Rare New Images of a Wild Snow Leopard on a Kill in Nepal

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.”

Photo copyright Sam Ramsden
Photo copyright Sam Ramsden
Photo copyright Sam Ramsden
Photo copyright Sam Ramsden
Photo copyright Sam Ramsden
Photo copyright Sam Ramsden
Photo copyright Sam Ramsden
Photo copyright Sam Ramsden

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.”
Photo copyright Sam Ramsden
Photo copyright Sam Ramsden
Photo copyright Sam Ramsden

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.

Paul Steyn is a widely-published travel journalist from South Africa. Having guided throughout Africa for some years, he went on to edit a prominent travel magazine, and now reports on, writes about and photographs unique experiences around the world. Follow him 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
  • shrawan

    Wow!! Beautiful…. That’s why I love Nepal

  • Bikram Shrestha

    Great opportunity. Annapurna is land of snow leopard, need more research to resolve human (livestock) – snow leopard conflict.

    Bikram Shrestha
    Charles University

  • Wanda Faye Rurak

    Thanks for posting and sharing with everyone. It is such a beautiful creature.

  • theresa stechly

    she is very beautiful and I would have been mad to if I saw people throwing rocks at her too I would have run after them too good job Adam love the photos

  • Jonny Hanson

    Great pictures, story and article Sam and Paul.

    When I was in the Annapurna Conservation Area for my PhD fieldwork in November 2013 I found the carcass of a (wild) blue sheep freshly killed by a snow leopard in the exact same location as this one: next to the Blue Sheep. Hotel on the way to Tilicho Lake.

    In that case locals had also chased the snow leopard off its the kill. Perhaps it was the same cat as this one!

    My own PhD research is working on the causes of and solutions to conflict between people and snow leopards in the area: http://snowleopardresearchnepal.wordpress.com/

  • Shirley Brewer

    How I envy your extraordinary experience, nephew Sam, and I know just how much it meant to you. I loved your description of it and the superb pics and cannot wait to share with others.

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