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News Article | May 1, 2017
Site: news.yahoo.com

A trio of adorable snow leopards was recently caught on camera snuggling and relaxing beneath a shady tree near a monastery. The rare and elusive creatures were photographed in Qinghai province, in central China, using camera traps placed by Panthera, the global wild cat conservation organization, the Snow Leopard Trust and Shan Shui Conservation Center. China contains about 65 percent of the snow leopard habitat, according to Panthera. The footage was captured outside Zhaxilawu monastery; the camera trap was placed there because the area had been a hotspot for wildlife, with a wild bear and another snow leopard spotted in the previous weeks. Tibetan monks have also been recruited as snow leopard allies, with monks patrolling the areas where the snow leopards prowl to prevent poaching, according to a 2013 study. Though it's hard to tell from the video alone, the trio may be siblings, or possibly a mother and her two cubs, scientists from Panthera said. In the video, they roll around, yawn, stretch their feline limbs and nuzzle each other, before pausing to investigate the camera trap. Snow leopards (Panthera uncia) are elusive cats that live in the forbidding, mountainous terrain of Asia, from Russia in the west to China in the east. Their white-speckled fur allows them to blend in with their craggy mountainous habitat, while their thick padded feet allow them to tromp silently but sure-footedly in the snow, hunting for prey. About 4,000 to 7,000 snow leopards remain in the wild, according to Defenders of Wildlife, and the regal felines are listed as a threatened species by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.


Less affluent countries are more committed to conservation of their large animals than richer ones, a new Oxford University research collaboration has found. Researchers from Oxford's Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) have assessed how much, or little, individual countries contribute to protecting the world's wildlife. Working in partnership with Panthera, the only organisation dedicated to protecting wild cats, they found that in comparison to the more affluent, developed world, biodiversity is a higher priority in poorer areas such as the African nations, which contribute more to conservation than any other region. Led by Panthera Research Associate Dr Peter Lindsey, the team created a Mega-Fauna Conservation Index (MCI) of 152 nations, to evaluate their conservation footprint. Since a high proportion of mega-fauna species, such as tigers, leopards and gorillas face extinction, the team focused their research on the protection of large mammals. The benchmarking system evaluated three key measures: a) the proportion of the country occupied by each mega-fauna species that survives in the country (countries with more species covering a higher proportion of the country scoring higher); b) the proportion of mega-fauna species range that is protected (higher proportions score higher); c) and the amount of money spent on conservation - either domestically or internationally, relative to GDP. The findings show that poorer countries tend to take a more active approach to biodiversity protection than richer nations. Ninety per cent of countries in North and Central America and 70 per cent of countries in Africa were classified as major or above-average in their mega-fauna conservation efforts. Despite facing a number of domestic challenges, such as poverty and political instability in many parts of the continent, Africa was found to prioritise wildlife preservation, and contribute more to conservation than any other region of the world. African countries made up four of the five top-performing mega-fauna conservation nations, with Botswana, Namibia, Tanzania and Zimbabwe topping the list. By contrast, the United States ranked nineteenth out of the twenty performing countries. Approximately one-quarter of countries in Asia and Europe were identified as significantly underperforming in their commitment to mega-fauna conservation. Dr.Lindsey said: 'Scores of species across the globe, including tigers, lions and rhinos, are at risk of extinction due to a plethora of threats imposed by mankind. We cannot ignore the possibility that we will lose many of these incredible species unless swift, decisive and collective action is taken by the global community.' Human impact continues to have a devastating effect on the natural world, with wildlife species across the globe under threat from poaching, hunting and the consequences of climate change. Recent studies indicate that 59 per cent of the world's largest carnivores and sixty per cent of the largest herbivores are currently threatened with extinction. Professor David Macdonald, Director of WildCRU and co-author of the paper, said: 'Every country should strive to do more to protect its wildlife. Our index provides a measure of how well each country is doing, and sets a benchmark for nations that are performing below the average level, to understand the kind of contributions they need to make as a minimum. There is a strong case for countries where mega-fauna species have been historically persecuted, to assist their recovery.' The study also goes some way to explaining why the regional disparities occur. Mega-fauna species are associated with strong 'existence values', where just knowing that large wild animals exist, makes people feel happier. In some cases, such as the African nations, this link explains why some countries are more concerned with conservation than others. Larger mammal species like wild cats, gorillas and elephants play a key role in ecological processes as well as tourism industries, which are an economic lifeline in poorer regions. The conservation index is intended as a call to action for the world to acknowledge its responsibility to wildlife protection. By highlighting the disparity in each nations' contributions to conservation the team hopes to see increased efforts and renewed commitment to biodiversity preservation. Addressing how countries can improve their MCI scores, Dr Peter Lindsey said: "There are three ways; Firstly, they can 're-wild' their landscapes by reintroducing mega-fauna and/or by allowing the distribution of such species to increase. They can also set aside more land as strictly protected areas. And they can invest more in conservation, either at home or abroad." At the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, developed nations promised to allocate at least $2 billion (USD) per annum towards conservation in developing nations. However, current conservation contributions from developed nations sit at just half of the proposed amount, $1.1 billion (USD) per year. Discussing how the scores were tallied, Professor Macdonald added: "These countries have achieved high scores in a variety of ways - some by setting aside vast protected area networks, others by allowing mega-fauna species to occupy high proportions of their landscape, and others by investing significant funding in conservation either domestically or internationally. Our hope is that this will be produced annually to provide a public benchmark for commitment to protecting nature's largest, and, some would say, most charismatic wildlife. The way the index has been structured means that as countries of the world do more, the average benchmark will increase encouraging underperformers to try harder." Professor William Ripple, Co-author and Oregon State University Professor concluded: "The Megafauna Conservation Index is an important first step to transparency - some of the poorest countries in the world are making the biggest investments in a global asset and should be congratulated, whereas some of the richest nations just aren't doing enough." TITLE OF PAPER: Relative efforts of countries to conserve global megafauna David Macdonald founded the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) in 1986 at the University of Oxford. Now the foremost University-based centre for biodiversity conservation, the mission of the WildCRU is to achieve practical solutions to conservation problems through original research. WildCRU is renowned for its specialisation in wild carnivores, especially wild cats, for its long-running studies on lion and clouded leopard, and for its training centre, where early-career conservationists, so far from 32 countries, are trained by experts to become leaders in conservation, resulting in a global community of highly skilled and collaborative conservationists. Visit wildcru.org For interviews or supporting images please contact: Lanisha Butterfield, Media Relations Manager on 01865 280531 or lanisha.butterfield@admin.ox.ac.uk The Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences Division (MPLS) is one of four academic divisions at the University of Oxford, representing the non-medical sciences. Oxford is one of the world's leading universities for science, and MPLS is at the forefront of scientific research across a wide range of disciplines. Research in the mathematical, physical and life sciences at Oxford was rated the best in the UK in the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF) assessment. MPLS received £133m in research income in 2014/15. Panthera, founded in 2006, is devoted exclusively to preserving wild cats and their critical role in the world's ecosystems. Panthera's team of leading biologists, law enforcement experts and wild cat advocates develop innovative strategies based on the best available science to protect cheetahs, jaguars, leopards, lions, pumas, snow leopards and tigers and their vast landscapes. In 50 countries around the world, Panthera works with a wide variety of stakeholders to reduce or eliminate the most pressing threats to wild cats--securing their future, and ours. Visit panthera.org.


Researchers from Oxford's Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) have assessed how much, or little, individual countries contribute to protecting the world's wildlife. Working in partnership with Panthera, the only organisation dedicated to protecting wild cats, they found that in comparison to the more affluent, developed world, biodiversity is a higher priority in poorer areas such as the African nations, which contribute more to conservation than any other region. Led by Panthera Research Associate Dr Peter Lindsey, the team created a Mega-Fauna Conservation Index (MCI) of 152 nations, to evaluate their conservation footprint. Since a high proportion of mega-fauna species, such as tigers, leopards and gorillas face extinction, the team focused their research on the protection of large mammals. The benchmarking system evaluated three key measures: a) the proportion of the country occupied by each mega-fauna species that survives in the country (countries with more species covering a higher proportion of the country scoring higher); b) the proportion of mega-fauna species range that is protected (higher proportions score higher); c) and the amount of money spent on conservation - either domestically or internationally, relative to GDP. The findings show that poorer countries tend to take a more active approach to biodiversity protection than richer nations. Ninety per cent of countries in North and Central America and 70 per cent of countries in Africa were classified as major or above-average in their mega-fauna conservation efforts. Despite facing a number of domestic challenges, such as poverty and political instability in many parts of the continent, Africa was found to prioritise wildlife preservation, and contribute more to conservation than any other region of the world. African countries made up four of the five top-performing mega-fauna conservation nations, with Botswana, Namibia, Tanzania and Zimbabwe topping the list. By contrast, the United States ranked nineteenth out of the twenty performing countries. Approximately one-quarter of countries in Asia and Europe were identified as significantly underperforming in their commitment to mega-fauna conservation. Dr.Lindsey said: 'Scores of species across the globe, including tigers, lions and rhinos, are at risk of extinction due to a plethora of threats imposed by mankind. We cannot ignore the possibility that we will lose many of these incredible species unless swift, decisive and collective action is taken by the global community.' Human impact continues to have a devastating effect on the natural world, with wildlife species across the globe under threat from poaching, hunting and the consequences of climate change. Recent studies indicate that 59 per cent of the world's largest carnivores and sixty per cent of the largest herbivores are currently threatened with extinction. Professor David Macdonald, Director of WildCRU and co-author of the paper, said: 'Every country should strive to do more to protect its wildlife. Our index provides a measure of how well each country is doing, and sets a benchmark for nations that are performing below the average level, to understand the kind of contributions they need to make as a minimum. There is a strong case for countries where mega-fauna species have been historically persecuted, to assist their recovery.' The study also goes some way to explaining why the regional disparities occur. Mega-fauna species are associated with strong 'existence values', where just knowing that large wild animals exist, makes people feel happier. In some cases, such as the African nations, this link explains why some countries are more concerned with conservation than others. Larger mammal species like wild cats, gorillas and elephants play a key role in ecological processes as well as tourism industries, which are an economic lifeline in poorer regions. The conservation index is intended as a call to action for the world to acknowledge its responsibility to wildlife protection. By highlighting the disparity in each nations' contributions to conservation the team hopes to see increased efforts and renewed commitment to biodiversity preservation. Addressing how countries can improve their MCI scores, Dr Peter Lindsey said: "There are three ways; Firstly, they can 're-wild' their landscapes by reintroducing mega-fauna and/or by allowing the distribution of such species to increase. They can also set aside more land as strictly protected areas. And they can invest more in conservation, either at home or abroad." At the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, developed nations promised to allocate at least $2 billion (USD) per annum towards conservation in developing nations. However, current conservation contributions from developed nations sit at just half of the proposed amount, $1.1 billion (USD) per year. Discussing how the scores were tallied, Professor Macdonald added: "These countries have achieved high scores in a variety of ways - some by setting aside vast protected area networks, others by allowing mega-fauna species to occupy high proportions of their landscape, and others by investing significant funding in conservation either domestically or internationally. Our hope is that this will be produced annually to provide a public benchmark for commitment to protecting nature's largest, and, some would say, most charismatic wildlife. The way the index has been structured means that as countries of the world do more, the average benchmark will increase encouraging underperformers to try harder." Professor William Ripple, Co-author and Oregon State University Professor concluded: "The Megafauna Conservation Index is an important first step to transparency - some of the poorest countries in the world are making the biggest investments in a global asset and should be congratulated, whereas some of the richest nations just aren't doing enough." Explore further: Prides, protection and parks: Africa's protected areas can support four times as many lions More information: Relative efforts of countries to conserve global megafauna, Global Ecology and Conservation, 27 April 2017


The flow of genes between Bengal tigers in two reserves of the Terai Arc Landscape in western Himalayan foothills is too low, according to a study published April 26, 2017 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Surendra Prakash Goyal from Wildlife Institute of India, India, and colleagues. Tigers are endangered partly due to habitat loss, which can fragment populations and reduce gene flow among them. Gene flow between populations can maintain genetic variation and spread beneficial gene alleles, so understanding the gene flow of isolated tiger populations i.e. in western Himalayan foothills is crucial in developing management strategies for conserving these big cats. Goyal and colleagues analyzed DNA from 71 samples of tissue, blood or scat from Bengal tigers to assess their gene flow in an 1,800-square-kilometer region of the western Himalayan foothills. The region has two main subpopulations of tigers, one in the Rajaji Tiger Reserve and the other in the Corbett Tiger Reserve. The researchers found that tiger gene flow between two reserves was asymmetrical and was lower than in previous reports in other tiger populations. Functionality of the corridor (C1 and C2 map) could remain viable if habitat quality does not deteriorate any more. However, given changing land use in the connecting corridor, the gene flow was inadequate. The authors suggest that measures to maintain connectivity between the tiger reserves could include relocating villages and industries, reducing human dependency, banning sand and boulder mining in the corridors. In your coverage please use this URL to provide access to the freely available article in PLOS ONE: http://journals. Citation: Singh SK, Aspi J, Kvist L, Sharma R, Pandey P, Mishra S, et al. (2017) Fine-scale population genetic structure of the Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris tigris) in a human-dominated western Terai Arc Landscape, India. PLoS ONE 12(4): e0174371. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0174371 Funding: This work was supported by Wildlife Institute of India to SPG. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.


News Article | April 19, 2017
Site: phys.org

Illegal killing of leopards in the Soutpansberg Mountains has reduced their numbers by two-thirds in the last decade, the researchers reported in the Royal Society Open Science journal. "If things don't change, we predict leopards will essentially disappear from the area by about 2020," lead author Samual Williams, a conservation biologist at Durham University in England, told AFP. "This is especially alarming given that, in 2008, this area had one of the highest leopard densities in Africa." The number of leopards in the wild worldwide is not known, but is diminishing elsewhere as well. The "best estimate" for all of South Africa, said Williams, is about 4,500. What is certain, however, is that the regions these predators roam has shrunk drastically over the last two centuries. The historic range of Panthera pardus, which includes more than half-a-dozen sub-species, covered large swathes of Africa and Asia, and extended well into the Arabian Peninsula. Leopards once roamed the forests of Sri Lanka and Java unchallenged. Today, they occupy barely a quarter of this territory, with some sub-species teetering on the brink of extinction, trapped in one or two percent of their original habitat. Leopards were classified last year as "vulnerable" to extinction on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's Red List of endangered species, which tracks the survival status of animals and plants. South Africa recently suspended trophy hunting of leopards, though experts agree this is not a major cause of the population decline. A 2008 census of leopards in the 6,800-square kilometre (2,600-square mile) Soutpansberg Mountains found a robust population of nearly 11 adult cats for each hundred square kilometres (39 square miles). To find out how the carnivores had fared since then, Williams and his team set up four dozen motion-triggered camera traps across the area, and left them in place from 2012 to 2016. The cameras captured a total of 65 individual leopards during the four-year period: 16 adult males, 28 adult females and 21 younger cats. They also fitted eight adults with GPS collars to track their movements—or lack thereof. Only two of the GPS-tagged leopards survived the monitoring period. Three were done in by snares, one was shot by a local resident whose cattle had been attacked, and two went missing, probably killed since they also disappeared from camera surveillance. A statistical analysis of the results showed "a 66 percent decline over a period just over 7.5 years," the study concluded. Ironically, the bleak findings helped conservationists and local officials raise money to hire a "community engagement officer." "One of the things he does is help local people adopt non-lethal techniques" to prevent leopards from attacking cattle and other livestock, including the use of guard dogs, Williams added. But the clash between humans and big carnivores, experts agree, is mostly due to humanity's expanding footprint, especially in Africa, whose population is set to expand by more than a billion before mid-century. As a result, the habitats of most wild megafauna are diminishing, and getting chopped up into smaller and smaller parcels. "It is extremely alarming that the trends that we are reporting exemplify trends in large carnivores globally," Williams said. Studies in Africa of lions, black-backed jackals and bat-eared foxes have showed similar rates of decline. More information: Population dynamics and threats to an apex predator outside protected areas: Implications for carnivore management, Royal Society Open Science, rsos.royalsocietypublishing.org/lookup/doi/10.1098/rsos.161090


Why do some humans engage in expensive ventures to hunt lions, elephants and other big-game species that often are endangered or otherwise threatened? The cost, according to a trio of scientists, is exactly the point: These pricey big-game hunts are meant to show off men’s high social status to competitors and potential mates. The findings, published in Biology Letters, offer an evolutionary hypothesis for why humans kill animals they don’t need for sustenance — and hint at a possible tactic for discouraging that behavior. The death in 2015 of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe by an American recreational hunter triggered waves of international outrage. Trophy hunting is not new; in fact, many countries have tried to tie it economically to their conservation efforts. But the rise of the Internet and social media — where hunters often share photos of themselves smiling next to their kills — has brought the practice to the forefront, particularly at a time when large predators are suffering precipitous population declines. “The killing of Cecil the lion (Panthera leo) ignited enduring and increasingly global discussion about trophy hunting,” the study authors wrote. “Yet, policy debate about its benefits and costs focuses only on the hunted species and biodiversity, not the unique behaviour of hunters.” And much of human hunting behavior is indeed unique. Lead author Chris Darimont, Hakai-Raincoast professor at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, and his colleagues have described humans as “superpredators” who don’t follow the typical rules of other carnivores in the animal kingdom — which can have devastating consequences for wildlife populations. The average lion, hyena or wolf “typically picks prey that are newly born (the juveniles) or nearly dead (the sick and weak animals, the substandard animals in populations) and they eat them,” the conservation scientist said. “And this really bizarre, unique predator, [the] human being, kind of does the opposite. We target the large; we target animals for characteristics that have nothing to do with their nutritional value; we target animals with big horns or antlers.” These also are more dangerous animals, which means a human hunter is raising his risk to life and limb. Attacking a large animal with big horns doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. But puzzling behaviors often have an evolutionary driver, so the scientists set out to see whether they could find a logical explanation for this human practice. The researchers began by considering the subsistence hunting habits of “traditional hunter-gatherers” — modern-day populations whose lifestyles more closely mirror those of ancient humans. Darimont pointed to the indigenous Meriam population of Australia as an example. Men and women both hunt for green turtles but employ different methods. Women nab the turtles when they come ashore to lay eggs — an efficient, low-cost way to get a meal. But men take boats to sea and dive into dangerous waters to pursue the same turtles. The hunt is both costlier and riskier than the ostensibly far more effective method used by the women. In addition, men who return home with a big animal end up having to share it with their community rather than feeding it only to their families. And yet the men continue to hunt in that manner because there is another advantage: Hunting turtles at sea falls into what scientists call “costly signaling behavior.” Men show they have the resources to take on such a costly task — and if they have the resources to do that, the thinking goes, then they must have plenty to devote to offspring, making them more attractive to potential mates. In fact, those male Meriam turtle hunters gain social status in their communities, get married earlier to “higher quality” mates and have more surviving children (which, in many ways, may be the ultimate measure of reproductive success). “For such behavior to be maintained, even the attempted hunt must signal that the hunter can sustain the handicap of high-cost, low-consumption activity, providing honest evidence of underlying phenotypic quality,” the study authors wrote. So these behaviors aren’t about bringing home the bacon. They’re about bragging rights and the social stature that comes with them. While this seems to be a particularly human trait, it may not be unique. Chimpanzees also spend more time and effort hunting “without commensurate food consumption gains.” “Similarly, some seabirds like the pigeon guillemot (Cepphus columba) show off ‘display fish’, sometimes for hours,” the authors wrote. “Often discarding them, the behaviour is likewise thought to be social, related to site-ownership display.” With big guns and professional guides often helping them find targets from a safe distance, big-game recreational hunters aren’t spending a lot of physical effort hunting their quarry, compared with our ancestors, and they aren’t risking life and limb in the same way either. But they are spending lots of money to kill these animals, they’re choosing species typically not eaten and they engage in display behavior — having photos taken next to their fallen prey. The overall effect emanates a costly signaling behavior: Look at me! I can spend this much on an expensive activity I don’t really need to do to survive. I would make a good mate, ladies — and you other males stay away from my turf, if you know what’s good for you. Social media has amplified these hunters’ ability to signal their perceived social status. Such networking also could explain why some women hunt big game, even though it isn’t a traditional evolutionary driver for them. “We speculate that such behaviour, counter to expected gender norms (and their evolution), might allow for increased attention in an increasingly competitive social media and marketing world,” the study authors wrote. But social media is a double-edged sword. Just as it might fuel enthusiasm for big-game hunting, it also opens hunters up to shaming by critics (as Cecil’s hunter, Walter Palmer, discovered). Such public outcry, Darimont and his colleagues point out, may be a key tactic among those who want to reduce the killing of such targets. “If these hunters are hunting for status essentially, there’s nothing like shame to erode status,” Darimont said. “So where the internet might fuel this kill-and-tell generation, it might also provide a vehicle for those opposed to trophy hunting to emerge with a powerful strategy.” Follow @aminawrite on Twitter for more science news and "like" Los Angeles Times Science & Health on Facebook.


News Article | May 11, 2017
Site: phys.org

Studying snow leopard scat from wildlife trails and marking sites revealed three primary genetic clusters, differentiated by geographical location: the Northern group, Panthera uncia irbis, found in the Altai region, the Central group, Panthera uncia uncioides, found in the core Himalaya and Tibetan Plateau, and the Western group, Panthera uncia uncia, found in the Tian Shan, Pamir, and trans-Himalaya regions. This is the first range-wide genetic analysis of wild snow leopard populations. The snow leopard is considered the world's most elusive large big cat and inhabits a vast area of around 1.6 million km2 across 12 countries in Asia. It is a high-altitude specialist that primarily occupies mountains above 3,000m in elevation, a habitat characterized by low oxygen levels, low productivity, temperature extremes, aridity, and harsh climactic conditions. The snow leopard is the largest carnivore in its high-altitude habitat in many areas and is under substantial threat throughout its range. The snow leopard remains the last of the five big cats to be the subject of a comprehensive subspecies assessment. This gap in research is a direct result of three challenges: the snow leopard inhabits remote regions that are often politically unstable and therefore harder to access, opportunities for radio or GPS tracking are limited because snow leopards are difficult to observe and trap in the wild, and most founders of the captive snow leopard population have an unknown origin. Genetic sampling via the collection of scat along wildlife trails and marking sites is a non-invasive, effective, and efficient way to survey snow leopard populations and has become an important research approach, replacing previous methods which primarily relied on samples from hunter harvested or captive animals, tracking studies, or museum specimens. The patterns of variation amongst the snow leopard subspecies suggest a 'barrier effect' due to the desert basins in the area, with the northern subspecies isolated by the Gobi Desert and the central and western species divided by the trans-Himalayas. Follow-up studies are needed to perform additional genetic analyses to provide more information on connectivity and structure within each region. Dr Janecka explains that "This study is important as it provides the first glimpse of how snow leopard populations are structured and connected, in a nutshell, populations that are connected with other populations, are more stable and have a greater chance of persisting. Delineating subspecies provides two main benefits. The first is a better understanding of the evolution and ecology of the species. The second is that it enables more flexible conservation measures, so plans can be developed specific to the challenges faced within a particular region. Our study highlights the need for transboundary initiatives to protect this species, and other wildlife in Asia." Explore further: Counting cats: The endangered snow leopards of the Himalayas More information: Range-Wide Snow Leopard Phylogeography Supports Three Subspecies, Journal Of Heredity (2017). academic.oup.com/jhered/article-lookup/doi/10.1093/jhered/esx044


News Article | May 11, 2017
Site: www.sciencedaily.com

A recent research paper reveals that there are three sub-species of snow leopard. Until now, researchers had assumed this species, Panthera uncia, was monotypic.


News Article | May 11, 2017
Site: www.eurekalert.org

A recent research paper in the Journal of Heredity reveals that there are three sub-species of snow leopard. Until now, researchers had assumed this species, Panthera uncia, was monotypic. Studying snow leopard scat from wildlife trails and marking sites revealed three primary genetic clusters, differentiated by geographical location: the Northern group, Panthera uncia irbis, found in the Altai region, the Central group, Panthera uncia uncioides, found in the core Himalaya and Tibetan Plateau, and the Western group, Panthera uncia uncia, found in the Tian Shan, Pamir, and trans-Himalaya regions. This is the first range-wide genetic analysis of wild snow leopard populations. The snow leopard is considered the world's most elusive large big cat and inhabits a vast area of around 1.6 million km2 across 12 countries in Asia. It is a high-altitude specialist that primarily occupies mountains above 3,000m in elevation, a habitat characterized by low oxygen levels, low productivity, temperature extremes, aridity, and harsh climactic conditions. The snow leopard is the largest carnivore in its high-altitude habitat in many areas and is under substantial threat throughout its range. The snow leopard remains the last of the five big cats to be the subject of a comprehensive subspecies assessment. This gap in research is a direct result of three challenges: the snow leopard inhabits remote regions that are often politically unstable and therefore harder to access, opportunities for radio or GPS tracking are limited because snow leopards are difficult to observe and trap in the wild, and most founders of the captive snow leopard population have an unknown origin. Genetic sampling via the collection of scat along wildlife trails and marking sites is a non-invasive, effective, and efficient way to survey snow leopard populations and has become an important research approach, replacing previous methods which primarily relied on samples from hunter harvested or captive animals, tracking studies, or museum specimens. The patterns of variation amongst the snow leopard subspecies suggest a 'barrier effect' due to the desert basins in the area, with the northern subspecies isolated by the Gobi Desert and the central and western species divided by the trans-Himalayas. Follow-up studies are needed to perform additional genetic analyses to provide more information on connectivity and structure within each region. Dr Janecka explains that "This study is important as it provides the first glimpse of how snow leopard populations are structured and connected, in a nutshell, populations that are connected with other populations, are more stable and have a greater chance of persisting. Delineating subspecies provides two main benefits. The first is a better understanding of the evolution and ecology of the species. The second is that it enables more flexible conservation measures, so plans can be developed specific to the challenges faced within a particular region. Our study highlights the need for transboundary initiatives to protect this species, and other wildlife in Asia." The paper "Range-Wide Snow Leopard Phylogeography Supports Three Subspecies" is available at: https:/ DOI: 10.1093/jhered/esx044 Jan E. Janecka Assistant Professor Bayer School of Natural and Environmental Sciences Duquesne University Department of Biological Sciences 236 Mellon Hall janeckaj@duq.edu To request a copy of the study, please contact:


News Article | May 12, 2017
Site: www.gizmag.com

The famously elusive snow leopards of the Himalayas probably guard their fair share of secrets, but scientists have just uncovered one previously unknown, fairly significant piece of information about the enigmatic big cat. There are in fact three subspecies of snow leopard, rather than just one type as previously believed, with the droppings left behind on wildlife trails proving to be the tell-tale sign. The snow leopard covers a pretty expansive area, its habitat spanning 12 Asian countries and an area of around 1.6 million sq km (618,000 sq mi). For thousands of years the snow leopard ruled the mountains, feasting on wild sheep, goat and marmots, though these days its numbers are dwindling, with hunting and habitat loss the main reasons for its endangered status. Studying snow leopard populations in the past has been problematic, with the remote habitats hard to access, the animals hard to capture and fit with GPS trackers, and the ancestors of those in captivity hard to trace. Scientists are now starting to fill in some of the gaps with genetic sampling by gathering snow leopard droppings along wildlife trails and marking sites, an approach described as non-invasive and efficient. Using this technique, an international team of scientists has conducted what they say is the first range-wide genetic assessment of snow leopards. This involved DNA sequencing 70 individuals, with the team sorting them into three different genetic clusters that were differentiated by location: a northern group called Panthera uncia irbis in the Altai region of Siberia, the central group in the core Himalaya and Tibetan Plateau called the Panthera uncia uncioides and the Panthera uncia uncia of the Pamir and Tian Shan mountains and trans-Himalaya region. The researchers say that the patterns indicate some sort of "barrier effect," with the subspecies divided by desert basins in the region. Further studies involving genetic analyses are needed, however, to better understand how the different populations are structured and connected. "In a nutshell, populations that are connected with other populations, are more stable and have a greater chance of persisting," says Jan Janecka Assistant Professor at Duquesne University and research team member. "Delineating subspecies provides two main benefits. The first is a better understanding of the evolution and ecology of the species. The second is that it enables more flexible conservation measures, so plans can be developed specific to the challenges faced within a particular region. Our study highlights the need for transboundary initiatives to protect this species, and other wildlife in Asia." The research was published in the Journal Of Heredity.

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