Cairns vet tracks down elusive Mongolian snow leopard
NURSING an endangered baby snow leopard in the far reaches of the Mongolian mountains is a far cry from a Cairns vet clinic.
But local veterinarian Carol Esson admits she was living a dream when she joined a pilot breakthrough study in the Tost Mountains in southern Mongolia into the rare and elusive cats last month.
"No one knows how many cubs they have or what age they leave their mothers. They’re pretty cryptic animals," Ms Esson said.
"The ones we handled were only about three weeks old.
"They only just had their eyes open and they couldn’t really walk properly."
Ms Esson embarked on the project which was run by US group Panthera, which has been attempting to track the movements of the animal for about four years.
Only 4000 are thought to remain in the wild, hunted and poached to near extinction, seeing them remain on the endangered species list for the past 40 years.
But after days spent hiding high up in the Mongolian mountain tops, studying their furtive movements, Ms Esson and the rest of the research team became the first group to ever enter the live den of the creature, albeit while the mother was hunting.
"We spent a lot of days hiking up and up, so I think if I ever go again I’ll get a lot fitter and do some rock climbing," she said.
"We sat on the ridge line for days, seeing if we could see their comings and goings. It was lots of hours and a bit of luck, but we found a den."
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Elusive dream: Cairns veterinarian Carol Esson lives her dream of handling a baby snow leopard in the Tost Mountains, Mongolia, after finally finding and venturing into a den, the first group of researchers to do so.