A PROMINENT Lake District conservationist is to lead a team from the University of Cumbria to Asia in a bid to protect the highly endangered snow leopard.

Dr Ian Convery, who is based at the university’s Ambleside campus, will travel to the Almaty State Nature Reserve in southern Kazakhstan with four other researchers.

They plan to use camera traps to carry out a population survey of the large elusive cat’s numbers and will also research the potential impacts of climate change.

“Climate change represents one of the biggest challenges to its survival,” said Dr Convery, who is reader in conservation and forestry at Cumbria University’s National School of Forestry.

“This research will enable us to make some predictions about the future for snow leopard numbers in an important area of its range in Central Asia.

“It bulds on good working relationships that the university has forged with institutions in Kazakhstan. There are currently no reliable estimates of leopard numbers in the reserve, one of only two stable populations of snow leopards in the country.”

He said that trailcam technology had improved dramatically in the last few years, so cameras could now function at extremely low temperatures and left in the field for up to 12 months.

Dr Convery will travel with researchers Billy Sinclair, Volker Deeke, Naomi Van de Velden and Viktor Kouloumpis, who are also based at the Ambleside campus.

The project will see the university join forces with Kazakh National University and Central Queensland University of Australia.

Dr Charudutt Mishra, executive director of the network, said: “We are dealing with a highly endangered, yet least studied of all large cats.

“So far, not a single study in Kazakhstan has undertaken a population estimation, let alone any population monitoring.

“The work of Dr Convery’s team is a very important first step in understanding the impacts of climate change on the snow leopard in.”

Dr Convery, who has carried out a number of research projects in Cumbria and abroad, will set out in spring and spend more than two weeks on the project.

He and his team will then return later in the year to monitor its progress.