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Doctoral thesis, 2017

Unveiling the ghost of the mountains

Johansson, Örjan


The snow leopard (Panthera uncia) has remained an enigma – one of the most recognised yet least understood of the large carnivores. The lack of knowledge about the species’ basic ecology causes conservation and management plans to be largely built on conjecture. The main aim of this thesis is to provide solid information on some of the key aspects of snow leopard ecology. The studies are primarily based on individual GPS-location data from collared snow leopards in the Tost Mountains of southern Mongolia. To increase our understanding of how large solitary carnivores adjust their home range utilisation to seasonal changes in key resources, data from GPS-collared pumas (Puma concolor) in the Cascade Mountains, USA were included in one chapter. In the last chapter photographic data from zoos across Europe were used to evaluate a critical assumption of one the most commonly employed survey methods for snow leopards. In this study, snow leopards were found to have killed more wild prey than livestock, despite livestock number being at least an order of magnitude higher. Choice of wild prey followed the spatial and seasonal distribution of the prey. Male snow leopards had larger home ranges than females. Both males and females displayed intrasexual territoriality. Only between three and 22% of the protected areas in the snow leopard distribution range were large enough to have a 90% probability of harbouring 15 adult females. Puma and snow leopard males did not monopolise females by encompassing their home ranges. Contrarily, males of both species decreased monthly home range size in the mating season or peak mating time period, showing that they employed a mate guarding strategy. Snow leopards were crepuscular and facultative nocturnal, their activity peaks changed seasonally, occurring during dusk in the cold season and dawn during the warm season. Activity patterns of snow leopards appear to be driven by a combination of needs facilitating hunting (cover and visibility) and thermoregulation whereas no support was found for the common explanation that large carnivores mirror the activity of their prey. The critical assumption in abundance estimates based on capture – recapture calculations, that individuals are correctly identified, was severely violated in a test using known individuals. In our test the classifiers overestimated the number of individuals in the sample, which could have serious consequences for a threatened species.


activity pattern, camera trap, conservation, home range, Mongolia, Panthera uncia, predation, social organisation

Published in

Acta Universitatis Agriculturae Sueciae
2017, number: 2017:67
ISBN: 978-91-7760-024-4, eISBN: 978-91-7760-025-1
Publisher: Department of Ecology, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences

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