SNOW LEOPARD TRACKING
Don’t get too excited. Scientists who have dedicated their entire lives to studying these exquisite, endangered big cats in their high mountain strongholds may have only glimpsed them on a few occasions. The snow leopard is the Holy Grail of wildlife encounters.
Spot this silver-coated feline slinking along an icy ridge or peering from behind a boulder and you are guaranteed eternal contentment – as long as your heart starts beating again. But where to begin your quest? Probably the best bet is to join a conservation holiday in the remote mountains of Central Asia where you will be assisting local field workers to track and monitor these elusive beasts.
The Snow Leopard Conservancy works on community-based conservation projects to protect the snow leopard and help local farming communities coexist with the big cat. Gathering data on such a secretive, wide-ranging, mountain-dwelling species, however, is no easy task. But by collaborating with conservation holiday operators, the Snow Leopard Conservancy (and other organizations, such as WWF Russia) gets the additional resources and manpower it needs for collecting crucial information for protection plans.
One such partner is California-based KarmaQuest Adventure Travel. Its snow leopard tracking trips focus on the remote valleys of Hemis National Park in Ladakh, India. Accompanied by local experts, you’ll look for signs of snow leopard prey (blue sheep), scent marks, prints and scats. You may not spot the big cat itself, but other wildlife in the area includes brown bear, ibex, wolf, wild yak, golden eagle and bearded vulture.
The Snow Leopard Conservancy also collaborates with Biosphere Expeditions on its snow leopard conservation holidays in the Altai Mountains. Soaring from open steppes this rugged range is an important corridor for snow leopards moving between Mongolia and Russia, but more data is needed before a conservation management plan can drawn up.
Trekking from a base camp at 2,300m, work centres around locating tracks, scats, kills and, with luck, the cats themselves.