Observation of the Week, 10/20/17

Our Observation of the Week is this snow leopard, seen in India by pfaucher!

Famous for being one the most elusive of the big cats, a photograph of a living, breathing snow leopard has not been posted to iNaturalist until last week, when Peggy Faucher added the above image (taken by her husband Marc) from their trip to Hemis National Park, in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir.

No strangers to travel, Peggy says “we have spent the last 31 years exploring the world’s wild places and incredible diversity of life. My passion for wildlife and Marc’s expertise in photography are the perfect combination allowing us to not only view animals but to capture images to share with others.” The couple are now retired allowing them to expand the scope of their travels and maintain a blog of their adventures.

This trip started out at an elevation of 11,562 feet (for acclimatization) before they set out to Hemis National Park (home to about 200 snow leopards) with their guides Dorje Skiu and Dorje Tsewang. After two days of scanning the ridges (at 15,000 feet!) to no avail, “we decided to head up the Rumbak Valley in search of the hard-to-find felines. Suddenly our assistant local guide shouts ‘Snow Leopard!’  Somehow he had spotted a Snow Leopard sitting on the top of a ridge about a mile and a half away!”

Through our binoculars and a spotting scope we could get a good view of the cat. Marc was able to get a reasonably good photo with his new 500mm lens with an 1.4x teleconverter. Hauling all this heavy camera equipment finally paid off.

We watched the leopard for about 15 minutes before he disappeared behind the ridge...and an hour and 40 minutes later he made a second appearance! He walked along the ridge, stretched and began stalking [it’s favorite prey], blue sheep. We watched in anticipation as two groups of blue sheep moved closer to his location. Surely we would witness a kill... The snow leopard was in the perfect position and the blue sheep were unaware.  

Suddenly, all the blue sheep ran over the ridge and disappeared. Had they detected the cat? Had the cat made a kill on the other side of the ridge out of our view? The guides went down valley and briefly saw the leopard again so apparently he hadn't made a kill. Oh well, it was a thrilling encounter just the same!

Ranging through the mountains of South and Central Asia, snow leopards are well adapted to their cold habitat. A thick grey coat, large snowshoe-like feet, and a large tail used for balance and fat storage help them survive in the frigid mountains. Because of its secretive nature and rugged home terrain, researchers have had difficulty accurately determining the snow leopard’s world population, but an estimate from 2016 “proposed a population of 4,700 to 8,700 individuals across only 32 percent of the species' range, suggesting that the total number of snow leopards was larger than previously thought.” (Wikipedia) That number, however, is in dispute. It’s thought that climate change, human retaliation to (rare) leopard attacks on livestock, and poaching are the main factors contributing to the cat’s population decline. It’s currently listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN.

“iNaturalist has provided us a platform to catalog many of our observations of wildlife and to share our findings with the scientific community,” explains Peggy. Ecuador is their next destination (“Stay tuned for more observations,” she says) and they’re currently delving into their past photos and adding them to iNat as well. “We have a big project in front of us as we have seen many amazing creatures over the past 31 years!”

- by Tony Iwane


- Here’s Peggy and Mark’s blog post about the snow leopard sighting!

- The BBC has fantastic footage of a snow leopard on the hunt. 

- The Faucher's trip was arranged by Indian naturalist Avijit Sarkhel, who runs Vana Safaris.

Posted by tiwane tiwane, October 21, 2017 02:13 AM

Comments

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Cool couple and story! Looking forward to more @pfaucher

Posted by muir 3 months ago (Flag)
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What a great adventure and sighting! Congratulations, @pfaucher !

Posted by birdizlife 3 months ago (Flag)
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P. Matthiessen's book was amazing, but it's nice when you actually see it too ;)

Posted by birdizlife 3 months ago (Flag)

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