Applying Drone Technology to the Research and Conservation of Snow Leopards in Mongolia

M2E85L235-233R368B322The endangered snow leopard (Panthera uncia) is an elusive mountain denizen which ranges over 12 countries in Central and South Asia, at elevations between 1,000 and 5,500m: Afghanistan, Bhutan, China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Russian Federation, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

The future of the endangered snow leopard hinges upon reducing poaching of the cat and its prey, as well as resolving conflict with local pastoralists. Given the lack of roads and rugged terrain, and generally difficult ground access across much of snow leopard range, drone or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) could be very effective in supporting field work by mapping habitat or assessing the condition and productivity of vegetation at a micro-level, detecting and counting the prey of snow leopards, and anti-poaching patrolling, including detecting illegal mining activities.

In this project we seek to demonstrate the feasibility of using low-cost UAVs for explorations of remote and hard-to-reach snow leopard habitats. Specifically, we will mount a two-week long expedition to snow leopard habitats near Dalanzadgad, Mongolia with a fleet of three UAVs equipped with high resolution photographic cameras, high definition video cameras and thermal imaging cameras. We will conduct daily aerial transect surveys of snow leopard habitats including thermal imaging transects an hour before sunrise aimed at counting ungulate prey species; video transects in the late morning to visually locate prey species; and photographic (mapping) transects in the early afternoon for the purpose of mapping habitat and major vegetation types. The acquired photographs will be processed to produce geo-rectified photo-mosaics of habitats and three-dimensional digital surface models.

These UAVs may also be of value to mapping illegal gold mining activity in the Gurvan Saikhan National Park. Additionally, the UAV’s could also be used to for anti-poaching patrols, should this emerge as an increasing threat associated with large-scale infrastructure or mining projects in which migrant labor from China engage in wildlife trade (as is currently occurring in Africa, for example).

During this project, we will also train a Mongolian team on the operation of the UAVs to build local capacity for their use in snow leopard research and conservation.
This is a collaborative project between and the Snow Leopard Conservancy. is a non-profit with a mission to share knowledge of building and using low-cost UAVs for conservation-related applications with conservation workers and researchers worldwide, especially those in developing countries. The Snow Leopard Conservancy is a well-respected non-profit organization devoted solely to protecting and conserving the endangered snow leopard and its habitat in its 12 range countries of South, Central and East Asia.

We are actively raising funds for this project. If you would like to contribute, please click on the Donate button below and send us an email to inform us of your name and donation for our records.