Spying on snow leopards

Scientists studying wild carnivores, including the endangered snow leopard, in the high mountains of northern Pakistan are using automated wildlife cameras to answer ecological questions.

Spying on snow leopards

– Camera traps are a non-invasive solution to a common problem in wildlife monitoring: finding out who is where and when,  says Richard Bischof, a researcher at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences and leader of a new study published in the journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution: Using time-to-event analysis to complement hierarchical methods when assessing determinants of photographic detectability during camera trapping.

Sequence of photos of a snow leopard captured with camera traps in northern Pakistan.
Sequence of photos of a snow leopard captured with camera traps in northern Pakistan. Photo: Norwegian University of Life Sciences/Snow Leopard Foundation Pakistan

Snow leopard, red fox and stone marten
Bischof points out that

– In most wildlife surveys even animals that are present in an area may not be detected, and with this study we explored how various factors influence the probability of photographic detection.

Although several other species were photo-captured during the study, the article focused on three predators, the snow leopard, the red fox, and the stone marten. Camera traps are often set for weeks or months, and the study showed, among other findings, that it can take up to 5 times longer to photo-capture the elusive snow leopard than the red fox, even if both species are present in an area. The probability of detecting a carnivore can be improved substantially by appropriate site selection and the use of scent lures, which draw inquisitive carnivores to a camera trap station.

Photos of wildlife captured with camera traps in the mountains of northern Pakistan. Clockwise from top left: brown bear, grey wolf, red fox, and snow leopard.
Photos of wildlife captured with camera traps in the mountains of northern Pakistan. Clockwise from top left: brown bear, grey wolf, red fox, and snow leopard. Photo: Norwegian University of Life Sciences/Snow Leopard Foundation Pakistan

Pakistani wildlife
Muhammad Ali Nawaz, director of the Pakistani non-profit Snow Leopard Foundation and the main collaborator in the study adds:

– Studies such as this are important not only in terms of the knowledge they yield about wild carnivores and the methods used to study them. They are also an opportunity to build the capacity of Pakistani wildlife professionals in the highly technical and continuously developing fields of ecology and conservation.

The study was funded by the Research Council of Norway and is part of a larger project involving several international partners studying the ecology of carnivore guilds.

Published 2. September 2014 - 10:20 - Updated 23. May 2017 - 19:33

Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU)

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