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A day with Wild Snow Leopards December 15, 2005 1:45 AM

BY AHMAD SAID Snow Leopard Trust Field Biologist in Pakistan (Last winter Ahmad Said, Field Biologist with the Snow Leopard Project of WWF-Pakistan and the Snow Leopard Trust, spent months searching and hoping for a glimpse of a wild snow leopard. Finally, Said and his local colleague and guide, Muhammad Safdar Wali Khan, came upon a female snow leopard resting outside a cave in the Toshi Game Reserve, in the Chitral region of Pakistan. Below is Said’s account of the once-in-a-lifetime experience that followed). After about an hour-long sleep, the cat awoke and moved about, and I caught its yawning on film. Fearing that she might enter the cave, I mounted a camera on my spotting scope and started capturing every move she made. Astonishingly, instead of retreating inside, she walked the edge of the boulder, sat calmly gazing around, struck different poses, and basked on edge of a rock. The cat looked repeatedly towards the cave, and suddenly her cub appeared on the scene. It took some essential exercises, like stretching and yawning. Meanwhile, I couldn't believe my luck and was puzzled whether to shoot with a still or movie camera! The cub moved towards its mother, caressing, loving, stretching, and sat down next to her. Both mother and cub were busy looking around to observe the situation and plan for the hunt. Were the magpies flying around and perching in a nearby tree expecting a chance to scavenge food from the snow leopard family, or were they teasing the cub by flying just out of reach? As it grew dark we were expecting the family to go into the cave and rest. However, the mother cat suddenly stretched for a while and moved to a vantage point to observe markhor, wild goats that are the snow leopard's primary winter prey in this area. The cub followed its mother, but returned to the cave on her instructions. The female marched towards the ridge, sat down on the rock, and suddenly focused on a lonely markhor yearling at a distance downwards. The young markhor sensed danger and grew alert. An amazing and patient standoff followed--for almost an hour, predator and prey stood silently face to face, barely breathing. Finally, as a last effort to survive, the markhor galloped away. But the snow leopard was ready for this gambit, and followed the markhor in a flash. The markhor couldn’t outrun the snow leopard, which attacked the goat's leg as it jumped into the river. Although the markhor escaped the snow leopard, it couldn’t escape death. The cat watched, tired and dismayed, as the markhor drowned. Its hopes for a meal dashed for the evening, the cub went into the cave early in the evening, to save energy in the cold winter. The mother remained outside until midnight. I had never imagined I would be able photograph a snow leopard in the wild from a distance as close as 60 feet, but now I have 390 pictures to remind me of my day with the snow leopards. This dream come true is now a memory for life and a motivation to continue working to protect and conserve this elusive cat. I hope the snow leopard will spare another day in the future, for some other lucky person if not for me.  [ send green star]
 
 December 15, 2005 1:48 AM

(Betty, you're going to love this!)


mother and cub outside cave


mother and cub observing their surroundings
 [ send green star]
 
 December 16, 2005 5:54 PM

Wow... that was definately one of those "once-in-a-lifetime" events you hear so much about. What an incredibly lucky individual.

Leopards by nature are elusive and the Snow Leopard especially so. That combined with their common nocturnal behavior and "difficult" habitat makes studying these animals in the wild very difficult. Cases like these are rare indeed.

I truly love snow leopards. I have been lucky as well to be able to work with two individuals from time to time. They are amazing creatures.

 [ send green star]
 
 December 17, 2005 12:55 AM

Yep, one of those occasions when you find yourself thinking, 'Oh how I wish it was me'.

You've worked with captive snow leopards Kuba? I've always wondered about their character - seem to be far more reserved in personality than say, tigers or lions (I'm talking about captive animals).

But I have to say that the mother and cub in these photos look to be in very good condition - I wouldn't expect that the Himalayas are the easiest of places to catch prey regularly. Anyway its scenes like these that really give encouragement ,despite all the bad news about big cats in the wild, that we are so used to hearing.
 [ send green star]
 
 December 17, 2005 6:08 PM

Well said. It is good to hear what is going on with regards to big cats today, but too often all you hear is bad news. I would certainly like for there to be more to celebrate.

I actually visited the lonely zoo today and helped out. I spent a good deal of time with the snow leopards and one of them was acting out of character. I repeated her name over and over again (*kush kush kush kush kush kush*) and she seemed to respond for the first time in my experience with her. This most shy individual was out in full view, jumping around, rubbing its face against the fence and following me around. The snow on the ground might have had something to do with it as it was certainly a day where she was in her element.

 [ send green star]
 
 December 17, 2005 9:20 PM

Thats fantastic Kuba - I don't know anything about their characters at all - are they vocal? It seems to me that snow leopards are one of the quieter members of the family   [ send green star]
 
 December 17, 2005 9:55 PM

You likely know more about them than I do, but from what I have seen they rarely call out or make any noises.

Sometimes when Karma (the bolder of the two) is shut in the den for cleaning it will hiss, growl and carry on, but for the most part they stay very quiet.

I believe Kush was going to vocallize something when I was near her today, but she decided against it.

 [ send green star]
 
Pictures Kuba, pictures?? December 18, 2005 2:18 AM

Is there any pictures of those beautiful snow leopards Kuba? As you know i have a Save Snow Leopards group but no group photo as yet. I really need a good close up of a snow leopards face, any chance of that? I need your help!! Iain..  [ send green star]  [ accepted]
 
until Kuba sends you his photos... December 18, 2005 3:25 AM

Here's one of the nicest Snow Leopard
photos I've found Iain:



Its so nice I carry it around on my phone!
 [ send green star]
 
 December 18, 2005 1:59 PM

I posted this in another group. It is a close-up image of Karma, the grumpier of the snow leopards that I know.

http://img350.imageshack.us/img350/1346/karma7gw.jpg

...though I think Charith's might be better.

 [ send green star]
 
 December 18, 2005 4:06 PM

Thank you both, i like both of the pictures very much! Iain..  [ send green star]  [ accepted]
 
 December 18, 2005 8:47 PM

Nice photo Kuba - that Karma really has a certain 'look' about her!  [ send green star]
 
A little research May 31, 2006 6:47 PM

Good news about the captive population. Thanks mainly to the Helsinky zoo, and a man named Leif Blomqvist. In less than thirty years, he helped make this cat one of the few that is considered secure both numerically, and genetically!

There are about 500 worldwide.

What amazed me about these cats is that they eat shrubbery! Some scats have been found that are comprised entirely of twigs.

Best,

Eric

 [ send green star]  [ accepted]
 
 September 12, 2006 10:00 AM

Does this man work with the Helsinki Zoo? I would like to find out a bit more about him!

Iain..

 [ send green star]  [ accepted]
 
Yes September 12, 2006 4:50 PM

Lief started a studbook for the species in 1976.

The information I posted was taken from the book (Who still uses those? LOL): Wild Cats of the World, by Mel Sunquist and Fiona Sunquist.

I suppose google would probably have some stuff on him, but I haven't tried that.

Best, Eric

 [ send green star]  [ accepted]
 
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