At the beginning of 2014, the first ever snow leopard hunt and kill was caught on camera in the Himalayas – a unique and historic sighting expertly captured by Adam Riley.
Now, photographer and guide Sam Ramsden has managed to get even closer photographs of a “Mountain Ghost” on a kill in the Annapurna Conservation Area in Nepal.
“Being a field guide for the past 10 years and a nature lover my entire life, I fully understand how extremely fortunate I was to see this,” says Sam.
“On 1 June 2014, we were on our way to Tilicho Lake and came to a small Guest House called ‘Blue Sheep Hotel’. One of the trekkers, who had stayed the night at the guest house, told me there was a snow leopard around the previous evening and it had a kill (a young Yak or cow). My heart nearly pounded out of my chest as my dream might just come true.”
“I went walking to where they had last seen it, and when I came over a small mound on the side of the mountain, there she was, roughly 15 m away, lying under a bush close to the carcass, looking straight in our direction. I couldn’t believe how comfortable the animal was with with me around.”
After sitting with the leopard for a while, Sam noticed a group of people approaching the scene, harvesting ‘Viagra Mushroom’, a type of mummified caterpillar, which foreigners gather for medicinal properties and sell in the far east at a very high price.
“These ‘Viagra Mushroom’ pickers came along and noticed the snow leopard, which was about 40m away from the trail just in front of me. At first they were loudly talking and laughing (the snow leopard still did not move). I tried to quieten them down but they just ignored me. Next, they started throwing rocks at the snow leopard and running after it. I nearly went through the roof! They were chasing the snow leopard, and I began to chase the pickers, trying to stop them. It seemed that the only reason they were throwing rocks was for fun, as they were laughing the whole time they were chasing it. They thought it was the funniest thing on earth, I didn’t!”
“Around dusk we noticed the snow leopard going back to the kill, so myself and two other trekkers went to same place as before, and there she was again, feeding on the kill. Luckily it was late afternoon so no more disruptions. I took so many photos and got around 8 mins of video footage, right up until my camera battery died . But I was more than content to just sit in the fine rain and mist for ages and just watch and absorb the sighting.”“This is something I will hold close to my heart for the rest of my life.”
What makes this sighting unique is how relaxed the leopard was around people. Snow leopards are generally rare and secretive animals, preferring to stay away from large populations of people. However, human-wildlife conflict is inevitable as farming and other economic activities develop alongside the reserves.
“Snow leopards are significant animals in the Buddhist Religion,” conservation officer of the Annapurna Conservation area, Mr Bidur Bikram Kuinkel commented. “The only reason they are persecuted or killed in Nepal is to protect the villagers’ livestock. Carcasses are poisoned, which ultimately kills the snow leopards and other creatures like jackal and vultures.”
Interestingly, a study by Panthera has found that Buddhist monasteries in Nepal are contributing to conservation of the snow leopard through active programs and campaigns within their local communities, talking to people about the spiritual significance of the animal and the reasons it needs to be protected.
“Monastery-based snow leopard conservation could be extended to other Tibetan Buddhist regions, that in total would encompass about 80% of the global range of snow leopards,” the paper said.