My current research focus is integrating One Health, or Conservation Medicine, into my snow leopard work within western Mongolia. Partnering with Green Initiative NGO, Dr. Jan Janecka from Duquesne University, and infectious disease physician Dr. Alexander Kumar, my new multi-disciplinary team is investigating the risk of diseases in snow leopards that can be transmitted through livestock, and can also infect herders.
As human activity encroaches more on snow leopard habitat, herders and their domestic animals, have more frequent contact with snow leopards. Also, with the increasing threat of climate change on the sensitive high altitude ecosystems, humans and animals may be more susceptible to emerging diseases that their immune systems may not be adapted for.
Stay tuned for more details on this exciting new project!
From 2014-2016, I collaborated with Dr. B. Munkhtsog of the Mongolian Academy of Sciences, and Irbis Mongolia Center to collect baseline data on a virtually unknown population of snow leopards in western Mongolia. In other words, this field work was mostly “recon” for snow leopard signs to analyze DNA from scat collected, while setting camera traps in new areas. My primary study site was located in and around Otgontenger SPA (see red square on map) within the Zavkhan Province.
In Mongolia, meat and cashmere are the primary economic resources, as opposed to agricultural activities. Habitat degradation and the expansion of the human population threaten the already declining population of snow leopards. A growing concern towards the conservation of these cats is the issue of retribution killing for livestock depredation. Poaching of natural prey increases the incidents of the human-carnivore conflict.
In order to find out the effect livestock depredation has on a herding community, I initiated a verbal survey, as part of my final Master’s project, to gain information on the perceived livestock loss statistics and attitudes toward snow leopards. A survey of 13 questions representing priority concerns for conservation initiatives and herders, was used to interview the heads of household of herder settlements. After I completed my masters degree, I continued as an independent researcher to acquire more interview data. The manuscript for this case-study is being prepared for publication.
Along with collecting data from different sites, park staff are working closely with the herding community to monitor snow leopard conflicts and sightings. Meanwhile, I’m working with my Mongolia field partners to come up with methods that preserve the livelihoods of herders while protecting this endangered cat.