Indian Army rescues injured snow leopard

March 5, 2010

Injured snow leopard in Indian Himalayas rescued by Indian Army and Dept of Wildlife officials.

Sketchy news about an injured snow leopard in Ladakh, in the Indian Himalayan state of Jammu and Kashmir. Apparently the Indian Army has rescued an injured snow leopard trapped near Tangtse, a tiny village about 50 km east of the capital, Leh.

One report said the snow leopard was hiding behind a big stone while another report had the snow leopard actually in the village. In any case the villagers no doubt felt the cat would be a threat to their livestock. It’s not known at this stage how the snow leopard came to be injured.

On hearing the news of the cat troops from a nearby Army unit rescued it with the help of a camouflage net and a blanket.

A team from the Department of Wild Life at Leh headed by Mr. Norbu, shifted the injured snow leopard to the Animal Rescue Centre with the help of the Army troops, where it was treated, fed and kept overnight. The injured leopard was then taken to Leh for further treatment & rehabilitation.

We look forward to hearing good news that this snow leopard can be released back into the wild.

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Searching for Snow Leopards in February 2010

October 26, 2009
Jigmet Dadul, best snow leopard tracker in Ladakh. Photo kind permission of Snow Leopard Conservancy.

Jigmet Dadul, best snow leopard tracker in Ladakh. Photo kind permission of Snow Leopard Conservancy.

In 1997 I trekked in Hemis National Park, in Ladakh, in the northern Indian Himalayas. Along with 8 other volunteers and two snow leopard researchers (Dr Joe Fox and Dr Som Ale) we searched for scrapes, scat and any markings that told us that snow leopards still survived here in these awesome mountains after decades of being hunted for fur and body parts. We found a few signs but never saw the elusive cat. Not surprising as until recently even researchers working for decades in the wild seldom spotted these cats.
At that time the local villagers felt snow leopards were the enemy – the cats often killed domestic livestock if they weren’t able to get wild prey. Trekkers passing through these mountains had no idea that an animal called the snow leopard even existed let alone that this was one of its native habitats. There was huge uncertainty about their future. Could the beautiful snow leopard ever gain a claw hold for survival in these spectacular mountains?

But next February, in 2010 I’ll be there again…this time 12 years older, a bit rounder in the middle and in the dead of winter…yikes…

Cafe stop high on the trek. Parachute Cafe. Photo by kind permission of KarmaQuest.

Cafe stop high on the trek. Parachute Cafe. Photo by kind permission of KarmaQuest.

12 years later so much has changed. Thanks to the Snow Leopard Conservancy (SLC) and other conservation groups the villagers today supplement their agricultural-based livelihoods by helping keep the snow leopard alive. They have home stay businesses where trekkers use traditional accommodation, eat local food and learn about the Ladakh way of life. Village women also have businesses tending parachute cafes for thirsty trekkers on high mountain trails. *

KarmaQuest Ecotourism and Adventure Travel, a US-based company has been running winter snow leopard tracking trips with one of the world’s most renowned snow leopard researchers, Dr Rodney Jackson, Director of the Snow Leopard Conservancy to this part of the world since 2005. And why go in winter? Well winter is the time snow leopards come down to lower altitude and offers the best chance of seeing these rare and endangered cats in the wild.

The other trip members and I will join the SLC-India staff on their winter monitoring activities, studying the snow leopard when it descends from the snowy mountaintops in search of food, studying prey species and the snow leopard’s habitat.

Solar cooking technology. Indian Himalayas. Photo by kind permission of Snow Leopard Conservancy.

Solar cooking technology. Indian Himalayas. Photo by kind permission of Snow Leopard Conservancy.

No doubt we’ll all be thinking about the 2007 winter group that was lucky enough to observe a snow leopard eating its kill for more than an hour. Thus far KarmaQuest group members have seen a snow leopard every year! Considering that less than 100 Westerners had seen a snow leopard in the wild before 2005, this is a phenomenal rate of success!  And all thanks to the years of study, tracking and conservation efforts by Dr. Jackson and his Ladakhi team, of which Jigmet Dadul – reputed to be the ‘best snow leopard tracker in Ladakh’– will be there to help us beat the odds.

There are still trip places available for this fantastic opportunity. Check out the website from the folks over at KarmaQuest  and talk to Wendy Lama, an Ecotourism Specialist who has been travelling and working in this part of the world for many years. This is the trek of a lifetime, it would be wonderful if I saw you there too. The deadline for signing up is November 30, 2009.
*Parachute cafes – my other half wondered “are they cafes where adventure parachutists drop in to for a tea or latte?” No….they portable cafés made out of – you guessed it – parachute material.


Indian army searching for snow leopards on sacred glacier

August 21, 2009
Gangotri glacier. Photo National Geographic George F. Mobley 1984.

Gangotri glacier. Photo National Geographic George F. Mobley 1984.

The Indian Army is getting involved in helping the environment and India’s endangered flora and fauna. 15 men will be going up to the sacred Gangotri glacier in northern India near China’s border to search for snow leopard sightings and evidence of a rare plant, the legendary Brahma kamal, a medicinal plant named after the Hindu God of creation. According to Commanding Officer Ajay Kothiyal, the research material would be forwarded to the Indian Mountaineering Foundation (IMF) and its scientists.

“Due to the area’s inaccessibility and extreme weather conditions, there has been little research on the flora and fauna in the Himalayan region. Flowers like the Brahma kamal, blue poppy, snow lotus and some local medicinal plants find mention in books only (written years ago) and so do rare species like the Ibex (snow goat) and snow leopard. We want to make available some recent data on their availability,” said Kothiyal.

The men will be climbing up around 4500 to 5500m and Kothiyal says “They will photograph and videograph all the rare flora and fauna they come across.

The Gangotri Glacier is a traditional Hindu pilgrimage site. Unfortunately researchers have found that the glacier is retreating possibly due to climate change.

Full article here.

“Retreat of the Gangotri Glacier and climate change”. Article by NASA’s Earth Observatory


First snow leopard sighting in Kashmir in 10 years

June 22, 2009

“It was the shortest seven minutes of my life” Aishwarya Maheshwari, a researcher with WWF India (a wildlife protection group) said after making the first confirmed sighting of a snow leopard in Kashmir in over 10 years. The region has seen a decade of political conflict and fighting between India and its neighbor, Pakistan.

Maheshwari and his three field assistants were observing a herd of Asiatic Ibex (a type of mountain goat) almost 4000m above sea level in the mountains of Kashmir, northern India when they saw pug marks and scat of what looked like a carnivore.

Suddenly there was a cloud of dust and through their binoculars they spotted a snow leopard chasing the Ibex who were running in all directions. The researchers were able to watch the cat for 7 minutes before it ran away.
This is good news for Maheshwari and his WWF India team who are doing a baseline wildlife study of the area.


Saving sheep from snow leopards, saves the snow leopards

May 24, 2009
Snow leopard proof corral. Photo Snow Leopard Conservancy

Snow leopard proof corral. Photo Snow Leopard Conservancy

When snow leopards kill domestic livestock in the villages of the Himalayas they are usually then hunted and killed by the owners in retaliation. It’s easy to understand why villagers would do this. Often these sheep and goats are the only livelihood they have, representing meat and money without which they and their families would starve.

Snow leopard proof corral in Pakistan. Photo by Snow Leopard Conservancy

Snow leopard proof corral in Pakistan. Photo by Snow Leopard Conservancy

About 10 years ago many of the conservation agencies working with villagers realised that there was a simple solution to this problem – building better snow leopard proof corrals. Although the idea is simple, the tools and material like cyclone wire are relatively expensive and so donated by the agencies working with village people. With co-operative planning the Snow Leopard Conservancy for example, investigated the existing predator proof strategies of villagers in India and Pakistan.

They’ve come up with solutions that meet local needs and completed over 30 corrals (livestock pens) throughout northern India since the program began, serving over 200 households and over 3,000 head of livestock. Now that the xorrals have proper doors, windows and roofs made of wire mesh the snow leopards are no longer able to get into them. This story shows us another example of the potential for snow leopards and people to live side by side in a shared habitat.


ABC Foreign Correspondent program on snow leopards

April 30, 2009

The ABC’s Eric Campbell has trekked through the high altitude Hemis National Park where I did the Earthwatch Snow Leopard Project in 1998. He’s made a program for Foreign Correspondent to be screened on Tuesday 5th May at 8pm on ABC.

Eric Campbell Foreign Correspondent ABC

Eric Campbell Foreign Correspondent ABC

This part of northern India is now being called  “snow leopard heaven” because of the conservation programs supporting the cats, their prey species and the local villagers living there. The work being done here could be a template for saving big cats around the world. It’s a dramatic and remote landscape where people still largely survive off subsistence agriculture, as they have for centuries. There are no roads, and virtually no mod cons. Many villagers have just a few hours of solar power each day, and use animal dung to heat their homes and cook. ABC Foreign Correspondent

Campbell meets local farmers who are being trained to use remote control cameras to track the leopards. They’re also given assistance to construct predator proof pens for their livestock. Women can now earn money by providing food and accommodation for trekkers. And the farmers are educating school children about biodiversity.

Attitudes have changed, and snow leopards are now valued and protected.

There is also an interview with film maker Mitchell Kelly who was the first person to film snow leopards hunting and mating in the wild. (See Video clip from Mitchell’s film “Silent Roar” on the Video page of this Blog).