Protecting Nature in Karakorum: Cleanup Activities in Khunjerab Pass

This April, our snow leopard tour in Pakistan was excellent with great sightings! However, I was really saddened to see some marmots carrying garbage into their burrows at the Khunjurab Pass. On May 4, with the support of our tour participants, Abul Khan and the village of Moorkhun’s Boy Scout group, we cleaned up the trash around the Khunjurab Pass. Even if you ask the government to do something about the trash, we cannot expect a prompt response. It will still take some time to shift the culture and awareness about properly disposing of waste for the domestic Pakistani tourists. This season, we are planning to do two more cleaning activities again.

 

<<Video>> Marmot with Garbage, at Khunjerab top area

It was heartbreaking to see the hungry marmots, since they just work from their hibernation, eating the trash left behind by people.

Mr. Abul at the community hall in Moorkhun village, giving an orientation about the cleanup activities.

The most trash that is left behind is in the area near the border with China, which is the final destination for many of the tourists. Working at altitudes above 4,600 m, this work requires the cooperation of locals.

Cleaning along the ditch next to the Karakorum Highway. Snack wrappers, PET drink bottles, diapers, masks, etc. were all strewn about. How can people be so careless to just throw garbage out of their vehicle window?

A child that participated in the cleanup efforts.

This year we would like to conduct two more clean ups, one before and after the season. We still have a chance to regain the beautiful nature as it once was. In order to protect nature and amazing wildlife environment of the Karakorum Mountains, also called the “ridge of the world,” and the Pamir Plateau, I would like to do my best to protect it.

 

Image & text : Mariko SAWADA

Category : ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - the Karakoram Highway > - Morkhun > ◇ Conservation of Wildlife, Nature > - Khunjerab National Park
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(Tour Vlog) Snow Leopard Spring Expedition 2021

This is the Vlog for the Snow Leopard Spring Expedition, April, when we had a great sighting of a snow leopard. We were on the recently melted snowy slopes near the Khunjerab Pass there the animals waking up from their long hibernation appeared. There were long-tailed marmots, along with predators like red foxes and the birds of prey from above, as well as herds of yak moving north, making their way to the highlands…and of course, the snow leopards. It is such an irresistible season for wildlife lovers.

 

Tour Vlog SNOW LEOPARD EXPEDITION SPRING2021

 

Considering all the hardships we have faced so far, I was filled with gratitude for this tour.

 

Videography: Mariko SAWADA
Observation: April 2021, Khunjerab National Park, Gilgit-Baltistan

Category : = Video Clip Gilgit-Baltistan > ◆ Video Breathtaking Views of Pakistan > ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - the Karakoram Highway > - Snow Leopard > ◇ Wildlife of Pakistan > - Khunjerab National Park
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SNOW LEOPARD EXPEDITION VOL.04 (Khunjerab National Park)

This is a continuation of our morning sighting of the snow leopard mother and cubs, as we followed them for the day.

When we first saw the leopard family, they had been feeding on the ibex that the mom probably killed for breakfast until we disturbed them. Then we could find them again on the nearby mountain slope, not far from their prey. At first, they were laying on the slope, but then as the day got hotter, they moved around into different spots of grass and then, into the shade of the rocks. They did not spend the entire day sleeping, but instead I could sense that they were struggling to find a cool spot to rest.

The video below, of the leopards below was taken during the day, very far away from them.

Snow leopards during the daytime

Then, finally, came the long-awaited for sunset. At first, the family of three were staying in the same place, but by the time evening fell, they went their separate ways. The mother snow leopard began walking towards the leftover ibex that was killed that morning!

Snow leopard at dusk

It looked like the mother snow leopard was telling us “Hurry up and go!” as she was just out of reach from her precious kill. The cubs looked on at the scene, from the rocks above. As darkness fell, their time begins again.

It was an amazing opportunity to be able to spend the whole day watching snow leopards.

 

Videography & text :Mariko SAWADA

Observation : April 2021, Khunejrab National Park, Gilgit-Baltistan

Category : = Video Clip Gilgit-Baltistan > ◆ Video Breathtaking Views of Pakistan > ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - the Karakoram Highway > - Snow Leopard > ◇ Wildlife of Pakistan > - Khunjerab National Park
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SNOW LEOPARD EXPEDITION VOL.03 (Khunjerab National Park)

This is a report from the Spring Snow Leopard Expedition. The event happened when we only had two more days left in the trip. While driving through Khunjerab National Park, we saw snow leopards at a very close proximity. It was a mother with 2 cubs as they were feeding on an ibex carcass.

Of course, the snow leopard mother and cubs were surprised by our appearance, and scampered to the edges of the cliff. The encounter lasted for about 3 minutes, and we were all silent, with just the sounds of the clicks of our cameras making noise.

 

Snow leopards sighted from the Karakoram highway

After they disappeared over the ridge, we decided to continue to look for them for the rest of the day, adjusting our location to see if we could see them from a different angle.

 

Videography & text :Mariko SAWADA

Observation : April 2021, Khunejrab National Park, Gilgit-Baltistan

Category : = Video Clip Gilgit-Baltistan > ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - the Karakoram Highway > - Snow Leopard > ◇ Wildlife of Pakistan > - Khunjerab National Park
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SNOW LEOPARD EXPEDITION VOL.02 (Khunjerab National Park)

We had an encounter with a sweet pair of snow leopards at an altitude of 4,500m near the Kunjerab Pass. I am certain for this time of year, it probably isn’t a mating pair but maybe a a two-year old child and its mother.

We were observing and shooting photos from a distance of about 1 km away, so thanks to the long-distance sighting, we were able to see them in their full natural behavior.

 

Snow leopards Khunjerab national park top area 1

 

Snow leopards Khunjerab national park top area 2

 

Photo & text :Mariko SAWADA

Observation : April 2021, Khunejrab National Park, Gilgit-Baltistan

Category : = Video Clip Gilgit-Baltistan > ◆ Video Breathtaking Views of Pakistan > ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - the Karakoram Highway > - Snow Leopard > ◇ Wildlife of Pakistan > - Khunjerab National Park
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SNOW LEOPARD EXPEDITION VOL.01 (Khunjerab National Park)

Snow Leopard at Khunjerab National Park at 4,300 meters above sea level.

The Karakoram Highway, which runs through Khunjerab National Park, exceeds 4,000 meters from Koksar and then makes a steep rise to about 4,700m around the Khunerab Pass. Just as we were climbing the extreme slope, we encountered this snow leopard as we turned the curve.

While we were driving, Mr. Hussain, who was looking for wildlife from the window suddenly directed the driver to “Back up a little” and he said “There is a snow leopard, very-very close, perhaps hunting its prey.” I couldn’t find it right away at all. Even though he said “Its close. Its right there” but to me I have no idea “how close” he was referring it might be…I was really resenting my bad eyesight.

Finally, I could see it, the snow leopard! It was maybe 50m or more…? It was facing away from us, so it was well camouflaged. As I learned later, there was an injured yak below this rocky outlook, and it was investigating the yak. This was the first photo, before it even noticed us.

Noticing our vehicle, Mr. Hussain suggested quickly “It will be gone soon. Better get your photos now.” It was such a fortunate encounter for us to see this rare snow leopard!

…and in less than 10 seconds, it disappeared from sight.

These prey animals of the snow leopards are so sensitive and alert. As soon as the snow leopard moved, the yaks, all at once, gazed in that direction.

The ibex had already sensed the presence of the snow leopard and looking in that direction where it had moved to. The herd were all gathered together and already on high alert.

This herd of ibex were looking towards the snow leopard for a while, but eventually moved closer to our position and sat down, facing us. It felt as if they were asking “Please, if something happens, help us out?”.

 

Photo & text :Mariko SAWADA

Observation : April 2021, Khunejrab National Park, Gilgit-Baltistan

Category : ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - the Karakoram Highway > - Snow Leopard > ◇ Wildlife of Pakistan > - Khunjerab National Park
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(Video) Red Fox Hunting (Khunjerab National Park)

In the spring, as the snows melt away from the mountainous slopes of the Khunjerab National Park, sitting at 4,000 meters above sea level, the wildlife also seems to spring back to life.

In this video, the red fox catches a mouse. The classic fox hunting technique of locating, jumping and diving into the snow, nose first. Then the prey seems to confuse the fox by “playing dead” …an interesting sighting of the wildlife in the thawing Karakoram.

 

A Red fox hunting / 狩りをするアカギツネ

 

Videography : Mariko SAWADA

Observation : April 2021, Khunjerab National Park, Gilgit-Baltistan

Category : = Video Clip Gilgit-Baltistan > ◆ Video Breathtaking Views of Pakistan > - Fox > ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > ◇ Wildlife of Pakistan > - Khunjerab National Park
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(Video) Hibernation is Over! Long-tailed Marmots in the Spring (Khunjerab National Park)

In mid-April, you can see the long-tailed marmots sunning on the slopes of the highlands over 4,000m near the Khunjerab Pass. During my 9-day stay, it seemed that it was just after the hibernation period, and the number of marmots continued to increase day by day.
They are such cute marmots in their burrows.

 

Long tailed Marmots in spring

 

Videography : Mariko SAWADA

Observation : April 2021, Khunjerab National park, Gilgit-Baltitstan

Category : = Video Clip Gilgit-Baltistan > ◆ Video Breathtaking Views of Pakistan > ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Marmot > - Khunjerab National Park
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A Snow Leopard Encounter! Karakoram Highway

We arrived in Northern Pakistan in search of the snow leopards. While traveling on the Karakoram Highway, we observed the ibex and the vultures.

In Khunjerab National Park, there are many footprints on the roads and in the snowy fields of the river. On the Karakoram Highway, I also found traces of snow leopards after they slept in certain places and on  worn plastic pet bottles that were chewed up by the snow leopard kittens that had played with them as toys. Snow leopards seem to regularly come onto the Karakoram Highway, which makes for easier paths to travel at night and in the early morning hours when there are no cars around.

A suspension bridge covered with snow leopard footprints! Snow leopards can cross the rivers in narrow or frozen areas, but of course if there is a bridge, they will not hesitate to use it.

Around noon, as we were traveling along the Karakoram Highway, the guide suddenly shouted “Leopard!” And promptly stopped the car and got out. Staring out at the landscape saying “Bismillah, Bismillah (In the name of God),” and right there, was a snow leopard.

It was sitting on a rock just off the road, but as soon as it saw us, started walking away.
The guide is delighted with “Shaubashi, Shaubashi (Wakhi language meaning ‘Very good’ or ‘Well done’.) The pressure on the guide of trying to see a snow leopard, was released.

Even though we saw it, the snow leopard was so fast and it was difficult to catch a photo of it as it walked away. At 3,300 meters above sea level, we were so excited and became short of breath. As we took the photos, our hands were shaking, not sure if the photos would come out.

A Snow leopard, actually walking, in the snow. So often, Snow leopards are observed amongst rocky backdrops, so it was nice to finally be able to observe this snow leopard with the white snow, which it was named after.

It climbed higher and higher, getting smaller and smaller.

It continued moving further away. There were times when it overlapped and camouflaged with the tufts of grass, making it hard to find in the viewfinder.

He showed me his face for just a few brief moments. This is the last photo. It started walking into the rocky area and soon disappeared.

The group as we watched this snow leopard until the very end.

We returned to Sost at 2:30 pm for a late lunch. This day was a celebration for the guides (but no alcohol!). A buffet of different kinds of yak meat. All enjoyed a fusion of yak meat recipes, such as yak mantu (Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, which borders Sost, Central Asian cuisine) and yak nihari (a dish of the Indian subcontinent that is stewed with beef parts and the bone marrow).

 

Photo & text: Mariko SAWADA
Observation: Dec 2020, Khunjerab National Park, KVO Area, Gojar, Gilgit-Baltistan
Special Thanks: Tomo AKIYAMA, Hussain ALI and Abul KHAN

Category : ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - the Karakoram Highway > - Snow Leopard > - Gojar > ◇ Wildlife of Pakistan > - Khunjerab National Park
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(Video)An Ibex Appeared on the Karakoram Highway!

After mid-December, Himalayan Ibex sometimes descend to the villages near Khunjerab National Park and the mountains close by. As the mountains become covered with snow in the winter, the herds of females move down to the lower altitudes. This is when ibex will start their breeding season, attracting the males to the herds.

This male ibex with his huge horns just suddenly appeared on the side of Karakoram Highway. Perhaps he was in hot pursuit of a female, and just forgot about his own safety, but he passed immediately next to us.

 

Himalayan Ibex on the Karakoram Highway

 

 

Text :Mariko SAWADA     Video : Yoko KADONAGA

Observation : Dec 2020, on the Karakoram Highway, Khunjerab National Park, Gilgit-Baltistan

Category : = Video Clip Gilgit-Baltistan > ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - the Karakoram Highway > - Ibex > ◇ Wildlife of Pakistan > - Khunjerab National Park
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