Last week brought us the first clear snapshots of snow leopards mating in the remote reaches of China's Tibetan Plateau, and now the elusive cats have made another appearance – this time in the rugged mountains of Russia's Altai Republic.

Camera traps have recorded footage of two adults and two cubs roaming the snow-covered terrain of the Ak-Cholushpa Nature Park, says WWF Russia. The video was captured as part of ongoing efforts to survey the region's wildlife and to estimate the number of snow leopards living here. 

"Our inspectors have been using camera traps in their work for just a little more than one year, but the results are impressive. We have sighted at least four snow leopards living in the nature park," says senior wildlife official Alyona Maikova. 

Because each leopard has a unique pattern of spots (often called rosettes), scientists can identify individual cats and keep tabs on their movements. 

Snow Leopard Footprints 2016 05 03
Snow leopard tracks, possibly belonging to a female and two cubs, were discovered last year. Image: A. Tokoev / WWF Russia

Signs of the endangered predators, including tell-tale tracks, scat and scratch marks on trees, were first reported in Ak-Cholushpa early in 2015, prompting wildlife officials to set up the cameras in an effort to get more definitive proof of the cats' presence. The first image of a leopard's silhouette, as well as grainy footage of a cat moving through the forest, emerged later that year.

This latest video is further proof of Ak-Cholushpa's importance as leopard habitat. "The presence of cubs indicates that the snow leopards are in a comfortable environment – they are safe, have enough food and are breeding successfully," says WWF Russia. "It also confirms the exceptional value of this territory for the conservation of the snow leopard." [Translated from Russian]

It's thought that only around 150-200 of the animals still survive in Russia, and the Altai-Sayan Ecoregion, which encompasses the Ak-Cholushpa park, is their last stronghold. But even here, illegal snaring and hunting, as well as retaliatory killings by local herders, pose a serious threat. This makes the protection of remaining habitats like Ak-Cholushpa crucial to the cats' survival.

Aside from snow leopards, the park is also home to other unique species like mountain sheep (argali), demoiselle cranes and another elusive feline, the manul.


Top header image: Mark Dumont, Flickr