Notes from the Field: Kyrgyzstan

This September, Professor Aaron Wirsing joined his doctoral student Shannon Kachel in Kyrgyzstan for a couple weeks of field research. Working in collaboration with Panthera and the local managers of the Sarychat-Ertash State Nature Reserve in the Tian Chan Mountains, Shannon is exploring interactions between snow leopards and wolves, which compete for prey (argali and ibex) amid the regions’ towering peaks.

Doctoral student Shannon Kachel.

Doctoral student Shannon Kachel.

“During my stay, we weathered a tornado, forded rushing rivers on horseback, and hiked hard every day in a truly herculean effort to capture and collar these elusive carnivores,” says Aaron. “I left the field camp without seeing a leopard, but not without indelible memories of stunning alpine scenery and the bumps and bruises to show for some truly challenging field work at 3,000 meters (~10,000 feet). I am also happy to report that, merely a week after my departure, Shannon and company captured their first snow leopard of the season, a male!” (Read more about their first successful collaring last fall.)

Prior to returning to Seattle, Aaron also enjoyed a once-in-a-lifetime visit with his father, Robert, in the Kyrgyz capital city of Bishkek. Through an incredible coincidence, Robert—a recently retired professor—was doing his own research in the area, and they were able to rendezvous for two nights (though it took nine hours, in turns by horse and by car, for Aaron to reach the rendezvous point!). The highlight, says Aaron, was a trip to Ala Archa National Park, which offers majestic alpine vistas just 40 kilometers outside of the city.

Photos © Aaron Wirsing.

Aaron, left, with his father Robert Wirsing.

Aaron, left, with his father Robert Wirsing.

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