The Elusive Snow Leopard: Ghost Cat of the Himalayas
Are you one of those people who loves to attempt the impossible, an adventurer who heads way off the beaten path to have an experience hardly anyone gets to have? If so, and you’re an animal lover, your bucket list probably includes things like seeing emperor penguins in Antarctica, photographing a giant panda in the Chinese wilderness, or crossing paths with a jaguar in Brazil.
If this is you, get out your pencil because it’s time to add the snow leopard to your list. The reason the snow leopard is so elusive is because their range spans roughly 800,000 square miles across 12 countries. They can be found in Afghanistan, Bhutan, China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Each animal’s home range can vary from 4-15 square miles in Nepal to over 193 square miles in Mongolia. Though sightings are rare, people tend to have the most success in the Himalayas. These animals are hugely challenging to find yet well worth it when and if you do.
The snow leopard fits neatly into these icy mountains as their tan to white fur and black rosettes help them melt seamlessly into the rocky landscape so they can come upon their prey unawares. Their powerful hind legs give them the ability to leap six times their body length! Their long tail provides them with agility and balance plus helps to keep them warm in these brutally cold and snowy climes. Their conservation status is “vulnerable” and there are about 4000 to 6500 of them left in the wild.
Just how difficult are they to track? Back in the 1970’s before GPS, Buddhist author Peter Matthiessen spent five weeks trekking in Nepal looking for both a snow leopard and enlightenment. He didn’t see a snow leopard, yet his book, The Snow Leopard suggests that enlightenment is similarly elusive.
Even tracking them by their excrement proves challenging. Evon Hekkal, an associate professor of biological science from Fordham University states, “Snow leopard poop from a hundred years ago may appear similar to snow leopard poop from a year ago” due to the freezing conditions of their mountain homes. So even finding scat won’t necessarily help you locate a wandering snow leopard.
Between 2008-2014, scientists in the Tost Mountains of South Gobi, Mongolia tagged 16 snow leopards with GPS collars, yet the new data only highlighted the solitary lives of snow leopards and the sheer vastness of their home ranges.
Now you really want to see one, don’t you? Well, you're in luck because one of Wild Nectar’s favorite operators, one who is incredibly passionate about conservation, has created a Snow Leopard Expedition just for you!
This journey begins in Delhi at the lovely Trident Hotel Gurgaon. Your expedition leader will meet you there and prepare you for the journey to Ladakh. Next, spend 2.5 days adjusting to the altitude in preparation for your trek into snow leopard country. Finally, arrive at Snow Leopard Lodge.
This is from the itinerary: “Located in the remote highland village of Ulley in West Ladakh, Snow Leopard Lodge is a rustic and comfortable stone lodge consisting of 4 king size suites, 3 with their own separate lounge areas. These are built separately from the main house where a Ladakhi family live.
You will have your own cook and camp staff, together with luxuries like extra gas heaters, a warm shower and bathroom, portable toilet, comfortable mattresses, linen, and an assortment of warm drinks and snacks that will go a long way to alleviate the cold and the altitude. You will also have the enriching cultural experience of sharing the large and snuggy kitchen that is the heart of a Ladakhi home in winter.
Now that you’ve settled into your accommodation, it’s time to search for the “mountain ghost.” Explore three valleys, which, apart from snow leopards, are great for finding urial, ibex, wolf and Himalayan fox. Venture into the area on foot and by 4×4 vehicle, with your expert guide. Your guide will interact closely with the local people and use his network of local intelligence to narrow down the likely sites.”
Hopefully, you’ll see them! And usually, the guests on this expedition do, yet there’s no guarantee as wild animals are unpredictable. Still you will be visiting one of the most fascinating and beautiful parts of the world. No matter what happens for you in Ladakh, this will be a trip of a lifetime!
And what if you DID see one–or many snow leopards? You’ll have the photos to show for it and you’ll join an elite group of adventurers who are willing to do whatever it takes to experience one of the most extraordinary places and have one of the most thrilling wildlife encounters the planet has to offer.
Interested in seeing them for yourself? Contact us and we'll help you access this very special expedition.