A snow leopard protection project in northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region has made achievements after monitoring the species in the eastern Tianshan mountains, a major habitat of the species, this winter.
The monitoring work was jointly launched by the local forestry administration bureau of the eastern Tianshan mountains and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in September 2018.
A total of 60 infrared cameras have been scattered across the largest state-owned forest in the central and eastern Tianshan mountains, covering an area of around 550 square kilometers, according to sources in charge of the project on Monday.
Fresh footprints, digging traces and snow leopard feces were found by the staff. Twenty-one cameras have captured snow leopards 94 times, collecting 417 pictures and videos.
Snow leopard activity in low-altitude forests were also spotted by the infrared cameras, though scientists generally believe that snow leopards only lives among bare rocks, meadow and woodland in high-altitude mountains.
"We will keep monitoring to learn more about snow leopard activities in the Tianshan mountains and assist the local administration to come up with more targeted protection strategies," said He Bing, snow leopard project manager for the WWF.
Besides snow leopards, the cameras also recorded other rare wild animals, including red foxes and ibex. The staff also saw argalis, important prey for snow leopards, several times in the wild, which will play a significant role in building a biodiversity database in this region.
"There remains a plenty of blanks to be filled in as to the status of snow leopard populations in this area," said Bakri Jeki, deputy director of the forestry administration bureau of the eastern Tianshan mountains. "We will continue to cooperate with scientific institutions and NGOs to protect snow leopards as part of efforts to improve the ecosystem in Tianshan mountains."
China has been continuously strengthening wildlife protection efforts in recent years. The snow leopard is a Class-A protected animal in China and the International Union for Conservation of Nature classifies it as endangered-to-vulnerable.