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Mongolia: Snow Leopard, Pallas’s Cat & Siberian Migrants

Search for one of the most sought-after animals in the world, the incredible Snow Leopard, as well as the rarely seen Pallas's Cat, both from two comfortable bases in the Mongolian mountains. We can also expect the bizarre Mongolian Saiga, Corsac Fox, and several other interesting mammals of the steppe! Warmer temperatures at this time of the year and lower altitudes than at other Snow Leopard sites elsewhere in the world make this an incredible experience - but do not think these luxuries make our chances of success any less! Expert local spotters will be working together with us, and we expect to enjoy multiple amazing encounters with these beautiful mountain felines, and all without having to walk very much at all! Additionally, our visit is timed to coincide with autumn migration, so we expect to encounter many Siberian passerines making their way southwards!

Next dates

6-19 September 2024

Tour length: 14 days

Group size limit: 8

Leaders:

Chris Venetz and a local leader

Tour full

5-18 September 2025

Tour length: 14 days

Group size limit: 8

Leaders:

Diego Calderon and a local leader

Spaces available

Trip report for last year’s tour now available here! Only once space left in 2024.

Day 0: We require all participants to arrive at Ulaanbaatar International Airport (UBN) on the morning before the tour officially starts, since domestic flights routinely change with just a few weeks notice. This required extra hotel night is already included in the tour price. For those who wish, today we will be offering a mini-extension (run at-cost) driving three hours to an area where we can enjoy Przewalski’s Horse and hopefully Daurian Partridge. If domestic flight changes do indeed require us to start the main tour on Day 0, the included extra hotel night and optional mini-extension option will instead be available on Day 13 before the tour ends.

Day 1: The tour starts this morning with a domestic flight to Khovd, a small city in far western Mongolia, near the Altai Mountains. From there we will travel for three hours overland to where our comfortable Ger base camp is located, looking for Mongolian Saiga on the way. With the mountains to the east and a vast lake surrounded by semi-desert steppe to the north, the scenery from our base, operated by a local wildlife conservation society, is simply stunning. Hot, western-style shower, toilets, proper beds and heaters, as well as phone signal, are all on offer! Please kindly note that the weekly flight schedule to Khovd is not very reliable and changes from year to year, so the exact day of the flight might not be announced until just a couple of months prior to the tour.

Days 2-3-4-5-6-7:  During the next six days we will be focused in finding our target mammal, the incredible and near-mythical Snow Leopard, also known as the grey ghost! Shepherds working as trackers and local guides will help us search for this elusive cat amidst some magnificent scenery in the Altai Mountains. Our chances of seeing it are excellent (we saw no less than 6 individuals and watched them for more than 20 hours over three days on our 2023 tour), with the major draw of being at a lower altitude with warmer temperatures than at other classic Snow Leopard sites in the Himalaya. Average temperatures in September range from 1°C at night to 14°C at midday, and we will be below the elevations where altitude-sickness can become a problem. Most of the viewing points can be reached by driving our 4WDs and then taking short walks of just a few hundred meters over mostly easy, flat terrain. Apart from the leopard, this is an excellent site to see the bizarre Mongolia Saiga, and other mammals might include Wolf, Altai Argali, Siberian Ibex, Pallas’s Pika, and Tarbagan Marmot.

There will of course be plenty of opportunities for birding too, with Altai Snowcock, Golden Eagle, Lammergeier, Himalayan Griffon, Mongolian Finch, Güldenstädt’s Redstart, “Brandt’s” Horned Lark, Pied Wheatear, Kozlov’s Accentor, Twite and many siberian migrants all on offer. If we succeed with the leopards quickly, we can make an optional visit to an area where Mongolian Ground-Jay and Pallas’s Sandgrouse occur.

Day 8: Today we will fly to Ulaanbaatar for an overnight stay, but on the way we should have time to stop at Khar Us Lake which is an excellent place to try to see the threatened Dalmatian Pelican, Swan Goose, White-headed Duck, Pale Sand Martin and Pallas’s Reed Bunting.

Day 9:  A long transit day, driving east to our Pallas’s Cat (Manul) Camp. The first 500km is along a paved road, followed by 70km on a dirt track. On the way we will make a short stop at the birdy Gun Galuut lake, where good numbers of waterfowl, sometimes including Baikal Teal, and shorebirds are usually present, and we even have a small chance to see a migrant Relict Gull. We will arrive to our camp in the early evening, and we will spend the next four nights here.

Days 10-11-12: Our Pallas’s Cat trackers will help us search for this unique feline, and as with the Snow Leopard, we have really high chances of seeing it, hopefully at very close range too. Birding in the surroundings of the camp can be extremely rewarding, with many migrant passerines such as warblers – Yellow-browed, Pallas’s Leaf, Dusky, Thick-billed, Lanceolated, Pallas’s Grasshopper and even a fair chance of Chinese Bush- , Siberian Rubythroat, Amur Stonechat, thrushes – mostly Eye-browed, Red-throated and White’s-, buntings – including Yellow-browed-, pipits and flycatchers keeping us busy. Saker Falcon, Upland Buzzard and Steppe Eagle are also quite common in the area, plus mammals like Corsac Fox, Mongolian and Black-tailed Gazelles, Brandt’s Vole and Siberian Jerboa are also likely to be seen. Those who opt for some more extended spotlighting might additionally be able to find Steppe Polecat, which is in quite high densities here.

Day 13: Today we will drive back to Ulaanbaatar, where we will stay overnight. If we have time, we will make another stop at Gun Galuut Lake. Overnight in the outskirts of Ulaanbaatar.

Day 14: International departures from Ulaanbaatar International Airport in the morning.

Tour details

Cost: $ 7,000 $ 6,600
Deposit: $ 750
Single room supplement: $ 400

Accommodation: We will be using eco-friendly and comfortable Ger camps. Each Ger has three beds, blankets and a hand washing sink. Both the toilet and the shower are outside in another tent. We will have two generators and each Ger has an electric plug. There will be separate kitchen and dinning Gers. We will have mobile reception and even WiFi!

Walking difficulty: Most of the viewing points can be reached by driving our 4WD vehicles, followed by a short walk of one or two kilometers over mostly easy, flat terrain, at a rather low altitude, unlike on other Snow Leopard tours elsewhere. However, on occasions it might be necessary to take a medium-length walk that will demand a basic fitness and the ability to walk on rocky, uneven or steep terrain for a few hours.

Tour cost includes: All accommodation, main meals, drinking water, internal flights, overland transport, tips to local drivers and guides, travel permits, entrance fees, and guide fees.

Tour cost excludes: Flights before and after the tour start/end, visa, travel insurance, tips to tour leaders, laundry, drinks and other items of a personal nature. Also excludes any Day 0 costs.