Snow leopards may as well be unicorns ... they're almost as elusive. Only ever seen by a handful of people, their tendency to stay out of the limelight makes it tricky for researchers to study these big cats and get a good grasp of population trends and ecological threats. That’s where remote camera traps come in. Recent rare footage captured in the Tost mountain range in Mongolia’s South Gobi province spells good news for these endangered cats. The footage shows a mother with three cubs, as well as a host of other individuals, indicating that the area is home to a healthy population.

It’s a bit of a mystery why the Tost Mountains are home to a high density of snow leopards. At 7000 feet, the area is not as high in elevation as typical snow leopard habitat nor is it heavily snowbound in winter, yet the place is jam-packed with big cats (well, there's at least a dozen anyway). The snow leopards here are quite possibly the most studied in the world. Since 2008, the Snow Leopard Trust have been carrying out a long-term ecological study using GPS collars and remote-sensor cameras, with a fair amount of success. They’ve found cubs in dens, and tracked leopards migrating across mountain ranges, as well as gleaned some vital information about the population dynamics of these little-studied cats.

Thanks to the research, parts of Tost have been granted status as ‘Local Protected Areas’ by the Mongolian authorities – a vital step towards preserving this area for future generations. However, the battle is not yet won. Mining licenses issued before the change in protected status still stand, placing the area under serious threat. The Mongolian research team is pushing for the area to be upgraded to 'Nature Reserve' status, a designation that would protect it completely from any future mining activity.

Header image: tomosuke214