International Lifestyle Magazine Australian Lifestyle Magazine 1 - Page 40

This was no ordinary ghost. 7R EHJLQ ZLWK LW ZDV HVK and blood, and one of the most captivating and powerful creatures on the planet. Yet it seemed to me to be almost ghostly, as we hunted for evidence of it in the hauntingly beautiful mountain range that forms Russias border with Mongolia. The snow leopard is one of the most elusive animals on earth. 1RWRULRXVO\ GLIFXOW WR VHH LQ WKH wild, it is becoming alarmingly rare. This, combined with the almost mythical status it holds throughout Asia, can make it seem almost ethereal. Yet it is a very real part of the ecosystem, vulnerable to the same factors that threaten many large predators and in need of some serious conservation efforts if it is to survive. Biosphere Expeditions, D QRQSURW RUJDQLVDWLRQ WKDW enables small groups of volunteers to assist environmental scientists, organises an expedition to the Altai every year in order to collect vital data needed to protect these animals. Of course, snow leopards are part of a fragile, delicately balanced ecosystem; its nonsense to try to conserve one animal in isolation from its environment. Thats why the expedition also aims to survey other wildlife in the area, including argali mountain sheep, ibex, marmots and birds, and its a pleasure to learn about these fascinating creatures. The excitement of this expedition is by no means limited to the search for a snow leopard. We VDZ D RFN RI HOHJDQW 'HPRLVHOOH cranes, watched cinereous vultures feeding on a carcass on the steppe and saw a wild boar hurtling at great speed across the valley. For me, the biggest thrill of the expedition was watching a wolf in the distance for a full ten minutes. Also, theres nothing like the exhilaration of reaching the summits and walking the mountain ridges as we surveyed some of the highest peaks in the area. The team assembled in Novosibirsk, Siberias lively biggest city. Then we took a two day drive by Land Rover into the Altai Mountains, where we camped for the duration of the expedition. The drive itself is enough to dispel stereotypes of Siberia as a cold and hostile wasteland. The expedition takes place in the summer months, so we drove for KRXUV SDVW HOGV RI VXQRZHUV stretching across the sunny plains of Siberia. &KDVLQJ *KRVWV Searching for Snow Leopards in Central Asia By Jane Orton Australian Lifestyle Magazine