How does one live in the Gobi Desert?

What do you do during the day if you’re there to capture snow leopards? Here, Örjan Johansson whom is writing his thesis on the Snow leopard project describes life in the field.

In the Gobi Desert I live in a yurt, a traditional Mongolian tent that serves as home, office and workshop. I shift my camp between the different areas where I want to catch snow leopards. Contact with the outside world is via satellite phone, which can also be connected to a computer to send email. The yurt is packed with furniture, equipment and food to last several months. We get enough electricity from solar panels to charge the computer, cameras and so on. To keep ourselves warm in the bitter cold, we burn camel dung, coal and sticks in a stove.

Out here, simply surviving is actually a full-time job, but we also have to gather data on the snow leopards. As soon as the first trap is ready, I’m on call around the clock, for anything from ten to 50 days at a stretch. Each trap is fitted with a radio alarm. Previously we checked on these alarms every three hours from early evening till late in the morning. We had to get up, get dressed and climb up a small mountain to hear the traps, then come back and try to get back to sleep before the next session. In 2010 we started testing a new system my brother made. When an animal is caught in the trap, a siren goes off in the yurt. This new system means we researchers get some sleep and that the animals are freed more quickly from the traps.

The days break down into a three-day routine. For two days we work outside the trap area visiting ‘clusters’, places where many positions from snow leopard GPS collars have coincided. In a cluster, you might come across a prey animal that the snow leopard has brought down. We also set up and check camera traps. Our study area is about twice the size of Blekinge, so there are tens of kilometres to cover by motorcycle. On the third day we visit the traps to check they are OK, and fix them if need be. The rest of the day is spent on tasks around the camp, such as washing, repairs to the camp or motorbikes, cleaning and so on. Then it all begins again.