Spot the snow leopard!

February 1, 2010

Snow leopard camouflage. Photo by Kim Murray, Snow Leopard Trust.

We all know snow leopards have fabulous camouflage with their gray, white and yellowish fur and the spotty rosettes. But this really proves it. Kim Murray, the Snow Leopard Trust’s Assistant Director of Science took these photos and showed them to some school kids and asked where the snow leopard was hiding. They couldn’t find it, neither could I. (I squinted for over ten minutes at my computer screen).

Here it is!

Snow leopard revealed! Photo by Kim Murray, Snow Leopard Trust. Kim's working on the SLT's 10 year research project in the South Gobi, Mongolia.

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Want a long trek in the Himalayas? Curl up with a great read.

January 27, 2010

Garry Weare

I’ve just finished a wonderful book about the Himalayas. Snow leopard country. It’s called “A long walk in the Himalayas – a trek from the Ganges to Kashmir” by Garry Weare.

Weare’s story of his five-month trek from the sacred source of the Ganges through the Kullu Valley, remote mountains of Zanskar and Ladakh (known as Little Tibet) to his beloved houseboat on a lake in Kashmir is an entertaining read. Throughout many years of travel in the Himalayas he has come to know the region, its peoples and cultures well and he writes about them with compassion, empathy and understanding.

"A long walk in the Himalayas"

Weare has serious Himalaya credentials. He’s a life member of the Himalayan Club, a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, a noted mountain photographer and a founding director of the Australian Himalayan Foundation.

The book is a travel log, a meditation on walking, a memoir of places visted and loved and a tale of adventure. His journey, which is taken with a secret stash of rum and whisky, involved walking 2500 kilometres, most of it above 5000 metres and crossing at least 20 passes, a tough experience and he lost over 15 kilos.

During a trek in September 1995 Garry was lucky to actually see a snow leopard. “I had left camp early to cross the Konze La, a pass in western Ladakh. There had been an unseasonable snowfall and ….I stopped to watch a herd of yaks. At that point I sensed I was not the only one watching the yaks. Glancing around I caught a glimpse of a large cat. I had seen enough snow leopards in zoo enclosures to know what I was looking at. I just had a glimpse and no more but it was sufficient and for a while I did not move, hoping against hope that the elusive cat would reappear. It was not to be.”

Garry recently tod me, “The cat sighting was after a particular early but heavy snowfall in September. However as you appreciate the best opportunity to get a cat sighting is during the winter soon after the first winter snowfall when the bharal (Himalayan blue sheep, a favourite snow leopard prey) head to the valleys and the cats follow.” Lucky him!! Is all I can say.

Currently Garry is working on a Primary Health Care project in Zanskar and Ladakh, Northern India supported by the Australian Himalayan Foundation. The project trains the local Amchis, traditional faith healers in basic western medical advice.  Often these Amchi are the only medical help available to villagers in remote parts of the mountains. Last year the ABC’s ‘Foreign Correspondent’ did a segment on this project (see it here.) Absolutely fascinating.

You can support this and other Australian Himalayan Foundation projects here.


Himalayan villagers and snow leopards won’t find too much to like from Copenhagen

December 19, 2009

Failure or the beginning of something better? Only time will tell. But the deal struck by world leaders at the end of the talks will not halt global warming and President Obama admits it just doesn’t go far enough. Not enough money committed to it  and the decision on targets for reducing carbon emissions by 2020 was put off.

I have to say I’m dissapointed after all the time, effort, energy, money and hype for this conference. I wonder how long before the Himalayas and the rest of the planet gets some real action? Read full story here.


Climate change in the home of snow leopards

December 7, 2009

With the UN Summit at Copenhagen starting now, there’s been some focus in recent weeks on the impact of climate change on the worlds highest mountain system, the Himalayas. A recent press conference called “Stop Melting Life, Save The Himalayas”in Kathmandu highlighted the threat of climate change on the lives and livelihoods of many people in Nepal. Local researchers have found that rainfall patterns are changing rapidly and that temperatures are on the increase leading to the dramatic retreat of Himalayan glaciers. There are grave concerns for what this will mean for the billions of people living in the basin of the rivers fed by Himalayas glaciers.

Opening of the Copenhagen Climate Change Summit with 192 nations attending. Photo official Summit website.

A few days ago there was a historic Nepal Cabinet meeting high on the Kala Patthar Plateau (near Mount Everest) also focusing on this issue. Today many government ministers along with a group of famous Everest summiteers are organising a march in the streets of Copenhagen for next week. The march will carry the message of  “Save the Himalayas” and coincides with International Mountain Day. It is to be hoped that all this will help focus much needed attention on this fragile part of the world where the potential impact of climate change could affect not only keystone species like  endangered snow leopards but also the lives of billions of people.

Follow all the discussions and decisions of this momentous conference at the official website.


GPS to stalk snow leopard prey in high mountains of Nepal

November 18, 2009
GPS stalking of blue sheep - snow leopard prey.

GPS stalking of blue sheep - snow leopard prey. Photo Massey university, New Zealand.

Researchers at New Zealand’s Massey University Institute of Natural Sciences will be placing global positioning satellite (GPS) collars on Bharal, the blue sheep of the Himalayas in the Annapurna region of Nepal. They are called blue sheep as their fur is brown to blue. They are also very distinctive with tightly curled horns.

The Bharal is one of the major prey species for snow leopards and the region is remote and at very high altitudes so in the past its been almost impossible to study these sheep. Questions the researchers will want to answer include are there enough of these sheep to support the snow leopard populations?

Project Leader Achyut Aryal from Nepal says “this region is one of the last refuges for species such as snow leopards, brown bear, wolf, lynx and, importantly, their keystone prey species, the blue sheep.”

The researchers will track 10 sheep for two years across the high mountains to learn their grazing habits, movements and population numbers.  Another innovation of the project is to involve New Zealand school children who’ll be able to track the movements of the sheep on computers in their classrooms.

More on this story here.

More facts on blue sheep here.