Snow Leopard – beyond the myth

May 11, 2009
Nisar Malik

Nisar Malik

The ABC ran this beautiful program last night, our second snow leopard program on Melbourne TV in a week! It tracks the filming of a female snow leopard and her cub by Nisar Malik, a Pakistani journalist along with cameraman Mark Smith. They spent 18 months and two extreme winters getting footage of the cat hunting, resting, playing.

Malik was one of the team who got the first ever videos of wild snow leopards in 2004 for David Attenborough’s Planet Earth – The Mountains episode. He was so bewitched by the animal at the time he felt he had to go back and make a full length documentary about it and its habitat in the wilds of the Hindu Kush, the remote mountains where Pakistan meets Afghanistan.

After the first winter when the two men filmed the female and her cub they return later in summer after the devastating earthquake in Pakistan only to search for 8 weeks in vain. The only thing of interest they see are marmots, the small rodents snow leopards love to feast on.

Mark Smith films them from a hide but after two weeks he says wearily “I hate marmots” and hope they deafen each other with their vicious shrieks. Having spent many hours myself counting marmots in freezing weather, on my own, with nothing more than a chocolate bar to keep me sane, I know exactly how he feels.

Radio collared female. BBC film by Nisar Malik.

Radio collared female. BBC film by Nisar Malik.

Anyway Malik and Smith return again the next winter and meet their female cat again, only to discover she’s been radio collared. Malik is shocked (and I must say I was too when we see how its done). But, listening to the Snow Leopard Trust’s Tom McCarthy explain and see the cat doing her normal hunting and other behaviours we understand that she’s OK. We all know it’s important to get information about the cats in the wild in order to protect them longterm and this is really the only way.

Nisar’s photo gallery of this trip here.

Here is a small piece of the documentary from YouTube.


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).