Adam Riley was with a tour group at the Hemis National Park in North India when he witnessed something he had not seen in his entire career leading tours to spot wild cats. A snow leopard waiting in its mountainous hideout, stalking its prey and diving at the opportune moment for the kill. As the predator-prey drama unfolded, Adam began capturing this once in a lifetime opportunity in his camera.
Snow leopards are known as the ghosts of the mountains in the Himalayan habitats they live in because of their elusive nature. The white coat with black spots, extremely long and furry tail that doubles as a blanket in the frozen terrain and the padded paws are all extreme adaptations of this cat species that has to survive in extreme conditions.
It is thus never easy to see a wild Snow Leopard, even if you have been to its habitat a number of times and even if you are a seasoned trekker and wild cat expert like Adam Riley.
He rightly says,
“To capture this moment was a mixture of intense exhilaration and tremendous relief! I have worked with big cats most of my career and having led the tours I know how elusive snow leopards can be. I have never managed to photograph a snow leopard before, let alone a kill, so it was really exciting for me personally.”
Adam and his group were in the National park trying to locate the cat when they spotted a lone creature hiding behind the high mountain rocky terrain.
“When people first saw the Snow Leopard the relief and joy was incredible; there were high fives, hugs and huge smiles! We use an extremely experienced team on our tours, but that doesn’t guarantee anything and I felt enormous pressure to help locate this almost mythical creature.”
But there was more.
The group soon saw three blue sheep or bharal, the snow leopard’s favourite prey and understood that they were about to witness a real life battle of the prey and the predator.
The lone cat started by peering over its rocky bed at its prey below and continued to stalk the three herbivores. Soon it turned its focus on one of the younger sheep and leaped from 50 m to chase it. In the steep rock face the cat pounced for the jugular and in matter of minutes had secured his meal for the day.
Adam who has previously worked as a guide at Sir Richard Branson’s wildlife property in South Africa says,
“I love these moments – looking for wildlife is like going to the greatest theatre on earth where you really have no idea what you might experience. Not only does it celebrate life but, more often than not, it is the best way of reflecting on life.”
Well said, and a well captured moment of one of nature’s most elusive predator.
More About the Snow Leopard
Common Name – Snow Leopard, barfani tendua (Hindi)
Scientific Name – Panthera uncia or Uncia uncia
- The Snow Leopard is restricted to the high mountains of Central Asia; they are found in open coniferous forest, but usually avoid dense forest. They generally occur at an elevations of 3,000-4,500 m.
- The cat’s principal natural prey species are bharal or blue sheep and ibex whose distribution coincides closely with snow leopard range. Snow leopards also prey on marmot, pika, hares, small rodents, and game birds. Considerable predation is reported on domestic livestock.
- Major threats to the Snow Leopard include prey base depletion, illegal trade, conflict with local people, and lack of conservation capacity, policy and awareness.
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