Pictures of the elusive, hard to see, snow leopard

SPITI VALLEY, NORTH INDIA – NEWS AND COMMENT: These are great photographs of the snow leopard by photographer Saurabh Desai taken in 2019. What’s good about them, for me, is that they dramatically show the habitat of the snow leopard. These are 40° incline rocky slopes on which the snow leopard hunts and stays safe. They have to be supremely capable to maintain their balance and footing under the circumstances. I have a minor criticism of the photos: a slight lack of sharpness due to the optics. They could be sharper bearing in mind the quality of today’s best optics. However, one issue on image sharpness is reproduction on the internet. This invariably reduces image sharpness to varying degrees.

And of course, as the photographs illustrate, the camouflage is absolutely perfect for this habitat. They are an incredibly elusive large wildcat species (and quite mild mannered incidentally). If you want to go into the mountains to try and find them you may be looking at one without realising it. You may spend a month never finding one. They do have vast home ranges up to about 1000 km². The global population is estimated to be between about 4000-6500 but this is dated 2015 and therefore it is six years out of date. The information comes from the IUCN Red List, a conservation body which should keep the world up to date on conservation status but which does not sadly.

Location of Spiti Valley India
Location of Spiti Valley India. My thanks to Miscrosoft Bing.

A study titled Estimating Snow Leopard Density Using Faecal DNA in a Large Landscape in North-Central Nepal decided that within the Nepal the density of the snow leopard was 0.19 animals per 100 km². As I said densities are incredibly low because they have such a wide area to live in. On my calculation this is about one animal per 500 km². This means that if you are searching an area which is 50 km x 10 km you will be looking for one snow leopard! You are not going to see it are you? As mentioned in the title this refers to snow leopards living in Nepal. They do say though that their density estimates are low compared to previous estimates from other studies. But the point being made is that the number of snow leopards in a certain area is very low which is one reason why they are so elusive.

I’ve said that the snow leopard has the longest and thickest cat tail of all the species and you can perhaps see the reason why. The tail is needed for balance and the snow leopard has the greatest need for balance when chasing prey animals such as the blue sheep on these 40° escarpments covered in snow and loose stones.


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