapped in Altai.
Andy, Scotland
03/06/2016 04:13
Please do not wear cashmere. One thing we can all do to help stop the cycle of illegal animal trafficking is to try very hard to be aware of demand drivers and to not participate in the demand. Thank you for raising awareness of what happened to these innocent wild animals and thank you to everyone working from every perspective to prevent these types of behaviors from happening in the future.
Pamela Tetarenko, League City, USA
02/06/2016 20:10

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