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With leopards in the field
Posted on February 4, 2009
Since October 2006 a joint team from the Institute of Biology and Soil Sciences and Wildlife Conservation Society (Russia) has been involved in trapping of wild leopards in the Southwest Primorsy Krai. This aim of this is for clinical examination and biosampling of the existing leopard population.
During the last capture (2008 Fall), there was situation when Dr John Lewis – acting capture veterinary specialist and ALWHP advisor from Wildlife Vets International, UK – had to leave the Russian Far East for London for one week before capturing was complete.
Though all members of this team are quite skilled specialists in the questions of veterinary procedures (immobilization and biosampling), the presence of another vet was necessary until the end of capturing . And that wasn’t just mere formality. A veterinarian was really necessary for sample storage preparation, clinical examination of captured animal and for making a few biosample tests that are available in the field.
Working for ZSL as veterinarian in Lazovsky reserve (a proposal area for possible Amur leopard reintroduction – southeast of Primorsky Kray), I was invited to take part in the capturing in the Hasansky region (the habitat of existing leopard population – Southwest of Primorsky Kray) . I considered it to be a honour to accept such an invitation to take part in the Amur leopard capturing among famous specialists. After our current tasks in Lazovsky region were completed, I left for Southwest of Primorskiy Kray.
I arrived at the camp a week before Dr.Lewis left for the UK to learn details of the veterinary work in the camp. There were many interesting people in the camp at this time. The basis of the team was provided by the people of WCS Russia with John Goodrich in charge.
There were also Andrew Harrington – a professional photographer from UK, Clay Miller – a biologist from USA, Lorna – a student from Mexico and few state inspectors. It was good and experienced team. As for the camp – it was excellently organized for work and habitation.
They were using leg hold snares for capturing the leopards. Almost all snares were put along the top of the huge ridge, which was called “The Wall” – an area, where, according to photo traps, leopards like to walk more often than anywhere else.
Though all snares were equipped with radio transmitters, which were activated after animal had been captured to the snare, a group of people walked through this ridge to check the snares every morning.
The team had caught two leopards before I arrived. One was a mature adult female who was called “Alyona” and the other was an adult male “Alexey”.
“Alexey” had already been caught three times in previous seasons. This time the animal was captured in the night in the snare farthest from the camp.
It was not so easy to get to the snare through the “Wall” in the night time. “Alyona” was captured in the day time and was found during morning trip through the “Wall”.
The animals were immobilized, biosampled : blood was taken for haematology, genetic and virus tests; urine for testing on different biochemical indexes; faeces – for biochemistry and for determination of internal parasites eggs; general physical examination was provided, including heart sound recordings & ECG. Each animal was also thoroughly checked on presence of ectoparasites.
After Dr. Lewis had left camp for UK, the veterinary responsibility put on to me. Although there weren’t any other captured animals after these two cases, I still gained a lot from this work in the field.
Moreover, I met new interesting people and consider my participation in this expedition to have been very valuable for me.
This project is funded by the Darwin Initiative.