Lammergeier, Bearded Vulture of Khunjerab National Park

This is the Bearded Vulture in Khunjerab National Park. Just as its name suggests, it looks like a vulture with a beard.

The Gypaetus barbatus is also known as the lammergeier, which are a large bird of prey that makes up the only one in its’ genus Gypaetus and is most closely related to the Egyptian vulture(Neophron percnopterus), and with the Palm-nut vulture(Gypohierax angolensis) they form a subphyla of the vulture subfamily. The tail is a rare diamond-shaped one, uncommon among raptors.

These bearded vultures feed on carrion, mainly bone and marrow. Small bones are swallowed whole, and digested by strong gastric juices. Larger bones that have lots of marrow are dropped from the sky, to break them apart and make them easier to consume.

This time, I saw a bearded vulture dropping a bone at Khunjerab Pass (around 4,600m). It may be hard to see because it’s quite far away, but I got a video of its behavior.

The Lammergeier dropping a bone from high above: Bone crasher!

The bearded vulture is a large bird with a total length of 115 cm and a wingspan of nearly 3 meters. Sometimes I am so overwhelmed by its size when it flies right overhead.

The bearded vulture as it descends along the cliffs of the Khunjerab River.

The Lammergeier found a carcass of an ibex on the banks of the river and perched on a rock nearby. It must have been frustrated that it couldn’t get into the narrow riverbed, since its wings might not fit into the space.

 

Photo & text : Mariko SAWADA

Observation :Spring 2022, Khunjerab National Park

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Category : = Video Clip Gilgit-Baltistan > - the Karakoram Highway > ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > ◇ Birds of Pakistan > - Khunjerab National Park
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Snow Leopard After The Hunt

Abul was scanning the mountains for the snow leopard that he had just heard. He quickly came back and told us “Congratulations!” Through his binoculars, he could find the snow leopard, sitting with a freshly caught ibex (with its head cracked, at that!) and the snow leopard had a hurt eye. It was such an exciting moment!

Youtube “Snow Leopard after the hunt”

Article related “Snow Leopard”      Feature “Widlife of Pakistan”

The two were just under a steep cliff dropoff, suggesting that they had both had a fall from a considerable height, which had been enough force to crack the head of the ibex open. There were signs of the ibex then being dragged to the hollow of this rock, were the snow leopard was now sitting.

Sadly, one of the eyes of the snow leopard was quite swollen and seemed to be impaired now, showing that the ibex was not the only one who suffered terribly from this incident. Abul began to voice his concerns that perhaps it was a serious injury that might prevent the leopard from being able to hunt in the future, spelling out its death. Not only thinking about the pain it must be in, but also it was quite heartbreaking to think that it might not survive for very long after this…

This is the moment I realized we were witnessing just how harsh the reality is for a wild carnivore.

Having said that, the sleeping snow leopard, then just showed off their cat-like expressions.

Tired from hunting + having a full tummy = a great sleep!

It seemed to have zero concerns that we were there watching it.

We were watching it through the spotting scope and getting photos/videos. I attached my iPhone to the Kowa scope (TSN-663) that I recently purchased this spring.

Those toe beans…

It was quite a large cat.

The snow leopard’s grey eyes that opened with a start.

After this, the snow leopard got up and went towards the back of the rock hollow. It really broke my heart to see its appearance, apparently quite injured, as it could hardly walk.

 

Photo & text : Mariko SAWADA

Observation :Apr 2022, KVO conservation area, Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan

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Category : - the Karakoram Highway > ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Snow Leopard > - Gojar
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(Movie) Himalayan Ibex Fighting For Dominance

Normally the peak of the Ibex rutting season is in December to January, and that is when you would expect to see them battling it out for dominance with the sounds of antlers clashing. However, this time, we found a group of them challenging each other, on a snowy spring April day, using the rocky outcrop as their stage.

Himalayn Ibex fighting for the dominance

From Dec 2021 to Feb 2022, there was some unfortunate illegal hunting that took place in Khunjerab National Park, resulting in the loss of a significant number of Ibex. Up to now, trophy hunting had been tightly controlled by national parks managed and the KVO community management system. But now the carefully managed Ibex population, which had been recovering, due to the heartless actions of people who are willing to cheat the system, has started to dwindle again. This in turn, affects the snow leopards, which forces them to start hunting among the villagers’ livestock for food. This causes the human-wildlife conflict issues to escalate in the harsh winter.

By the time we arrived, the case had already been resolved by the person in charge, but the lasting impact on the wildlife populations and people who live with them, will not be restored so quickly. Now we need to worry about the situation for next winter, as well.

 

Image & text : Mariko SAWADA

Observation : Apr 2022, Khunjerab National Park

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