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Oct. 27th, 2011


New website and blogging spot!

Although I may crosspost to this blog, the vast majority of my Altai advocacy and blogging is going to be taking place on the exciting! new! website for The Altai Project

I just posted some new information about protected areas in Altai Republic  on the site - come check it out!

Thanks for reading along here these past several years.

Jun. 10th, 2011


Pipeline reprieve and other goings-on

June 10th came and went in Russia without a signed deal for the proposed Altai Gas Pipeline. Following a month of optimistic Gazprom and government announcements saying the deal would be finalized by today, this past week saw fairly diverse coverage of the issue, with some sources saying it was a sure deal, some naysayers, and others saying "It's complicated". While some analysts say that because the pipeline doesn't make economic sense it will never happen, it does still seem likely that Russia/Gazprom and China/CNPC will eventually find common ground. Price is still the sticking point, with China not wanting to pay the European prices that Gazprom is demanding. 




China is likely to come around, however, if nothing else because what it really wants is a transportation/trade corridor through the region - the pipeline is just the means of getting that corridor underway.


One glimmer of hope around the issue is that some news sources are finally beginning to mention environmental concerns and the fact that the pipeline will pass through the Golden Mountains of Altai UNESCO World Heritage Site in their coverage. It's still an afterthought, but as the situation progresses, I hope that we will see more comprehensive coverage of the entire situation, not just a clinical analyst's approach.

www.upstreamonline.com/live/article259349.ece (notable only for its final paragraph mention of the UNESCO World Heritage Site)

In other news, the Kosh-Agach prosecutors' office filed an appeal of the recent acquittal of 3 men in the January 2009 helicopter poaching incident with the Altai Republic Supreme Court. The accused claimed that they did not participate in hunting argali during the helicopter trip. There has been significant outcry by environmental and anti-corruption groups as well as by the general population of Altai Republic protesting this acquittal as well as the government's failure to prosecute the accused and other government officials for what many view as clearcut corrupt involvement of government leaders and officials in the events surrounding the case.

www.listock.ru/17332 (in Russian)

On June 6, the Ere Chui Telengit Community Association held a public meeting to speak out against both the helicopter poaching acquittal and the proposed pipeline. The meeting was attended by almost 70 Telengit community representatives, as well as other Republic government officials, and representatives of regional conservation NGOs in Barnaul and Novosibirsk. The Telengit are demanding a meeting with President Medvedev to discuss their concerns about the pipeline.

www.listock.ru/17514 (in Russian)

A week earlier, green groups and Altaian indigenous groups held a joint press conference in Novosibirsk, speaking about their concerns about the Altai Gas Pipeline. Roman Tadyrov of Ere Chui Telengit Community Association, Mikhail Paklin of the Altai Republic's "Russian Center" NGO, Mikhail Shishin of the Fund for 21st Century Altai, and Aleksey Gribkov of Geblerov Society all spoke to the media in attendance. They specifically demanded greater public access to detailed information and project documentation as well as calling upon Gazprom to conduct detailed studies of alternative pipeline routes, specifically pointing to concerns about the fate of the Ukok Plateau.


May. 23rd, 2011


Altaigate: "Not guilty" verdict in the 2009 helicopter poaching incident

 I suppose we should all have been pleased that the case was even filed, let alone reached a verdict in trial. 


Russian officials cleared of poaching charges

23 May 2011

KOSH-AGACH (Altai Republic), May 23 (RIA Novosti)

A court in southern Siberia's Altai Republic on Monday acquitted three high-ranking officials whose hunting of endangered animals led to a deadly helicopter crash two years ago.

Judge Nikolai Lubenitsky said the prosecution had failed to prove the defendants' guilt. He also said all the three men could claim compensation for damages sustained as a result of the prosecution.

A Mi-17 helicopter carrying government officials crashed near Altai's Chernaya mountain in January 2009, killing seven people, including the Russian president's envoy to the State Duma, Alexander Kosopkin, and a federal environmental official.

It was subsequently alleged that the officials had been hunting endangered mountain sheep.

Four people survived the crash, including the republic's deputy prime minister, Anatoly Bannykh, who resigned after the crash; deputy head of the Institute of Economics and Law Nikolai Kapranov, and State Duma official and businessman Boris Belinsky.

The three officials were charged with illegal hunting and faced up to two years in prison if found guilty.

May. 17th, 2011


Act now to help save the Ukok Plateau

Last week The Moscow Times quoted a federal official saying that Russia and China would likely ink a deal on the Altai Gas Pipeline in June at the upcoming St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. The 2600-km pipeline, shown below, would stretch through sensitive landscapes and communities in Altai Republic and then cross the Ukok Plateau into China across the 54-km wide stretch of Russia-China border in central Siberia.

Image credit: Gazprom

At the meeting place of Russia, China, Mongolia, and Kazakhstan, the Ukok Plateau is part of the “Golden Mountains of Siberia” UNESCO World Heritage Site, and as such, is vital cultural and environmental heritage not just for Altaians but for the world community.

Ukok Plateau (credit J. Castner)

Putin first announced this project in 2006, and ever since then locals in Altai Republic and neighboring Altai Krai have been deeply concerned. The threats posed by such a pipeline include:

• Destruction of sacred lands/natural monuments on sacred Ukok Plateau and along the pipeline route (the Telengit, a small-numbered indigenous people, claim the entire Plateau as a cultural site)
• Passage through and damage to UNESCO World Heritage Site
• Environmental damage to landscape (permafrost tundra on Ukok), damage to wildlife diversity, changes to migratory routes and habitats
• Increased access for poachers using service roads
• Threats to Katun River watershed and multiple Altai Republic protected area violations
• Destruction of high-altitude tundra wetlands and permafrost (increased greenhouse gas emissions)
• Destruction or damage to cultural and historical landmarks (Kalbak Tash petroglyphs in Chui-Oozy, Ukok Plateau, etc.)
• Changes or restrictions in access to traditional natural resource use by indigenous peoples

Once the price negotiations are complete and the deal is signed, local activists expect the pipeline’s construction to begin almost immediately. While one would expect Russia and Gazprom to conduct through environmental impact studies and thoroughly consider alternative routes, experience with other pipeline projects in Russia shows that there is often a great rush to get construction underway, often resulting in slipshod studies and construction practices.

The Altai Project’s local partners are reaching out to local communities across Altai Republic, focusing particularly on indigenous communities whose lives and cultural heritage are in the pipeline’s path. By working in partnership in Altai Republic, across Russia, and around the world, we want to persuade Gazprom and the Russian government to consider alternate pipeline routes in place of the Ukok Plateau.

What can you do?

1. Donate generously to support a public environmental impact assessment, public education and outreach in Altai and abroad, and efforts to protect sacred sites, cultural monuments, and sensitive nature in the pipeline’s path.
2. Tell your friends about the beauty of Altai and The Altai Project’s efforts to protect it. Connect on Facebook with The Altai Project to follow our work.
3. Stand ready to participate in upcoming action alerts and activities during the course of the pipeline campaign.
4. Volunteer your time and energy!

You can learn more about Altai and the pipeline at the links below, and in the coming weeks and months, I'll share more information here.

Save Ukok campaign

Take a virtual trip to Altai's Ukok Plateau through Igor Heitman's photography

Fund for 21st Century Altai’s Ukok page

Gazprom’s Altai Gas Pipeline page

Mar. 25th, 2011


Article: Putin’s animal antics questioned in Russia

I'm so glad that this story is getting such lengthy and useful coverage, although I do question the estimate stated below that there are 100 snow leopards in Russia. Far far fewer (less than 50) is more likely.



March 24, 2011

Putin’s animal antics questioned in Russia
By Maria Antonova (AFP)

MOSCOW — “There’s a good kitty, a pretty kitty,” Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was shown by state media telling snow leopard last weekend, who stared back at him, covered in fresh blood.

The rare species is the latest to go under “personal control” of the Russian leader, who is overseeing research programs on a handful of mammals, including the tiger, beluga whale and polar bear.

As part of that work he has taken part in several tagging missions with scientists from the Moscow-based Severtsov Institute.

But other scientists have said the snow leopard was harmed, and that the program is scientifically unreasonable and directed more towards publicity.

The leopard, called Mongol, had to be flown to Khakasia, about 160 kilometers (100 miles) away from its habitat in the Sayano-Shushensky reserve, and was held in captivity for five days, released only after meeting Putin.

The removal of the animal was “criminal”, according to the regional UNDP-funded programme on biodiversity, since the Severtsov institute only had permission to tag Mongol, which could have been done in 15 minutes.

On Sunday, the Severtsov institute said on its website that the animal had to be held and treated for wounds on his neck and cheekbone.

“He was ill,” Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told AFP, dismissing allegations that the animal had been held captive in order to meet the prime minister as “absolutely groundless.”

But Alexander Bondarev, the manager of UNDP’s program, argued: “That any treatment was necessary is a big question.

“It is as though he was cured as soon as he saw the prime minister,” he added.

“If he really needed treatment, he could be treated in a zoo or in a veterinary center.”

Mongol could even have harmed himself as he was trying to break loose, said another observer.

“The important question is: how was the animal affected by staying in a cage?” said WWF Russia head Igor Chestin.

“Big cats, when disturbed, start hitting against it and can break their teeth, and without teeth they will not survive in the wild.”

There are only 100 snow leopards in Russia. “Each is literally golden,” said Bondarev.

They were easier to catch in the Sayano-Shushensky reserve, but tagging its population was not scientifically valuable, he added.

“There are only seven or eight specimens there, they are isolated and well studied,” he said. Tagging had to be done together with on-ground monitoring to see why the animal was moving in a certain way, he added.

“That cannot be done in a strictly protected area such as a reserve,” he said.

The Severtsov institute’s program, which studies animals in the Red Book of endangered species “and other especially important animals of Russia” currently lists six mammals, most of which were tagged, patted, or kissed by Putin.

The programme is funded by state oil transport monopoly Transneft, and a Saint Petersburg-based charitable fund “Konstantinovsky”, which is chaired mostly by government officials.

The first time the general public heard about it was in 2008, when Putin voiced support for the endangered Amur Tiger and participated in a tagging expedition in the Russian Far East.

A video about the expedition on the prime minister’s website relates how a helicopter carrying Vladimir Putin landed in the taiga.

Just as the prime minister is overseeing the facilities, “a tigress stumbles across a trap,” the video relates.

Putin personally drives the SUV to the scene, and “appears on the trail just at the moment the tigress makes a leap.” Handy with a gun, Putin shoots a syringe with the sedative, says the video’s commentary.

But that version of events does not gel with that told by some members of the conservation community, as one Far Eastern tiger expert told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Local conservationists believe the animal was flown in from the Khabarovsk zoo (about 500 kilometres away) in time for the visit.

It was placed in the trap, sedated just enough so it could start stirring when the delegation drove up, he said.

Later the animal was returned to the zoo and a different wild tigress was eventually captured and released with the tracker.

“This could be confirmed by a stripe pattern comparison,” the source said: “For each animal the pattern is unique.”

The big cat programmes advertised as pioneering on the Institute’s website have no synergy with local research, which has been going on for 18 years, he added.

“They like to say their project is supported by the government, so nobody voices any serious criticism. But locally scientists don’t like them, since they structure programmes based on convenience and PR.”

At the WWF, Chestin complained of low salaries, a cut in the number of rangers and other changes introduced after the government did away with its federal environmental protection committee.

“While considerable money is being spent lately on research, systematically, conservation of animals is in very poor shape,” he said.

It was Putin himself who signed the decree to end the committee’s existence on May 17th, 2000, ten days after his inauguration.

Copyright © 2011 AFP

ETA: Here is a different link to the story: http://www.france24.com/en/20110325-putins-animal-antics-questioned-russia.

Mar. 24th, 2011


Background on Mongol

Just for the sake of having all the information here in one place, here is my translation of Severtsov Institute's March 20 press release.


Severtsov Institute PEE

“Captured snow leopard known as Mongol returned to his home territory in Sayano-Shushensky Zapovednik”

The first snow leopard ever to be captured and equipped with a satellite-tracking collar has been released to his original habitat, following a course of medical treatment. The snow leopard nicknamed Mongol is being tracked using the Argos satellite tracking system. Data points showing coordinates of the animal’s location will allow his movements to be tracked, as well as enabling study of the structure and size of his territory.

An adult male snow leopard known as Mongol, approximately 10 years of age, was captured on March 13, 2011 within the framework of the “Program to study and monitor snow leopard in Southern Siberia” being conducted by the Russian Academy of Sciences Permanent Expedition under the aegis of the Russian Geographic Society, using Permit #7 from the Russian Environmental Oversight Agency (RosPrirodNadzor) issued on March 4, 2011.

The snow leopard was nicknamed Mongol in 2008 when he was first photographed using camera-traps in Sayano-Shushensky Zapovednik. He is one of two adult male snow leopards living in the zapovednik, and evidence of his presence has been recorded in the area throughout the winter and spring of 2011. In addition to those two, the zapovednik’s population consists of two adult females, one 2.5 year old male and two 1.5 year old animals (male and female). One of the Program’s goals is to explore the animals’ relationships in the area using non-invasive molecular genetic techniques, as was done by the Far Eastern Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences with Siberian tigers in Ussuriysky Zapovednik in Primorye.

In 2009 with the help of camera traps, zapovednik staff learned that Mongol had a poacher’s snare around his neck. Later, he was often photographed using the traps without the snare, obviously having managed to free himself.

To capture snow leopards [sic], staff from the Severtsov Institute for Ecology and Evolution Problems and Sayano-Shushensky Zapovednik used leg-hold snares equipped with transmitters indicating a snare has been activated.

On March 13, a snow leopard was captured for the first time by researchers. The animal was in the trap for approximately two hours from the moment of capture. The captured animal had scarring from a poacher's snare on his neck and inflamed wounds on his face (above the left eye and on the cheekbone) and on his shoulders. The animal's trauma and wounds were easily visible in photographs taken earlier with camera traps on February 27, 2011. Mongol’s wounds were likely incurred as a result of fighting with other snow leopards during mating season and subsequently became inflamed.

Following immobilization, examination, and treatment of the wounds, it was decided to temporarily move the animal to a cage ("zhivolovushka", sized 3.0m x 1.5m x 1.5m high) for additional treatment, and on March 14 a request was submitted to RosPrirodNadzor seeking approval for Mongol’s temporary transfer to the expedition's base camp at Bolshoy On in Khakassiya. Transfer of the animal to base camp for ongoing treatment was permitted with the stipulation that the animal was to be kept in a larger enclosure. After receiving the necessary permissions on March 15, the animal was brought to the base camp and placed in a large enclosure (4m x 4m x 2 m high) containing a wooden shelter.

Immediately following his capture, the wounds were treated with a healing salve and he was injected with 10% Baytril (in order to lower the possibility of infectious processes, primarily bacterial or mycoplasmal in origin). Baytril injections were accomplished using a blowpipe from a distance.

On March 18 when he was again sedated, his wounds were treated, and he was injected with Baytril. The animal’s condition was satisfactory and there was no cause for concern.

Mongol was equipped with a Russian-made (by privately held ES-PAS) GPS-ARGOS satellite-tracking collar. These types of collars have proved their effectiveness in working with Siberian tiger, polar bear, beluga whale, northern reindeer, and a number of other mammal species.

These collars were manufactured specifically for snow leopards and weigh 600g (approximately 1.5% of the bodyweight of an adult animal) and have a 1.5 year operating life expectancy. By weight, these collars are 1.5 times lighter than those collars used by American researchers conducting satellite-monitoring of snow leopards in Pakistan (http://www.blog.snowleopard.org). They are not equipped with USW transmitters, which prevents the already minimal opportunity for poachers to track the animal, and the signal is directly transmitted to the satellite. Collars of this size do not affect the animal’s ability to hunt and do not change natural behavior.

On March 19, the next day, (following the animal’s recovery and time for sedating medications used to immobilize the animal to leave its system), Mongol was returned to Sayano-Shushensky Zapovednik and, in the presence of a Krasnoyarsk Krai representative from RosPrirodNadzor, was set free that the place of his capture. The animal exited his transit crate and set off into the mountains with great leaps. The first data from his collar regarding his movements have already been recorded.

Mar. 23rd, 2011


Mongol is free!

Mongol was released on Saturday March 19 at the site of his capture in Sayano-Shushensky Zapovednik, on the shore of the reservoir.

Despite assertions by Putin’s press office to the contrary just hours earlier, the Prime Minister dropped in to visit Mongol at his enclosure in Khakassiya.

In total, Mongol was held captive for almost 7 days, including two helicopter transfers in a small wooden crate. During his captivity, he was sedated at least 3 times. From the footage available on the internet (see links below), it is clear that he was quite stressed at times. There is footage of him throwing himself against the metal enclosure and with fresh blood on his nose and snout, probably from hitting his head against the metal cage.

Media coverage of Mongol’s captivity often referred back to Putin’s past involvement in the capture and satellite-tracking of other rare wildlife, including a polar bear (held captive for several days before Putin arrived on the scene), a Siberian tiger, and a beluga whale. Severtsov Institute scientists claim that Mongol had wounds requiring treatment, although the media cites sources close to the events as saying that there were no signs of any wounds requiring such extended and invasive treatment in any photographs or film footage that they saw.

The Severtsov Institute and Prime Minister Putin's office report that the first satellite data was received upon Mongol's release and also stated that visitors to the PM's website could view Mongol's movements there. Despite those statements, no further evidence of the snow leopard's movements have been made public. Is the satellite collar operating as planned?

Video links:


Here is my translation of a Gazeta.ru article published on March 21.


He saw Putin

The snow leopard that spent almost a week in a cage in Khakassiya awaiting a visit from Putin has been returned to freedom. Officially, it was announced that the rare animal needed to be moved two times by helicopter between two regions in order to house it in a large enclosure and treat wounds it received in fights with other snow leopards. Sources in Sayano-Shushensky Zapovednik say that the animal could have been wounded during its transportation to Khakassiya. During his visit, Putin was satisfied by the snow leopard’s condition and called the animal “a generalized image” of Russia.

Following its meeting with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Mongol the snow leopard was released, having spent several days in a cage. The animal was again transported by helicopter from Khakassky Zapovednik to Sayano-Shushensky Zapovednik, an event that occurred almost immediately after Putin saw the snow leopard. Federal channels showed footage of Mongol wearing his GLONASS satellite-tracking collar and jumping out of the crate, disappearing into the zapovednik’s landscape. According to official sources, the first data of the snow leopard’s movements have already been received.

In a few days, visitors will be able to observe Mongol’s movements on the federal government’s website.

According to Gazeta.ru’s environmental conservation sources in the Altai-Sayan ecoregion, organizers from the “On the trail of the snow leopard” event during which Putin viewed the animal had planned that the Prime Minister would personally release Mongol. The source reported that it was for this exact reason that the snow leopard was moved by helicopter from Sayano-Shushensky Zapovednik to Khakassiya. Ecologists go on to assert that special permission must be obtained in order to transport Red Book-listed animals, and that without that permit, the capture would be considered illegal. But after ecologists sounded the alarm, demanding that the snow leopard not be released anywhere other than his own natural environment, let alone in a completely different zapovednik, the organizers began to retreat from their original plan. Putin did not release the animal, but he did personally see the enclosure in which he was being held.

On Saturday, the Severtsov Institute for Ecology and Evolution Problem’s snow leopard conservation program officially announced that the snow leopard was moved to Khakassiya for treatment and that by no means was it to meet with the Prime Minister.

“The captured animal had scarring from a poacher's snare on his neck and inflamed wounds on his face (above the left eye and on the cheekbone) and on his shoulders,” the Institute reported. The Institute believes that the animal could have been wounded in fights with other leopards. The injuries noted in the announcement were earlier recorded using camera traps installed in the zapovednik. The Russian Environmental Oversight Agency (RosPrirodNadzor)’s Krasnoyarsk Kray office told Gazeta.ru that the Institute received permission to transport the snow leopard to Khakassiya. RosPrirodNadzor’s administration said that the request was sent on March 14. The application indicated the transportation was necessary in order to “hold the animal in a larger enclosure” not available in Sayano-Shushensky Zapovednik. Following receipt of the required permit on March 15, the animal was moved to a base camp in Khakassiya and placed in “a 4m x 4m x 2m (high) enclosure containing a wooden shelter.”

Khakassiya’s Information Agency (“Vladimir Putin met a snow leopard in the accompaniment of Viktor Zimin, head of Khakassiya”) did not mention to Gazeta.ru the transport of the animal from Krasnoyarsk Krai. Sources in the Republic government did say that the facilities at Krasnoyarsk Krai biosphere reserve base were “on an order of magnitude fewer” than those of Khakassky Zapovednik and that that could explain the matter.

Khakassky Zapovednik staff declined to explain why the animal was captured in Krasnoyarsk Krai and brought to Khakassiya, referring to “instructions.” Unofficially, we were told in the zapovednik that the snow leopard’s habitat is specifically within Sayano-Shushensky Biosphere Zapovednik and that the snow leopard was likely captured in order to show him to the Prime Minister, but that since he had signs of trauma, Mongol was “treated at the same time.” In addition, sources in Sayano-Shushensky Zapovednik told Gazeta.ru that there was no permit to transport the snow leopard, nor there wounds on his face visible prior to capture.

Sources say that the snow leopard could have received those injuries during his capture when he resisted and threw himself at the cage (there is information that he broke a canine biting the iron bars) or during transportation by helicopter in a small cage.

“No one has seen any camera-trap images that would indicate old wounds on Mongol. There is a photograph of the sedated snow leopard being fitted with a satellite-tracking collar. There is a video on the internet that shows that Mongol’s entire snout covered in fresh blood,” said the source.

Ecologists fear that the stressful situation that the animal was forced to endure over several days’ time may have a serious impact on the snow leopard’s health. “This incident may have negative consequences for the already very small population of snow leopard in the Altai-Sayan ecoregion. The length of the captivity, the cage, and the number of medications administered are particularly troubling, given that this is the dominant male,” Aleksandr Bondarev, director of WWF’s Altai-Sayan program told Gazeta.ru. We reported earlier that according to official sources, the wounds were treated with a healing ointment and injected with 10% Baytril. Official reports stated that the snow leopard received 3 injections. “But there could have been more. Snow leopards are extremely rare animals. In Krasnoyarsk Krai, their total population is 7-8 individuals, and removing just one of these animals can have fatal results,” said Bondarev.

Following his acquaintance with the snow leopard, Vladimir Putin gave interviews to TV broadcasters Vesti and Moya Planeta [My Planet].

During the interview with journalists, he reminded them that the snow leopard is a symbol of the upcoming Olympics in Sochi and noted that this is a “generalized image that tells us that Russia is a very diverse place.”

He also said that he plans to further participate in conservation and research programs for several species of wild animals. Putin is interested in freshwater seals living in Lake Baikal and Lake Ladoga, dolphins in the Black Sea, and saiga antelope; the prime minister also raised the issue of reviving the population of Przewalski horses.

Mar. 19th, 2011


Putin meets Mongol in Khakassiya

No update about Mongol's status unfortunately. Clearly there is a LOT of back-pedaling and damage control going on in a lot of places behind the scenes. UNDP/GEF took down its original piece from their site. No new info on the WWF-Russia or Severtsov Institute websites.

In the article below, we learn that Putin did in fact make a quick stop to see Mongol in Khakassiya, en route to Sakhalin.



In Khakassiya, Putin views a snow leopard - symbol of the Olympics in Sochi

20:50 19/03/2011

Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, 19 Mar - RIA News Agency. The Prime Minister's press secretary Dmitry Peskov reported that en route to Sakhalin, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin stopped over in Khakassiya and saw a snow leopard.

"Prime Minister Vladimir Putin made a stop in Khakassiya on a Friday night-Saturday morning flight to Sakhalin," Peskov told journalists.

According to Peskov, there Putin made the acquaintance of a snow leopard trapped several days earlier in Krasnoyarsk Krai. "The Prime Minister is actively engaged in wild animal conservation," said Peskov.

The male snow leopard was captured several days earlier in Krasnoyarsk Krai. The snow leopard is one of the symbols of the Sochi Olympics. Putin controls several wildlife conservation programs for Siberian tigers, beluga whales, and polar bears.

In August 2008, Putin visited Ussurisky Zapovednik, located 100 km outside of Vladivostok, where he collared a Siberian tiger with a satellite-tracking collar. At that time, Putin and specialists from Kronotsky Zapovednik on Kamchatka participated in a scientific expedition to study gray whales. Putin shot a whale with a specialized harpoon used to collect skin samples from the gray whale. In summer 2009 in Khabarovsk Krai, Putin place a satellite-tracking collar on a beluga whale known as Dasha. In April 2010 during a trip to Franz Josef Land, Putin joined a scientific expedition to study and increase the population of polar bears in the Arctic and while there radio-collared a polar bear.

In May 2010, Putin released one of two female leopards from Iran from cages into exhibit spaces in Sochi National Park.

[omitted info about Mongol's capture, clearly taken from the Severtsov Institute press release, including information about Mongol's wounds]

[omitted general info about snow leopards in general]

Translation by Jennifer Castner

Mar. 18th, 2011


Gazeta.ru: Scandal brewing around Mongol's imprisonment

Here is my translation of a great article by Gazeta.ru. Clearly, the situation is unraveling as the scandal brews.


Mysterious Rendezvous
They caught a snow leopard for the prime minister

18.03.11 22:02


In Krasnoyarsk Krai they caught a snow leopard, but instead of fitting this rare animal with a satellite-tracking collar and releasing it, for unknown reasons it was taken to Khakassiya Republic. According to Gazeta.ru sources, Vladimir Putin himself is to release the snow leopard. There is no official confirmation of this information.

There is a scandal brewing in Russia about the capture of a Red Book-listed snow leopard in Krasnoyarsk Krai. As a source in the Altai-Sayan ecoregion conservation circles told Gazeta.ru, the male snow leopard was captured on March 14 in Sayano-Shushensky Zapovednik by specialists from the Russian Academy of Sciences' Severtsev Institute of Ecology and Evolution. The permit documentation issued to the Institute by RosPrirodNadzor states that the snow leopard was to be caught in order to be fitted with a satellite collar and immediately released where it lived. Instead, the snow leopard was placed in a cage and transported by helicopter to Khakassiya.

As the source reported, it was assumed that the snow leopard would participate in events planned for March 18 dedicated to the completion of phase one of a research expedition "On the trail of the snow leopard," organized by the Khakassiya Republic branch of the Russian Geographic Society (RGO), of which Vladimir Putin chairs the Board of Trustees, Khakassiya Zapovednik, and the independent non-profit organization Center for Environmental Projects.

According to the source's information, on Saturday, March 19, the prime minister will participate in the expedition's activities; it is said that he will personally set free the collared snow leopard.

In 2008 during a visit to Primorye, Putin publicly approved the program to study and protect snow leopards.

Gazeta.ru learned that WWF is aware that the Krasnoyarsk snow leopard has been transported to Khakassiya and is being held there. Ecologists do not know why the animal was taken to a different region.

Aleksandr Bondarev, director of WWF's Altai-Sayan program, told Gazeta.ru that the Fund has already demanded that the snow leopard be released from its 5-day caged confinement and returned to its home - the Sayano-Shushensky Zapovednik.

"It is illegal and dangerous for the animal - the animal is under constant stress, and the possible results of that stress on his life are unknown. Moreover, we do not understand why the snow leopard has been held for 5 days. Usually the process of fitting a collar takes no more than an hour," he said. Bondarev noted that the captured animal is known as Mongol and is the dominant male in a "pride" of snow leopards living in the Krasnoyarsk zapovednik.

Capturing snow leopards is strictly regulated. WWF specialist Natalya Dronova told Gazeta.ru that permission to transport an animal to a different administrative region should be precisely note in the permit. According to point 8 of the "Rules for capturing animals belonging to species listed in the Russian Federal Red Book" dated 6 January 1997, "the time period and means of capture of animals are determined in accordance with the goals of capture and should not cause harm to natural populations of these species and their habitats." "Collaring assumes that the snow leopard is caught, fitted with the collar, and released. Anything else, including transporting a Red Book species animal, should be specifically mentioned in the permit." Releasing a collared individual in a location other than where it was captured is forbidden on principle - it contradicts logic. After all, the animal is being collared in order to learn how it behaves in its natural surroundings," she said.

A source told Gazeta.ru that they had planned to capture a snow leopard in Khakassiya itself, but were unable to do so.

Mikhail Paltsyn, WWF program coordinator in the Altai-Sayan Ecoregion, explained that snow leopards can be found in Khakassiya, but they do not live there long-term. "But in Sayano-Shushensky Zapovednik there is a group of 8 snow leopards. Catching one of them is not difficult - the snow leopards live near the reservoir," the expert said. However, a month ago, RosPrirodNadzor denied an application by the Institute of Ecology and Evolution requesting permission to catch two snow leopards in Khakassky Zapovednik. "The Russian Academy of Science's snow leopard monitoring and research program not yet been developed, nor has it been approved by the zapovednik. Because snow leopard mating season takes plan from January through March, the Institute was asked to review the dates it was requesting to take into account this species' biology," according to an excerpt from RosPrirodNadzor's announcement.

Irina Samoylova, RosPrirodNadzor's Krasnoyarsk Krai duty officer, told Gazeta.ru that she had seen WWF's memorandum to the agency and had already "begun looking into it."

"A Krasnoyarsk Krai RosPrirodNadzor staffperson has set out for the zapovednik and will remain on site until the reasons are clear and the information regarding the snow leopard's transport is clarified, if such transport has taken place," she said. Samoylova added that permission to capture the animal was given by RosPrirodNadzor in Moscow. However, the central office refused comment on the situation with Mongol, stating that it was after hours and that all responses to media inquiries would be made on Monday.

Gazeta.ru was unable to obtain comments from the Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution, Khakassky Zapovednik, or Sayano-Shushensky Zapovednik on Friday. Since then, the Siberian News Agency has reported that the Sayano-Shushensky Zapovednik press office was "surprised to learn of Mongol's transportation to Khakassiya," and staff in zapovednik director Aleksandr Rassolov's office state that their director is in the field in the zapovednik and that he will not be reachable until next week.

Another source told Gazeta.ru that Putin was expected to arrive in Khakassiya Friday evening, however, there is no official confirmation of this information.

Reports that the prime minister was expected to participate in the closing meeting of the Russian Geographic Society on Saturday appeared in the regional media. However, the Russian Geographic Society informed Gazeta.ru that they cannot confirm Putin's participation in activities related to "On the trail of the snow leopard." "Today there were a number of activities including a photography exhibition. Tomorrow everything will go according to plan as well. We have no information about Vladimir Putin's participation in these events," a representative of the RGS told Gazeta.ru. (They also had no comment on the situation with the captured snow leopard or its transport there from another region.)

The prime minister's press secretary Dmitry Peskov also denied this information. "Vladimir Putin is in Moscow where he has a meeting planned with the Belgian prime minister. He has no plans to go to Khakassiya," Peskov told Gazeta.ru.

One source told Gazeta.ru that when the prime minister's entourage learned of "the story with the snow leopard, a scandal broke out," and it was decided to release the snow leopard: "It is not known if they have already released him or will release him soon or the location of his release - in Sayano-Shushensky Zapovednik or in Khakassiya."

Gazeta.ru was unable to obtain a comment from the government's press service.

Earlier it had been officially announced that on Saturday, Putin would make a working visit to Sakhalin, "during which he would engage in issues related to the completion of work on building a gas pipeline and its connection to a nearby power station." It was also expected that "issues of target-pricing would be addressed." A short while later, the prime minister's press office reported that Putin will lead a meeting on Sakhalin regarding "Russian atomic energy development in light of the crisis in Japan."

Translation by Jennifer Castner

Press Release on Mongol from Severtsov Institute

I browsed the Severtsev Institute's website just now and came across this status report on Mongol, dated 3/18/2011. 

Further browsing shows that on March 15, 2011 Severtsev Institute signed a 4-way research/monitoring agreement with Sayano-Shushensky, Khakassky, and Ubsunurskaya Kotlovina Zapovedniks. Research/study methods are described as "capture and fitting with satellite collars, photographic identification, non-invasive DNA identification, and hormone and zoological/veterinary techniques using specially-trained dogs". Very brief info here: http://irbis.sevin-expedition.ru/news/news_42.html




Capturing a Snow Leopard

18 March 2011

An adult male snow leopard was captured on March 13, 2011 at Sayano-Shushensky Zapovednik in the Kalbak-Mes region as part of the program "Research and monitoring study of snow leopards in Southern Siberia" being conducted under the aegis of the Russian Geographic Society in accordance with a RosPrirodNadzor [Russian Environmental Oversight Agency] directive (#7), issued on 4 March 2011.

This animal (known as "Mongol", over 10 years old) is one of two adult male snow leopards currently located within the zapovednik (winter/spring 2011), where he is considered a "resident male." Earlier, zapovednik staff had captured images of him with his neck tangled in a poacher's snare using camera traps. Since then, Mongol has often been photographed without the snare, obviously having managed to free himself. At the time of his capture, the trap was equipped with a sensor that would indicate the trap had been activated.

The animal was in the trap for approximately two hours from the moment of capture. The captured animal had scarring from a poacher's snare on his neck and inflamed wounds on his face (above the left eye and on the cheekbone) and on his shoulders. The animal's trauma and wounds were easily visible in photographs taken earlier with camera traps on February 27, 2011. The wounds were likely incurred by Mongol as a result of fighting with other snow leopards during mating season and subsequently became inflamed.

Following immobilization, examination, and treatment of the wounds, it was decided to temporarily move the animal to a cage ("zhivolovushka") for additional treatment. On March 15, the animal was transported to the expedition's base camp at Bolshoy On, where he was placed in a 4x4 meter enclosure containing a wooden shelter. Immediately after his capture, the wounds were treated with a healing salve and he was injected with 10% Baytril. The injections continued at the expedition base camp - the injections were given in order to lower the possibility of infectious processes, primarily bacterial or mycoplasmal in origin. Baytril injections were accomplished using a blow pipe.

On March 18th, the animal was again immobilized for wound cleaning and another Baytril injection. The animal's condition was satisfactory and did not elicit cause for concern. Mongol was equipped with a satellite collar. Upon the animal's recovery (elimination of the immobilizing agents from his body), the animal will soon be returned to Sayano-Shushensky Zapovednik and released at the capture site.

Translation by Jennifer Castner

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