As alluded to in a previous blog post, today's post relates to the Snow Leopards of Ladakh, India.
My journey to the region in February, 2023, was primarily to seek out, and photograph, the elusive snow leopard. This animal has an almost mythical reputation, "always present, rarely sighted". As the apex predator of this mountainous region, individuals range over large areas in search of prey, notably Urials and Ibex. Both predator and prey are superbly adapted to the challenging conditions of often freezing weather and steep rocky terrain.
During daylight, the prey species can generally use their agility and sure-footed speed to avoid danger, but at night the snow leopard has the opportunity to hunt effectively due to its superior night vision.
Snow Leopard on Ibex kill.
Morning near Leh in Ladakh, India, a Snow Leopard closely guards an Ibex kill it made overnight. A rather gnarled looking older male, had made the kill near a road before dragging it up the side of a hill. This was an unusually close sighting, one of the closest seen in the area for several years, with these photos taken at a distance of about 100 metres.
Snow Leopard on kill, surrounded by magpies.
Any kill made by such a predator will generally draw attention from other species looking to scavenge from the site. In this case, magpies were almost omni-present and would approach closer and closer drawing the ire of the cat.
Snow Leopard walking through snow near Leh, Ladakh.
The leopard stayed close to the kill at all times only walking a few paces away to defecate before returning.
Snow Leopard walking on snow, Ladakh, India.
In the photo (above) can be noted the Snow Leopard's particularly long tail, about half the total length of the animal. This aids the cat's balance as it moves quickly over rocks and boulders on steep mountainsides.
Snow Leopard chasing magpies from kill.
The only real dynamic action that occurred was when the magpies got too close to the kill prompting the leopard to spring in to action and chase them off. This kill being fairly close to a township also drew the attention of the neighbourhood dogs which barked incessantly. The leopard appeared for the most part to be dismissive of the dogs but wouldn't tolerate the magpies.
Snow Leopard guarding kill.
We returned to the site two days latter to find the leopard still on the kill, which by this time was barely recognisable as an Ibex. It's not unusual for such a predator to remain with a kill for several days to make the most of the opportunity to feed. In this case it seems as though the leopard was an older animal and therefore such opportunities might be rarer.
I will have further photos from my India trip to post in due course. ~KD