Stories From The Camp: The Mystery Of The Elusive Snow Leopard

There’s an air of mystery that surrounds the snow leopards. Just five miles away from their hideout, Ruper Winchester muses about their existence and more! Read on… 

The most elusive cat of the region, the snow leopard

The most elusive cat of the region, the snow leopard

Snow leopards are a little like unicorns, in that everyone would like to believe that they exist, but no one has ever seen one. Well, not precisely no one, but as near as makes no difference. Even the most famous book on the subject, Peter Matthiessen’s beautiful The Snow Leopard contains precisely zero sightings of the elusive, if not entirely mythical beast.

In fact, if you want to see one, you might as well watch this BBC video of one hunting – this is probably the best footage ever shot of a snow leopard in action. Because, as I say, practically no one has ever seen one.

And yet, not five miles from where I type these words, is a mountainous area that is reputed to be home to the largest population of snow leopards in the world.

The Hemis National Park is the largest national park in South Asia, covering some 4,400 square kilometres (1,700 square miles). The park is apparently home to a viable breeding population of about 200 snow leopards, especially in an area known as the Rumbak catchment area. They eat great Tibetan sheep, bharal, or blue sheep and the Ladakhi urial as well as, somewhat unpopularly, people’s livestock. The park is also home to the Tibetan wolf, brown bears and red foxes, golden eagles and Himalayan griffon vultures.

But looking at the park, miles of which you can see from the TUTC camp, there is no trace of movement. No blue sheep pottering across the horizon, followed by a stealthy leopard. No urials frolicking in their dusty vastness. But they’re there.

Gazing at the harsh, steep and empty hills running up to the snow-topped crags, you stare in vain for a movement. But you never see one. And in the end, that’s OK. If the snow leopard is out there, then that’s enough for me. The world deserves to contain some mysteries, some things that mankind cannot understand, some elusive spirit. Even if you never see one, and you almost certainly never will, they will make your life richer just through the idea of them. And surely that’s enough.

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