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After weeks of tracking "Agnes" via a GPS collar, the Snow Leopard Trust was able to confirm that she had given birth to a cub.
In June, Gustaf Samelius, Sumbe Tomorsukh of Mongolia, and Australians Jeremy Krockenberger and Carol Esson located the exact spot where Agnes had set up her den.
Once they were certain she was a safe distance away, the scientists were able to briefly enter the den, examine, and photograph her two-week-old cub. They took hair samples that will allow them to establish genetic identification and confirm sex. They also took weights and measurements, and implanted a tiny microchip - called a PIT tag - for identification, similar to those used by pet owners.
”We still know very little about how snow leopards reproduce in the wild. It has taken years of sustained scientific effort for us to able to begin documenting birth rates, sex ratios, cub sizes, litter sizes or cub survival rates – all of which are critical to our work to save these endangered cats. Getting the rare opportunity to observe a cub in its den is huge for us,” said Charudutt Mishra, the Snow Leopard Trust’s Science and Conservation Director. “The team handled the cub with care and took their measurements as quickly as possible.”
Back in the study base camp, the team looked at GPS data from presumed father Ariun’s collar and compared it to the exact den location. “As we compared the data, we realized that Ariun had been within a few feet of the den a week after the cub’s birth, while Agnes, the cub’s mother, was almost a mile away,” Samelius said. “We can’t tell if he was actually inside the den or what he did there, but it’s a fascinating behavior to observe – especially if Ariun really does turn out to be the father."
Photo of cub by Jeremy Krockenberger and used with permission of the Snow Leopard Trust. GreaterGood.org supports this charity partner through Gifts That Give More program.