Snow leopards will soon have a protected home in the Tost Mountains in southern Mongolia.
The country’s parliament has approved a proposal to turn more than 8000 square kilometres of mountain territory into a nature reserve protected under Mongolian law. The area is a traditional habitat to snow leopards and already supports a breeding population of the endangered bit cats.
Scientists have been studying the Tost snow leopard population since 2008. According to the Snow Leopard Trust, 20 leopards have been tracked through the use of GPS collars, and at least 12 leopards have been tracked using the same areas at one time, indicating there is a consistent community of the big cats within the territory that will comprise the new protected reserve.
The new reserve is set to become one of the biggest areas of protected habitat in the world. Charu Mishra, Science & Conservation Director with the Snow Leopard Trust, said in a press release, that the “Nature Reserve will be a bridge between two existing Protected Areas, the Great Gobi and the Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park. The resulting landscape will be one of the world’s largest continuous protected snow leopard habitats.”
As part of the legal protection outlined by the new measures, the only economic activities that will be permitted within the reserve are those not damaging to the local ecology, such as traditional agriculture and livestock cultivation. Mining, construction and hunting will be banned. This is particularly significant in Mongolia, where mining represents a large portion of the country’s annual GDP.
Snow leopards were listed as ‘endangered’ on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species in 1972 and a reassessment in 2008 estimated the total global population of snow leopards to be only between 4080 and 6590. According to Take Part, around 1000 of these are believed to live in Mongolia at present.