Several extremely rare snow leopards have been spotted on the outskirts of Kazakhstan's biggest city during the lockdown imposed due to the novel coronavirus, wildlife activists say, calling for more measures to protect the endangered species.
Just 150 snow leopards are estimated to live in the Central Asian nation out of the global population of less than 10,000, and the big cats are rarely seen even in the wild, let alone within city limits.
But over the last few weeks at least three animals - a lone male and a female with a cub have been spotted by a motion sensor-equipped camera trap near the Big Almaty Lake, a popular hiking destination that has been closed as part of the lockdown to everyone except people living in the direct vicinity.
"The next thing you see on the same camera trap that caught a snow leopard is a person walking their dog," said zoologist Alexey Grachyov who works on the project with Snow Leopard Foundation, an NGO set up to protect the species.
Grachyov said the cats' appearance helps dispel myths about them and could be used as an opportunity to draw attention to their habitat preservation.
"The main misconception about the snow leopard is that everyone thinks it lives high up in the mountains, hiding from humans in the glaciers, while in reality, it lives nearby," he said.
"This is a unique population that has adapted to human presence. Every snow leopard probably sees humans, cars, sees the city every day, sees it encroach on its habitat."
The snow leopard, known locally as bars, is revered across Central Asia and is featured on a number of symbols in the region, including Almaty's coat of arms.