Witness the First Ever Successful Snow Leopard Kill Caught on Camera

This incredible set of photographs is, to my knowledge, the first snow leopard kill to be documented on camera. 

These images were taken by Adam Riley deep in the Himalayas in the Hemis National Park while hosting a snow leopard tour through the area.

Known as the “gray ghost of the Himalayas,” the snow leopard remains extremely rare to see. In the Hemis, only an estimated 50-60 individuals still live in the wild, making the park an important genetic reserve for this species.

The photos below are a remarkable record, expertly captured in the midst of what must have been an exciting moment for Adam. Here’s what happened:

Snow leopard kill
A snow leopard peers over a rocky outcrop in the Tarbung Valley. Photo by Adam Riley
Snow leopard kill
Ten blue sheep enter the scene and begin grazing their way toward the snow leopard’s hiding place. Photo by Adam Riley
Snow leopard kill
The snow leopard slinks into a fault line in the rocks above the grazing blue sheep. Photo by Adam Riley
Snow leopard kill
Three blue sheep unwittingly approach the rocky outcrop. The snow leopard’s head is visible at the very top middle of the image. Photo by Adam Riley
Snow leopard kill
The snow leopard launches its attack and bounds down the rocks toward a young blue sheep, which turns tail and flees. Photo by Adam Riley
Snow leopard kill
The snow leopard’s great leaps allow it to gain ground on the young sheep. Photo by Adam Riley
Snow leopard kill
The blue sheep loses its footing, but in the process kicks gravel and dust into the snow leopard’s face, temporarily blinding the predator and allowing the sheep to escape the attack. Photo by Adam Riley
Snow leopard kill
Dust trails ahead of the young sheep indicate the direction of escape of the adult sheep. The snow leopard’s target chooses the upper route and pulls away from the snow leopard. Photo by Adam Riley
Snow leopard kill
The slope steepens and the young blue sheep begins to lose its lead. Photo by Adam Riley
Snow leopard kill
The two adult blue sheep can be seen in this image, one at the bottom left and other at the top left. Toward the center of the image is the young blue sheep with the snow leopard right behind. Photo by Adam Riley
Snow leopard kill
The blue sheep tries to ascend an almost vertical slope to escape its pursuer. Photo by Adam Riley
Snow leopard kill
The blue sheep and snow leopard make abrupt turns. Notice how the snow leopard’s large tail assists its balance. Photo by Adam Riley
Snow leopard kill
The blue sheep takes a great leap down the slope, but it cannot match the 15-meter (50-foot) bounds of the cat. Photo by Adam Riley
Snow leopard kill
The snow leopard makes its second attack and stretches its paw out to ankle-tap the sheep. Photo by Adam Riley
Snow leopard kill
Contact is made and the snow leopard immediately latches onto the sheep’s throat. Photo by Adam Riley
Snow leopard kill
Predator and prey tumble head over heels down the steep and rugged slope. Photo by Adam Riley
Snow leopard kill
The snow leopard finally manages to take control, still firmly attached to the sheep’s throat. Photo by Adam Riley
Snow leopard kill
The snow leopard spends three minutes suffocating its prey. Photo by Adam Riley
Snow leopard kill
After ensuring that the blue sheep is dead, the successful snow leopard scans its surroundings while it catches its breath. Photo by Adam Riley
Snow leopard kill
The snow leopard begins to drag its victim back into the rocky outcrop from where it had attacked. Photo by Adam Riley
Snow leopard kill
The big cat takes a rest from the hard work of carrying its upcoming meal. Photo by Adam Riley
Snow leopard kill
The snow leopard drags the sheep across the rocky outcrop and out of view of the observers before it begins to feed. Photo by Adam Riley
Snow leopard kill
The scene of the snow leopard hunt in the Tarbung Valley: The white line begins at the point where the snow leopard spent the day and tracks the route of the leopard’s stalk along the back of the rocky outcrop and then across the fault line in the rocks. The blue line follows the route of the blue sheep as they grazed toward the rocky outcrop. The red line follows the chase, with the yellow dot indicating the first failed attack and the red dot being the final kill position. Photo by Adam Riley

Photos and captions by Adam Riley of Indri Ultimate Wildlife Tours.  

Many people have tried and failed to even glimpse a snow leopard in the wild. Historically it was almost impossible, requiring months of endurance and and camping in harsh conditions. Peter Matthiessen, in his famous book Snow Leopard describes how he spent two months searching for the cat but ultimately failed to find a single animal.

Today it is easier to access the isolated habitat of the snow leopard, but still remains a challenge to find them due to shrinking numbers in the wild. These pics are an exciting record of a rare creature, but also a careful reminder of how important it is to conserve the last of the species still existing out there in the frozen Himalayas.

Follow Paul Steyn on Twitter or Instagram @steynless

Paul Steyn is a widely-published multi-media content producer from South Africa, and regular contributor to National Geographic News and blogs. Having guided throughout Africa for some years, he went on to edit a prominent travel and wildlife magazine, and now focuses on nature storytelling in all its forms. In 2013, he joined a team of researchers and Bayei on a 250km transect of the Okavango Delta on traditional mokoros. In 2016, he accompanied the Great Elephant Census team in Tanzania and broke the groundbreaking results on National Geographic News . Contact: paul@paulsteyn.com Follow Paul on Twitter or Instagram
  • Terry Colborn

    Your series of photos documenting this kill by a rare Snow Leopard are extraordinary! You and your team witnessed something very, very special. Thanks for sharing this.
    Terry Colborn
    Davis,CA USA

  • Maurizio boscheri

    Extraordinary images super thanks

  • SteveHole

    You will remember this moment for the rest of your life, congratulations on the photography, a rare event indeed.

  • David Selzer

    The headline mislead me into thinking the leopard was the victim. How relieved I am that that wasn’t the case. I became fascinated with these cats after reading Peter Mattheissen’s inspiring 1980’s book about his search for them. After months of observations he only caught a glimpse of one. Inspiring

  • Santosh

    This is splendid and congrats on a rare sight 🙂

  • Milja Spruit

    This snow leopard is very dark and looks female. She looks very much like the female we saw last year February in the Tarbuns Valley, together with a male. The male was filmed the day before by Theo from Holland, feasting on a blue sheep (although not the kill itself – that is a first for you!!) So who knows, this leopard was hunting to feed cubs! Thank you for sharing this

    • Paul Steyn

      Thanks for the background Milja.

  • Janis Weltzin

    Extraordinary pictures! Congrats…and thanks for sharing!

  • Patck Ursomanno

    Milja Spruit, I do hope she has cubs, thay are truly beautiful and majestic.

  • Dirk Nobus

    Réally stunning images of one of our most beautiful wild cats, hunting….

  • Ted Bauer

    The natural camouflage on these animals is unbelievable. What an incredible sight to witness. Thanks for sharing

  • Sergio David Velez Franco

    incredible, but I expected a video 😛

  • Dieter

    Nice job on the photos.
    Pet peeve….Himalaya is plural as is.
    Good explanation:

  • Allison O’Reilly

    Adam, impressive photos. Peter Matthiessen would be proud.

  • Corbett aadil

    Lucky u

  • Kuban

    Extraordinary pictures. Many thanks for sharing this.

  • Jeanne Anne Decosta

    Amazing set of photographs. I really wish snow leopards were left alone tho. People have no business intruding on them.

  • artist praveen g nair

    this is amazing wildlife study… grate…

  • Dwayne LaGrou

    INCREDIBLE!!! Words cannot convey the awesome pictures and the story with them. For a moment I thought I was watching Wild Kingdom. Spectacular in every way. This is the ONLY way to shoot these majestic creatures. Bravo, Bravo!!!

  • Tarun Jain

    Adam, Many Congratulations on capturing the rarest of the rare sighting and the amazing shots captured first time ever on camera!!!
    It would be really nice if you could post more of your pictures on the mail. cheers!!

  • Nate

    These photos were originally published on the 10,000 Birds blog on 2/17.


    Did you have permission to use them?

    • Paul Steyn

      Hi Nate. Yes, full permission was given to me by Adam to publish these images here. If you have any other questions, don’t hesitate to contact me direct. Details on my profile. Paul


    Amazing, unbelievable, I have seen this elusive and shy animal in Siachin Glacier Region, found a lost cub given to Chandigarh zoo, yr 1994, did not survive. This is truely amazing stuff can imagine the kind of effort planning and extraordinary luck……cheers great work!

  • Susan Stretesky

    Another ADAM RILEY original FIRST! What a great contribution to human recordings of that beautiful species! Well done!

  • Yash Veer Bhatnagar

    Amazing sequence of pics. Congratulations! Wildlifers have often discussed the importance of cliffs as ‘escape terrain’ for wild prey like ibex and bharal. On the other hand, they have also suggested how cliffs and outcrops can actually provide ‘stalking cover’ to snow leopard. This series of pics shows both in play. Some interesting thoughts are there w.r.t. these, as also the role of cursorial predators such as wolf.

  • sunita


  • namal

    wow…..like a dream

  • Pranab J Patar

    Unbelievable….. congratulations to the photographer. Its a landmark for both science and photography.


    A lifetime dream of every Photographer wishing to sight the Grey Ghost. Hats off To Mr. Adam Riley . He is just more than lucky to witness this Epic.

    I was there in December 2013 and had a tiring and testing expedition of 10 days. I was lucky to sight one of these beauties on 8th day, and could photograph it from a distance of few 100 meters.

    How I wish to go back again in Jan 2105 to see these beauties.

  • lokesh madaiah

    Great shots, congratulations!!!! Hard work really paid you. hope the Leopard is left alone by the humans !!!!!.

  • govindu nagaraju

    this is amazing

  • maharshi jani

    wow great job being done and its lovely to see them hunting and growing

  • maharshi jani

    wow great job being done and its lovely to see them hunting and growing thanx to show me this out

  • Jigmet Takpa IFS Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) Ladakh

    Yes, It is the first kill caught on camera. But for the Park manager and the Rangers it is a common phenonmenon. Density of Snow leopard is highest in Ladakh, due to the radical conservation approach adopted by the park manager. Today hundreds of wildlife enthusiast from all over the world visits our Hemis National Park in Ladakh to encounter snow leopard. Making Hemis High Altitude National Park ” THE CAPITAL OF SNOW LEOPARD OF THE WORLD”.
    The population of Snow leopard can recover throughout the world, if the Ladakh model of conservationist adopted.


    • Paul Steyn

      Thanks for the Note Jigmet. I’m glad conservation measures are working out and tourism seems to be assisting in the preservation of these rare cats. Paul

  • Francisco Neto

    Fantástica sequência!! Linda a Natureza!!

  • Kanwar Deep Juneja

    Brilliant Adam! Just Brilliant!
    I am still trying to catch my breath after seeing the pictures and reading the excellent narration along with the entire movement of the animals on the last pic. You have been blessed to have witnessed this and had the nerve to capture it all ….. makes you a great wildlife photographer.
    Congratulations and thanks for sharing! 🙂

  • girish

    Awesome work to get such moments on the cam. Thanks for sharing.

  • Richard Hunt

    Wow….. a very awesome capture!!!!

  • Debarshi Mondal

    Amazing shots, thanks for sharing. You had a great tour it was with these moments, very special. Cheers!

  • Jerry Haigh

    Fascinating and dramatic series of shots – well done. Over and above the series is the remarkable camoflage of the leopard. In some shots one really has to look closely to see it. No wonder Mathiessen had such a tough time.

  • Ripu Kunwar

    Splendid and incredible!

  • Prajwal Shetty

    Amazing work!! Going through the pics and reading the description got me goose bumps. Stunning images.. thanks for sharing! 🙂

  • Lorna

    Absolutely breathtaking, thank you so much for your hard work, perserverance, and generosity! What a phenomenal creature and your beautiful pictures are wonderful! Thank you for sharing!

  • Adam Riley

    Thank you all for your positive comments and compliments. It was indeed an experience of a lifetime to witness and photograph this action and an honour to share it with everyone!

  • Yogesh Dudhapachare

    it is very lucky things to see the Snow leopard in himalaya, it Is really rare chance to capture an attack, salute to your job.

  • Anthony Boulan



    Well done….. Adam Riley……this is amazing …!!!
    Snow Leopard are extraordinary Amazing shots,
    Congrats…and thanks for sharing…..!!!

  • Andrew Porter

    Well Done and thank you for supporting the Snow leopards by sharing your amazing images.

    This is were Wildlife Heritage Foundation (WHF) is going in 2015. If anyone is interested we have places left. Please contact Andy at photography@whf.org.uk for further information and a dossier of what the trek involves. All funds raised from the trek go to support WHF which is a charity involved in the breeding of endangered species of cat in the UK.

    Amazing images and yes we are all hoping to see one in Feb 2015. I was luck enough to see one in 2011 on honeymoon but too far away to photograph. The image is in my mind. Well done on holding the camera steady!!

    Andy Porter
    Smarden, Kent, UK

  • archer

    why is the image quality so poor? are these frames from video?

  • Greg Miller

    This article states that there are 50-60 left in the wild, while a recent “Outside” piece (http://www.outsideonline.com/outdoor-adventure/nature/Incredible-Wildlife-Encounters-Snow-Leopard-20120703.html) increases that number by a couple of orders of magnitude. Please check your numbers… I much prefer the Outside statistic, but hope for some validation.

    • Paul Steyn

      Hi Greg, my writing states that there are 50-60 animals in the Hemis National Park left in the wild. Not total in the world.

  • Jeff Kraus

    Spectacular unique photos! I was an Earthwatch volunteer in 1997 and 1998 in Nepal and Ladakh on snow leopard expeditions, and was lucky to track blue sheep and argali, let alone snow leopards. One of them left tracks past our camp in Ladakh and we spent a day following its trail around the ridges. It’s hard to hike at 18,000 feet with gear! George Shaller studied them for seven years without ever seeing one in the wild. You hit the jackpot and many thanks for sharing these utterly unique photos!

  • Mayur desale

    Thanks for sharing adam
    Awesome work

  • Navaneethan

    Thanks for sharing, best wishes for your team to wait so calm and cool and for the moment. Great experience in this field.

  • Jayakumar k c

    what spectacular work

  • Dikaios Logos

    Great catch, I’ve spent hours looking at bharal hoping to see such an event. BUT, I think the first two minutes of this might qualify as the first filmed kill:

    • Paul Steyn

      Hi there. Thanks for posting this but I can’t seem to view it. YouTube has blocked it in my country.


    exceptional pictures, you people doing grate job thanks for sharing ……keep coming.. 🙂

  • baig

    thank you for sharing the great seen of Snow leopard ..from Himalaya …

  • Minor Torres

    Absolutely an amazing secuence, the pictures are great! How far were you from the leopard, Adam? Congratulations and thanks for sharing!

  • Pemba Gyalje Sherpa

    Namaste Adam,

    Thank you very much for shearing the imaging pictures. we call Hiu Chituwa in Nepal for snow leopard and Naur for blue sheep.

  • Kathlyn Millan

    My son and friend, Ladakhi, Jigmet Thingles, have video photoage of 2 snow leopards making a dzo kill near Stok Kangri, taken in April, 2004. Very sad and beautiful–it took the dzo many hours to die, but nothing could be done to assist it.

  • Kathlyn Millan

    My son and a Ladakhi friend, Jigmet Thingles, were lucky enough to get video footage of 2snow leopards making a dzo kill near Stok Kangri, in April, 2014. It took the dzo many hours to die, and, sadly, no assistance could be given. I had trouble submitting this, so sorry if it appears twice!

  • Kathlyn Millan

    sorry, 2004 was the correct year!

  • Rauf Tramboo

    Fantastic photography, best compliments to Adam Riley who brought us these live images of wilderness and its wild life.

  • Zahid

    Awesome!…that’s surely a Rare Catch

  • deva Lahiri

    Incredible! A tribute to this great animal and to the patience & skill of a truly great photographer!

  • Dikaios Logos

    Paul, the filmed kill is from 2005-2006 in the Pakistani Hindu Kush. It is from ~minutes 42-44 of this BBC/Animal Planet production:

  • Dan Warren

    I have to say I think Dikaios Logos is right: the footage from the earlier film clearly shows a snow leopard stalking and attacking her prey, and the kill was apparently successful. It is nowhere near as dramatic or as detailed as these photos, but it does mean that the headline of this article is probably inaccurate.

  • K.D.Sathya Narayanan

    These images are truly amazing and shows the drama played out in the wild.
    Kudos to the Photographer for capturing this amazing spectacle and sharing it.

  • Andy Cutler

    The Animal Planet film appeared to show one failed attack by a snow leopard where the prey clearly got away, then later the snow leopard returning to her cub with a second kill with no film of the attack. So I don’ t think it necessarily makes this headline inaccurate.

  • Vinay

    wow, amazing, I feel jealous! keep grabbing such rarest of rare chances.

  • Belinda

    Thanks to blogging websites like National Geographic these amazing wildlife photography sequences can be enjoyed by people all around the world.We need people in the world like photographer Adam Riley and wildlife journalist Paul Steyn to spread the message of conservation. I have just read that Botswana has recently abolished the animal hunting industry completely and that the trend is that previous hunting concessions are being taken up by photograhic operators.

  • Kenneth Liegner


  • Lenda

    Many thanks, for this and the future. Ours and theirs. My gratitude. I feel I owe you one .

  • Zalmai Moheb

    Wow, great photos and thanks for sharing it.
    Such events are very rare and interesting.
    In 2011 I had a wildlife survey in Hindu Kush range in Afghan Wakhan where I witnessed such an interesting event. After a four hour walk in the field, I and my 3 other colleagues sat for a short tea break. While having our food, we heard a strong noise as something is running very fast. Suddenly we saw a dust close to us and then a herd of around 12 urial were just scattering here and there. The urial escaped far away. When I went to the dusty area, I didn’t see any predator or victim but i found snow leopard tracks together with the urial tracks then I realize that it had been a snow leopard perdition attempt on those urial. No idea whether the SL succeeded or failed!

    • Paul Steyn

      Great story Zamai thanks. I guess that why they call this animal the ghost of the himalayas.

  • bearmon2010

    I hate Leopard! Poor sheep! This world is so cruel!!!!!!!!

  • Vishal Singh

    You are a very luck man to have witness the Snow Leopard hunting sequence. We have been sending people to Hemis for many years on Snow Leopard Treks and Support local conservation initiatives. I will be sharing this link of this extraordinary recording they all will be delighted. Many thanks sharing it

  • Mohan Pradhan

    Congratulations – an amazing series of photographs.

    Recently saw a tiger in Kazi Ranga – in Assam…and I was thrilled with that. Might now have to go looking for snow leopards!


  • Michael Souter

    Visit Indri Ultimate Wildlife Tours. It was on the tour to find the rare Snow Leopard that these photos were taken. See details of further tours to India and also to see Jaguars in Brazil.


    Awesome capture. Thanks for sharing these great series of images. Like to know about Equipment used and EXIEF .

  • Bikram Shrestha

    What a great series of pictures– hunting mode of snow leopard. I also saw snow leopard in Mustang Annapurna in 2011. It was great time. Thanks for sharing news.
    Bikram Shrestha
    Charles University

  • Etandow Godfrey

    What a fantastic feat! More grease to your elbow Adam Riley.


    To Greg Miller. Are you a sceptical number cruncher? Whatever, Paul said about the numbers is to his knowledge. No matter what Paul said, snow leopards were very rare and the numbers are dwindling due to human interference. Instead of going for the statistics, try to save them.

  • d.ward

    There is nothing more spectacular than witnessing natures live action. What a very very lucky group of people to see this cat and prey in action. A highlight of their life I’m sure.

  • d.ward

    There is nothing more spectacular than watching natures live action. The people who saw this are very, very lucky to witness this great cat and prey in action. Just one more reason to protect and conserve nature.

  • Miguel Coutinho

    Was this not filmed as well? I remember seeing a video of a snow leopard hunting (not the BBC footage) but can´t seem to find the video. Does anyone know the video I´m talking about?

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