Hunting for snow leopard lunch

March 11, 2009

Himalayan tahr. Photo by Som Ale.

Himalayan tahr. Photo by Som Ale.

Som Ale, from Nepal, sent me this spectacular photo of a tahr, one of the main animals that snow leopards hunt. Som had to be sure footed to get this shot, he nearly fell off the mountain taking it.

We can see the beautiful Ama Dablam mountain (quite close to Everest) in the background. Som’s been studying snow leopards and their prey species, the Himalayan tahr for some years now, concentrating on the Sagarmatha (Everest) national park region.

He says, “my ecological quest is to use the prey behavior (tahr’s behavior in this case) to get clues about their predators (here the snow leopard).  So to observe prey behavior one needs to go closer to animals.  In this case I went too close (hopping downhill), on steep terrain full of gravels and rocks, but luckily this animal was not scared of my presence – it was on the cliff, the favourite escape cover, majestically standing above me. I was caught in surprise by other tahrs in the group coming from nowhere below where I was balancing myself with scope in one hand and camera in the other.”

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Snow leopards on roof of the world

February 28, 2009

My friend Som Ale, who I met on the Earthwatch Snow Leopard Conservation project in the late 1990’s recently sent me this beautiful pic. It was taken by a camera trap donated by the “Snow Leopard Conservancy”. Madhu Chettri and Ram B. Gurung of the Annapurna Conservation Area Project are the two local staff who were responsible for the photo which was taken in Mustang, western Nepal. They were supported by the Conservancy’s Chhimi Gurung.

Som’s been doing significant biodiversity project work to support snow leopard conservation, much of it with Rodney Jackson from the Snow Leopard Conservancy. The photo is truly beautiful.  The snow leopard is walking towards us, calmly, and above him/her a magnificent sky and small flapping Buddhist prayer flags. Well done to the local team that got this shot.

Som Ale's pic. Mustang, Nepal. Camera trap photo.

Mustang, Nepal. Camera trap photo. Madhu Chettri / Ram B. Gurung

We know snow leopards love high altitudes and remote areas. It doesn’t get more remote than this – the Mustang region in Nepal, where a small but strong community of Buddhists still live life in the same pattern of their ancestors hundreds of years ago. Houses of stone and mud, subsistence farming with corn and goats. The winters here are icy and bitter.

Som is continuing his snow leopard research with work in the Everest and Annapurna regions of Nepal. Both of these areas are stunning and have been visited by many trekkers over the last 30 years. I would like to think that snow leopard numbers here are increasing and that trekkers and locals can help that.