With the help of motion-sensing camera traps, biologists have been able to capture some of the most candid images of elusive species that the world has ever seen. But despite the enormous advantages afforded by such low-key technology, there is one small detail scientists likely failed to consider: that wildlife would end up stealing their stuff. Last July, while poring over some discretely gathered footage of snow leopards in the rugged hills of Tajikistan, researchers came to learn more about the endangered cats than they were expecting -- namely, that they're not averse to a little thievery.
As a part of field study aimed at learning more about snow leopards in Tajikistan’s Pamir Mountains conducted last summer, scientists from Panthera and Flora and Fauna International placed eleven different cameras-traps to gather up-close and personal footage of the animals most field researchers could only dream of. Oddly enough, when they went to gather up the cameras, one was missing.
The case of the missing camera might have forever remained a mystery if it weren't for another imaging device that caught the culprit red-pawed:
Luckily, Panthera and FFI’s scientists had set up two camera traps at this location to capture photographs of the spot patterns on each side of passing snow leopards, and identify individual cats by these unique patterns. While reviewing film from the second camera trap, Nosir discovered a photograph revealing that the culprit was a sneaky snow leopard cub! As far as we know, this is the first documented incident of a snow leopard stealing a camera trap.
Fortunately for the everyone involved, the study was not a test of cat morality, but rather an assessment of the snow leopard's conservation status -- and there was some good news on that front. The team's cameras captured a handfull of leopards along and their cubs, indicating that there might be a healthy breeding population in the region.
For years, snow leopards have been targets of poaching which reduced their numbers to 'endangered' levels. Given the less than respectable treatment humans have shown towards this species in the past, it's no wonder, perhaps, why they might not shy away from a bit of 'finder's keepers'.