Snow leopard in Aksu-Jabagly Nature Reserve (Western Tien Shan)

by V. Shakula, Wild Nature Tulkubas Area Ecological Society


Aksu-Jabagly Nature Reserve is situated in the Western Tien Shan in the north-western spurs of the Talas Alatau range and occupies the extreme point on the north-western border of the Snow Leopard (Uncia uncia Schreber) natural habitat.


The area of reserve is 85 754 ha and it is situated between 70020 and 70060 of east longitude both 42010 and 42030 of northern breadth. The protected mountain site is located on the elevation from 1300 up to 4030 meters above sea level.


The Nature Reserve has been organized in 1926. Special researches of Snow Leopard have not been carried out here, but the rare meetings of the animals and its traces were annually registered in the books of the Annals of the nature. Some data are resulted in the scientific employees reports and in rangers-observers diaries. In such cases we made the references both on the publication, and on the manuscripts kept in reserves archive. The data taken from the books of the Annals of the nature, are resulted without the references to the literature.


The items of information about Snow Leopard, assembled for the long period since 1926 to the present time are fragmentary, but taking into account a rarity of the species, represent doubtless interest.


Distribution and number


It is necessary to emphasize, that here in after in our article we pursue the purpose to give probably more complete information about Snow Leopard in Aksu-Jabagly, but, unfortunately concrete data about character of meetings; the sexual, age, individual differences of animals, their traces measurements in the overwhelming case have not been kept. In the same rare cases, when the items of information of a similar sort are available, we have tried to result them completely.


1926. During organization of reserve the Snow Leopard was not a rare animal, as there can be in general a frequent large and cautious predator [5]. In winter its traces were notised in the Jabagly basin and repeatedly in summer in a high-mountainous part of Nature Reserve. The meeting of 3 individuals has been registered in the same year.


1933. The employee of reserve L. Shulpin has found the Snow Leopard excrement, containing the ibex (Capra ibex) rests.


1939-1940. In winter the Snow Leopard killed 2 Mountain Goats near to Nature Reserves area, in Siram-Su basin. The forest guards caught 5 Snow Leopards: 2 old males Snow Leopards, adult female Snow Leopard and 2 young females Snow Leopards [8].


1943. On the 7th of November the Nature Reserves rangers-observers Ustimenko E. I. and Hvostikov J. A. have met the female Snow Leopard with young Snow Leopards cub near Kshi-Kaindy. The female Snow Leopard was wounded and left, young Snow Leopard-cub has been caught and on December has been sent to the Alma-Ata zoo.


1950. The same rangers-observers have wounded Snow Leopard in low part of the Jabagly river on the 22d of February. On the 20th of November two Snow Leopards have attacked the domestic sheep herd in the canyon of the Aksu river, it was possible for shepherd to drive them away.


1953. Snow Leopard has been seen repeatedly: on the 17th of February in the near to the Aksu river, on May 11 in the near to the Jabagly river, August, 6 in the near to Kaskabulak; August, 15 in the gorge of Chushka-bulak, December 25 in Baibarak gorge. The case of a successful attack of Snow Leopard on the two-years bear was registered in the same year in Nature Reserve [7].


1954. In winter ranger-observer twice met traces and have seen the hunt of 5 Snow Leopards on the Wild Boar. April 26 in the Kshi-Kaindy canyon pregnant female Snow Leopard was killed for the exposition in the museum.


1961. In February people saw the hunt of 2 Snow Leopards on Mountain Goats near to Kshi-Kaindy; in summer the traces of Snow Leopard were noticed here.


1963. December 24 a trace of Snow Leopard was registered on Kolybai-jailjau.


1964. February 13: 2 traces near to Kshi-Kaindy.


1966. The Snow Leopard traces have been met twice: February 27 on the mountain range between Jetymsay and the Ulken-Kaindy, December 4 in the Jetymsay gorge.


1969. In the summer the traces were twice noticed in upper of the Kshi-Kaindy river.


1971. Snow Leopard traces have been twice registered in Kok-Say 25 both March 30, by November 21 one Snow Leopard was met in upper of the Taldybulak river.


1975. The tracers of the 4 individuals are noticed in upper of the Aksu river by January 20.


1976. On 22 of April the Snow Leopard traces were observed in the Kyzolgen-kol lake area, and in summer 1 individual have been met in upper of the Taldybulak river.


1977. On 15 of October 2 Snow Leopards were observed: female Snow Leopard with a Snow Leopard cub - on the Nature Reserves border in the valley of the Sairam-su river [2].


1979. April 30: the fresh Snow Leopard trace was noticed on the meadow in the gorge of Ulken-Kaindy by a diameter 10-12 centimeters. Snow Leopard paused on snow from the channel of the river to the salt place, which is regularly visited by wild ungulates.


1980. Snow Leopard have been twice observed in prostrate juniper wood: on the 14th of March one Snow Leopard was on the east slope of Ulartau, another April 10 on the southern slope of Kshi-Kaindy.


1981. Snow Leopard has been met in 5 km to north from Chuuldak cordon. The animal has escaped upwards of the Aksu river.


1981-1982. T. Burgelo studied the Snow Leopard in Nature Reserve for a short time. She managed to register 10 Snow Leopards traces and to collect 9 excrements on these traces (Tab. 1).


1984. On the 29th of January Snow Leopard was observed on the Ulartau mountain, and in August the bed (lying place) of the animal has been found out in upper reaches of the Aksu river.


1985. March 19 Snow she-Leopard traces were noticed in the Kshi-Kaindy canyon. These traces passed through the road to the channel of the Jabagly river.


1990. At the end of one summer Snow Leopard has been met in unusual place: on the Jabagly-tau range, Karasay gorge. There is droughty in summer time, hot microclimate takes place here. In summer wild ungulates leave from this place to the high-mountainous Nature Reserves parts.


1992. The author carried out the Snow Leopard account in the Nature Reserves central part on the area about 40 sq. km. The fresh traces of 2 individuals were registered in the area of pass from the upper reaches of Jusaly river to Aksu river.

There traces were left by animals on the snow cover, on a slope of northern exposition, at elevation about 3400 m above a sea level.

As known, the pit of a Snow Leopard trace on snow is more then the paw pillow print. The paw pillow print is entered in the oval, which is left on snow by the paw edged with fur [4].

Width of this oval of the female Snow Leopard has made 9,5-10 cm, length has made 14-15 cm. The paw print sizes were: 7 cm width; 13,5 cm length together with the clutches prints, the step length was 38 cm. The young individual trace sizes were: 7 cm width; 8,5 cm length, the step length was 21,5 cm. The little bit short length of the step and the clutches prints on the adult individual traces are caused by that the traces were found out on abrupt snow rise. The site of the Snow Leopards habitat in the place of the account coincides with Mountain Goats summer locations. We accounted 50 individuals of mountain goats for 4 days here. There are Red Marmots and Himalayan Snowcocks occurred here.


1993. In the middle of December 2 Snow Leopards were barked by sentry dogs near reserves cordon in the Aksu river canyon. The meeting occurred in 500 m from house in the afternoon. There was the strong snowfall this month, that, probably, complicated victims search by snow leopards and it was a reason of their occurrence so close to the cordon, where the domestic animals were kept.


1994. On the informal data, female Snow Leopard was killed by the foreign hunters in the Aksu river canyon.


1995. In autumn, during the sports hunt in flood lands of the Pskem river (Uzbekistan), the old male Snow Leopard was killed approximately at 20-25 km from border of Aksu-Jabagly Nature Reserve. The animal was in the strong exhaustion stage and suffered from teeth caries and upper jaw purulent abscess. On the processed and boiled down the Snow Leopard skull it was well visible, that in result of inflamed process upper jaw and molar bones, including a part of eye-socket, were strong punched, thickness was no more tissue papers. The fangs were broken off up to the basis, left fang had extensive hole. The animal, according to the hunters, had a huge tumor, closing of the eye. Obviously the Snow Leopard was strong racked with pain and starvation, and he did not react to environmental conditions.


1998. On the 20 of August the female Snow Leopard with 2 cubs was met by Kaspakov E. near knocked down young individual of the Mountain Goat (Capra ibex). On November the informal information about large male Snow Leopard poaching game shooting in the Silbili region, approximately at 20-25 km from Sairam peak (south-west border of Nature Reserve) is received.


1999. On the 1 of August the Snow Leopard trace was registered near the Kshi-Kaindy pass at height 2700 m above sea level close to the Red Marmots column. Under the oral message A. K. Filatov, on border between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan the customs house employees have detained the Snow Leopard afresh hide. This Snow Leopard inhabited in the South Kazakhstan area and its fur was trying to take out to Germany.


2000. On the informal data adult individual of Snow Leopard has been bagged by the poachers of the Taraz town in the mountain file, near the northern border of Nature Reserve.


As the main areas, where Snow Leopard lives now, we selected 4 sites: the first site the basin of Jabagly river, the second one: the Aksu river canyon, the third one Aksai pass, and the last one - upper reaches of the Sairam-su river, east site is outside the Nature Reserves limits. The site upper reaches of Taldybulak gorge, where earlier observers registered irbis (local name of Snow Leopard), is not recently visited by Snow Leopard.


It is necessary to notice, that probably the maximum of meetings in the basin of the Jabagly river, is caused by visiting of this area by the Nature Reserves employees. The road is laid there, rangers cordon, scientific-field base and meteorological ground are settle down. At the same time absence of the items of information about the Snow Leopard meetings in the central and southern Nature Reserves areas first of all testifies about inaccessibility and bad study of this area.


The Snow Leopard meetings analysis shows that in the past observers met Snow Leopards in 2-4 times more often, than in last 10 years.


The greatest amount of meetings of animals were at 1939-1940; 1953-1954.


The greatest animals destruction is marked from 1939 till 1949 and from 1990 till 2000. For all time of reserves existence one snow leopard is caught, 2 are wounded and 11 are killed (including female Snow Leopard with embryo).


The snow leopard mortality for the natural reasons is not registered in the Nature Reserve.


Obviously game shooting and catching of animals in reserve are initial cause of Snow Leopard number reduction. It is certain, that available in reserve materials do not give the complete picture of the Snow Leopard distribution and number. However, considering the reserves relief, suitable places for inhabitation, food base, individual site sizes and last 10 years data, we estimate this large cat number at the reserves and buffer zone in 7-8 individuals.


The feeding.


About 300 species of birds and 51 species of mammals inhabite in Aksu-Jabagly Nature Reserve now. From them, as the potential Snow Leopard victims: Mountain Sheep (Ovis ammon karelini), Mountain Goat (Capra ibex formosovi), Maral (Cervus maral asiatica), Wild Boar (Suc scrofa nigripes), Roe Deer (Capreolus tianshanicus), Red Marmot (Marmota caudata), Snowcock (Tetraogallus himalaensis), Mountain Partridge (Alectoris graeca) take the conducting place. In different years the specified animals number changed in the following limits: Mountain Sheep from 80 up to 600 individuals, Mountain Goat from 500 up to 1200; Wild Boar from 70 up to 150, Roe Deer from 10 up to 100, Maral from 6 up to 40, Red Marmot from 400 up to 2000 [6]. Snowcock is rare in the Nature Reserve, total number is about 50 individuals. Mountain partridge is commonl, you can meet up to 10 individuals of this bird on a route in an hour.


The cases of the successful Snow Leopards hunt on Mountain Goats, Wild Boar, Bear and domestic sheep registered in the reserve.


They also observed Snow Leopard, frightened off Mountains Sheep and followed them. In 1993 the Mountain Goats rests in Snow Leopard excrement were found. The analysis of 9 Snow Leopard excrements founded in 1981-1982 is given in the table 1 [1].


The Snow Leopard protection.


As visible from the above-stated materials, a human is the main Snow Leopards enemy.


Unfortunately, the complete species protection is not observed even in Nature Reserves area. The Snow Leopard game shooting and catching cases described by us are caused by the following reasons. In 50th the idea about harmfulness either utility of those or other animals predominated in the Soviet Union scientific circles. Snow Leopard, as the predator, got in the harmful animals category and was subject to destruction but for example Maral herbivorous animal, appeared as useful one, and Nature Reserve put efforts to his re-acclimatization and protection.


The data about rangers-observers poaching were kept, but we can only guess, how many Snow Leopards were killed by the local hunters in the past. The data about poaching in the attitude of Snow Leopard for the last years are also incomplete.


It is also necessary to note, that if at 70-80th the animals protection level was much higher than at 30-50th, now situation with protected species sharply has worsened. In 90th animal protection and studying means are strongly cut down in connection with the change of the former Soviet Union political situation, science coordinating connections were broken; the only commercial moods prevail among the population and even among the Nature Reserves scientific employees. The currency hunting is developing, the black market has appearance.


If in the past Snow Leopard was announced by the harmful predator it is necessary to take into account: then the species food base was much better, the habitats were accustomed by man in the lesser degree and the animals number was higher. All these facts is not present now.


Undoubtedly, today Snow Leopard is in greater danger, than ever for all historical period.


Table 1. Structure of the Snow Leopard excrements (n=9)


Place of the record, date (for fresh)



Big Chimbulak, upper reaches, prostate juniper wood

Wool of the Mountain Goat 99%, cutting tooth of the Marmot 1 %


Between Karasay and Topshak, on the path

Rests of the Mountain Goat 98%,

stalks and leaves of cereals 2%


Kshi-Aksu (Jusaly) right-bank, prostrate juniper wood

The rests of the Mountain Goat 99%, the rest of the fine bird 1%


Karasay (Topshak), prostrate juniper wood, May, 7, 1982

The rests of the Mountain Sheep - 90%, fine pebbles- 10%


Kshi-Aksu, right-bank, prostrate juniper wood

The rests of Maral 100%


Ulken-Kaindy, May 18, 1982

The wool of the Mountain Goat 90%, stalks of grass 10%


Izbala, big juniper wood, May 19, 1982

The rests of the Mountain Sheep 80%, the rests of a Marmot 20%


Ulken-Kaindy, May 19, 1982

The rests of the Hare 70%,

wool of the Marmot 29%,

wool of mice 1%


Ulken-Kaindy, the border of meadow and juniper wood, May 21, 1982

The rests of the Mountain Sheep 90%, stalks of grass 10%




1.      Burgelo T. B., 1982. The juniper wood biocoenosis Mammals and seasonal phenomena in their life. The manuscript;

  1. Grachev Y. A., 1981. The change of ungulates and predatory animals number in the Aksu-Jabagly Nature Reserve. News AN. Kaz.S.S.R., Sulfurs bib. 5, pages 25-31;
  2. Janyshko P. A., 1945. Materials by Mammals fauna of the Aksu-Jabagly Nature Reserve. The manuscript;
  3. Kovshar A. F., Ivashenko A. A., 1982. Aksu-Jabagly Nature Reserve. Kainar, Alma-Ata, pages 70-74;
  4. Matushkin E, Koshkarev E., 1990. The Snow Leopard traces. Magazine Hunt and Hunting Facility, 2, pages 14-17;
  5. Meklenburtsev R. N., 1934. Mammals of the Aksu-Jabagly Nature Reserve. The manuscript;
  6. Shaposhnikov V. D., 1957. Snow Leopard in Western Tien Shan. Magazine The Nature. 7, Moscow;
  7. Tsvetkova A. A., Kapitonov V. I., 1976. Ecological supervision above Red Marmot in western part of Talas Alatau. In the book: To Aksu-Jabagly Nature reserve 50 years, Alma-Ata, pages 98-122.


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