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

Special Thanks : Hussain Ali Khan & Abul Khan, Khunjerab National Park

Category : - Snow Leopard > = Video Clip Gilgit-Baltistan > - the Karakoram Highway > ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Khunjerab National Park > ◇ Wildlife of Pakistan
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Snow Leopard Encounter Vol. 2 (Khunjerab National Park)- SNOW LEOPARD EXPEDITION

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

Special Thanks : Hussain Ali Khan & Abul Khan, Khunjerab National Park

Category : - Snow Leopard > = Video Clip Gilgit-Baltistan > ◆ Video Breathtaking Views of Pakistan > - the Karakoram Highway > ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Khunjerab National Park > ◇ Wildlife of Pakistan
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Snow Leopard Encounter Vol 1(Khunjerab National Park) SNOW LEOPARD EXPEDITION 2021

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

Special Thanks : Hussain Ali Khan & Abul Khan, Khunjerab National Park

Category : - Snow Leopard > - the Karakoram Highway > ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Khunjerab National Park > ◇ Wildlife of Pakistan
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Snow Leopards Etched On Rock (Indus riverside, Chilas)

There are many rock engravings which can be seen on the Indus River (Gilgit River/ Hunza River) basin in northern Pakistan, especially along the rocky shores from Shatial to Hunza, where the number are said to exceed 50,000 drawings.

The oldest ones date back to the BC, depicting hunting scenes and of the Alpine ibex, and with newer “Rock Paintings” that were carved by passing merchants, pilgrims and invaders who were all traveling on the Silk Road. On the banks of the Indus River around the Chilas area, is a sort of “Rock Carving Gallery.” When leading a general tour, I point out the carvings that were made by passing Buddhists but this time, I searched specifically for “snow leopards etched on the rocks.”

 

This is the scene of “Snow Leopard hunting the Alpine ibex” which can be seen from the Karakoram Highway, not far from the Chilas Shangri-La Hotel, a hotel often used by the foreign tourists.

 

Sometimes, the local people who dislike the images of Buddha paint over them with a lime-like substance. These are washed off and cleaned in a way as to not damage the rock carvings. 。

 

The ears and body have a very wolf-like shape, but the long and thick tail shows that it is a snow leopard.

 

The rock carvings along the Karakoram Highway have been considerably damaged by being painted over by locals. However, on the opposite riverbank across the bridge, there was considerably less damage and we could find some rock carvings in good condition.

 

A pagoda is depicted in the image. Early etchings were carved using a hard stone, but those of the Buddhist pilgrimages era are more delicate using more precise carving tools. The pilgrims aiming for “Gandhara,” who would have carved the image of the Buddha and the pagoda, may have been waiting out a high-water event along the Indus River, crossing here once the water levels dropped.

 

Not only Buddhists, but various people from different ethnicities and religions have crossed this area. This is perhaps a drawing of a person who has killed an Alpine ibex, possibly a person from Central Asia?  

 

And…over here, on some materials they describe this drawing being of a “mythical creature,” but it is the same as the horns of the Markhor!

 

A rock face with various pictures engraved on it.

 

It is a bit hard to make out, but it looks like a snow leopard is attacking its prey!

 

And on this one, it is even harder to see, but this depicts a snow leopard attacking an Alpine ibex on a cliff. It is a rare design where the artist drew the “cliff” on a rock canvas.

 

On the right is an ibex, and on the left, a snow leopard.

 

This time, I walked around for 2 hours, and could find 3 snow leopards etched in the rocks.

Unfortunately, the rock carvings in the Chilas area will be submerged by the Diamer-Bhasha Dam Project, which will be completed in the next few years. I have heard that some of the more famous rock carvings will be relocated, but most of them will be lost forever.

The drawings of wild animals etched by these ancient people are a lasting sign of their civilization and proof of that era. Isn’t there a way to conserve these somehow?

 

Photo & text: Mariko SAWADA

Visit: April 2021, Chilas, Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan

※This article was uploaded in May 2021 to http://www.saiyu.co.jp/blog/wildlife/

Category : - Snow Leopard > - the Karakoram Highway > ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Petroglyph / Rock carving
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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 : - Snow Leopard > - the Karakoram Highway > ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Gojar > - Khunjerab National Park > ◇ Wildlife of Pakistan
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(video) Can you find the Snow Leopard? Sighted at Morkhun Village

This video shows when we had a sighting of a Snow Leopard in Morkhun Village. The locals were telling us “It’s right there!” but I had such a hard time spotting it for such a long time.

It had eaten an Ibex, and we watched the snow leopard with the local villagers, as it was sleeping on the other side of the river. So many people gathered to watch it, the snow leopard looked a little stressed.

Can you find it? Snow Leopard in Pakistan

In the morning, the snow leopard had killed and fed on the ibex and hid in the bush to rest in the rocks above. This video is of the snow leopard around 3pm, as it woke up. With villagers surrounding it by the time it realized, it looked a bit startled and did not know where to go to escape.

A Startled Snow Leopard in Morkhun Village Pakistan

 

Video & text :Mariko SAWADA

Observation : Jan 2019, Morkhun Village, Gojar, Gilgit-Baltistan

Special Thanks to Mr.Sultan Gohar (Khunjerab National Park)

Category : - Snow Leopard > = Video Clip Gilgit-Baltistan > ◆ Video Breathtaking Views of Pakistan > ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Gojar > - Morkhun > ◇ Wildlife of Pakistan
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Snow Leopard observed in Morkhun Village -2

To begin with, when we were informed that the Snow Leopard hunted Ibex in the Morkhun village and sat on the other side of the river, we were near Gilgit. Thus, we changed the direction and headed towards Morkhun Village.

We had to drive slowly because it was dangerous and slippery on snowy roads, due to which, the chances of seeing the snow leopard decreased. It was a risky decision, as the snow leopard may not be there once we reach.
However, against all odds, we headed to the Morkhun village with a complex mind.

This is the Snow Leopard I saw when I just arrived. It was on the other side of the river and the distance was short. At first, I could not find it as it was camouflaged. But then I were able to see it, once it moved its tail.

It was already past 15 o’clock, and I was worried that the snow leopard would move before it became dark.

According to the villagers who have been observing it since morning, the Snow Leopard was hunting Ibex, eating it, hiding the rest of meat in the bush, entering the river, climbing up the rock, then it was sitting there for a while, and at last, went to sleep…till now. Villagers were showing us video clips of Snow Leopard they took through their mobile phone, while we were waiting for the movement of Snow Leopard.

The snow leopard has begun to move!
Villager screams in Wakhi saying, “Shou-bashi!”, meaning “Very good “/”Well Done”.
At this time, about 30 people from the village of Morkhun and the surrounding villages were witnessing the snow leopard.

Snow Leopard has jumped out. The villagers are delighted to say, “Shau-bashi! Shau-Bashi!”

Wild Snow Leopard is in front of us! I was really waiting for this perfect moment for a long time in Pakistan.

The villagers expected that Snow Leopard might go to the Ibex it hunted, but the Snow Leopard sat down again.

It was already dark, consequently limited chance to photograph the snow leopard. I followed the last figure of the snow leopard until I could not see it and left the place finally.

This is the place where we were observing in Morkhun village (drone shot)

Lastly, thanks a lot to the local people of Morkhun village.

Photo & Text : Mariko SAWADA
Observation: Jan 2019, Morkhun Village, Gojal, Gilgit-Baltistan
Special Thanks to Mr. Sultan Gohar (Khunjerab National Park)

Category : - Snow Leopard > ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Gojar > - Morkhun > ◇ Wildlife of Pakistan
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Snow Leopard observed in Morkhun Village -1

This is a Snow Leopard I observed at Morkhun village in the beginning of January. I saw a lot of footprints of Snow Leopard in Khunjerab National Park (KNP), yet I could not witness it live.

At last! Now Snow Leopard is in front of me.

At around 10:30 am, a villager found Ibex blazing down the slopes of the mountain. When looked carefully, it was chased by a snow leopard.
Finally, Snow Leopard hunted Ibex, but the place was just across the river of Morkhun village. It was a distance of about 30m across the river.

At 15:00, I arrived at Morkhun village after receiving a message from Mr. Gohar, KNP.
The Snow Leopard was concealed, sitting inside the tree branch. But it started to move in the evening.

Villagers state that as this Snow Leopard entered the river after hunting of Ibex, so the fur was not fluffy.
The sunlight shining on Morkhun village — encompassed by high peaks of The Karakoram range — was short and faded quickly.
Sadly, now the time was over…

Photo & Text : Mariko
Observation: Jan 2019, Morkhun, Gojal, Gilgit-Baltistan
Special Thanks: Mr. Sultan Gohar – KNP (Khunjerab National Park)

Category : - Snow Leopard > ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Gojar > - Morkhun > ◇ Wildlife of Pakistan
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Snow Leopard returns to the mountain

In late February 2017, a Snow Leopard which attacked livestock in the village of Misgar in Northern Pakistan was captured. She entered the barn and killed goats and sheep. However, she could not get out of the barn.
The villagers understood that the Snow Leopard must be protected at all cost, but they wanted to ask the administration for compensation of their killed livestock. So, it was the third day after being captured, when she was finally released to the mountain.

This snow leopard was a female snow leopard who was being observed with two cubs near the village of Misgar. They did not release at Misgar but they transported to the Khunjerab National Park where she was released.

The story that snow leopard was captured in Misgar became news immediately, and I was trying to go there. Unfortunately, I was informed that a foreigner needs a permit to go there and I had no time for that. So, I gave up and stayed at Deh check post of Khunjerab National Park, where this snow leopard arrived.

To see the moment when this Snow Leopard is released, TV crew and government officials gathered and moved in a row.
It was decided to release her on the slope of the mountain, just after the Deh check post.

Even the cage was opened, snow leopard did not come out immediately. As it didn’t come out, the locals who were around enchanted, “Lolly, Lolly, come!”.
“Lolly” is the Snow Leopard kept at Sost check post, until autumn of 2016.
Now she has been shifted to Naltar valley. But when National Park staff see a female Snow Leopard, they cannot stop calling it “Lolly.”

As she was thirsty, so she immediately started to eat the snow.

She looked forward towards the people, after eating the snow.

And cautiously observed the environment around her.

She came out slowly from the cage. At this moment, applause arose from the local people standing there.

Finally, now she is freely walking into the wild.

After three days of restraint, her fur was disordered, and the blood of the livestock was still spread on her body.

She stopped to eat the snow.

The Snow Leopard went into the bush but still stared at us.

After a while, it started climbing the mountain again and sat down again.
Although this is a released Snow Leopard, it was first time to see a wild Snow Leopard in Pakistan for me.

We left the place hoping that this snow leopard could safely return to the two cubs in Misgar.
The next day, the staff went to see where the snow leopard was last sighted, but it was not there no more.

Fortunately, three days after the release, there was a message from the National Park staff that this snow leopard was witnessed in Misgar with two cubs.

Photo & Text : Mariko SAWADA
Observation: Feb 2017, Khunjerab National Park, Gilgit -Baltistan
Special Thanks : Mr. Sultan Gohar -KNP(Khunjerab National Park), Mr. Farman Razah – KVO ( Khunjerab Villager Organization), Wildlife Department of Pakistan

Category : - Snow Leopard > ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Khunjerab National Park > ◇ Wildlife of Pakistan > ◇ Conservation of Wildlife, Nature
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Lolly the Snow Leopard -3

This is about Lolly the Snow Leopard, who has moved to the Naltar Valley.
Continuing from the previous day, I spent at Lolly’s facility from the morning. (The photo of Snow Leopard in this article is in captivity, not in wild)

Firstly, stop the jeep near the ski slope and walk from here. I asked the locals why Lolly was supposed to come to Naltar instead of Khunjerab National Park where she was born.
“I don’t know for sure, but it’s because Naltar has army facilities and army officials are watching it.”, he said. Certainly, at the fence of Lolly, there are army related people besides the tourists.

When I arrived at the fence, I saw Lolly was walking along the fence.
The staff said, “After eating meat, she walks like this.”

If you are observing for a long time, you will understand Lolly’s path, and if you wait there Lolly will come from the front.

Lolly from the back side. What a gorgeous looking snow leopard it is. That snow on the body, lovely.

I really feel Lolly is a charming female, and she needs a mate.

Look at the tail’s design! Look at the design of ears from the back!

Lolly was so active and showed various appearance today.
Finally, Lolly got meat at 16:00. The meat was frozen due to low temperature, but Lolly was chewing on the bones.
And after eating, she was cleaning herself.
I kept observing the lovely Lolly until dark.

Photo & Text : Mariko SAWADA
Observation: Feb 2017, Captive condition at Naltar Valley, Gilgit-Baltistan
Reference: The local staff of SLF at Naltar Valley

Category : - Snow Leopard > ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Naltar Valley > ◇ Wildlife of Pakistan
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