Dealing with Snow Leopards
Today I joined a trip to the Lakeland Wildlife Oasis with university, I completely missed judged my time and the traffic on the road in, so I was a touch late. When I arrived, I was quickly ushered to the snow leopard exhibit, here we were given a talk about animal identification through the recording of foot prints.
To demonstrate this the keeper had placed a layer of sand in the enclosure and convinced the female snow leopard to walk across the sand with the promise of food. Unfortunately for us the leopard decided to then climb up onto a platform and sun bathe for the rest of the morning, and due to the fact the leopards are category 1 animals, no one is allowed into the exhibit with one still present within it. We had had part one of recording foot prints but without access to the prints we had to move onto a different species. The keeper chose a fossa a species of large mongoose from Madagascar.
After laying the sand in the enclosure the willing fossa called mango ran across the sand and back into their main enclosure which they were sealed in. This meant we could go inside and measure and photograph the prints. This practice is apparently done in the field with the footprints being uploaded to a central database which in turn can identify known individuals from they footprints alone. When dealing with dangerous animals this is often as far as the process goes. But occasionally plaster casts of the foots prints will also be taken. The keeper showed us how this was done, before giving a couple of students the opportunity to do it as well. Both the methods demonstrated are practical field skills and expected skills to have if one becomes involved in the monitoring of certain species.
Image taken by Alex Playford