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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(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 : - Fox > = Video Clip Gilgit-Baltistan > ◆ Video Breathtaking Views of Pakistan > ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Khunjerab National Park > ◇ Wildlife of Pakistan
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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 : - Marmot > = Video Clip Gilgit-Baltistan > ◆ Video Breathtaking Views of Pakistan > ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Khunjerab National Park
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(Video)The Apricot Blossoms of Khyber Village

In late April, the apricot flowers are in full bloom, much later than usual in the upper Hunza’s Khyber Village. The wave of modernization and development is making its way up the Hunza Valley. But I hope that the scenic beauty of this stunning village will continue forever.

 

Apricot Blossom in Khyber

 

Videography : Mariko SAWADA

Visit : April 2021, Khyber, Gilgit-Baltistan

Special Thanks : Hunza Hill-Gah – Khyber

Category : = Video Clip Gilgit-Baltistan > ◆ Video Breathtaking Views of Pakistan > - the Karakoram Highway > ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Gojar > - Khyber
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Plumbeous water redstart (Chitral)

We found a male Plumbeous water redstart on the banks of the river running through Tooshi-Shasha Conservancy near Chitral, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

 

Unfortunately, it was raining; it seemed like it would turn into snow soon enough. We came in search of markhor, as we were told they often come to the riverbanks in the afternoon. So, we waited. That was when we observed both the Plumbeous water redstart and the White-capped water redstart.

 

A male Plumbeous water redstart displaying, with its tail wings spread out.

These redstarts breed in South Asia, Southeast Asia and China at altitudes of 2,000 meters to 4,000 m and then in winter, they will descend to slightly lower altitudes to overwinter there. In Pakistan, they are found in the mountainous areas in the north where the altitude is not so high, and it seems to be common near Chitral and Murree.

 

As we looked up at the mountainous slopes above the river, we could see a herd of Kashmir Markhor coming down towards us. And among them was a big male with a pair of enviable horns!

 

Photo & Text: Mariko SAWADA
Observation: Dec 2020, Tooshi-Shasha Conservancy, Chitral, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
Reference: Helm Field Guides “Birds of Pakistan”

Category : ◆Khyber Pakhtunkhwa > - Chitral > ◇ Birds of Pakistan
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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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Eversmann’s redstart(Chitral Gol National Park)

Found wintering in the Northern mountain ranges of Pakistan, the Rufous-backed Redstart (Eversmann’s Redstart), can be found at altitudes of 1,500 to 2,500 meters. They can sometimes be spotted on the mountain slopes of Gilgit-Baltistan to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

This is the male Eversmann’s Redstart.

 

In the summer, they breed in the high-altitude mountainous regions of Central Asia and South Siberia. Then, migrating south to Iraq, southern Iran, the Arabian Peninsula, northwestern Pakistan and northwestern India, they will spend their winters in the mountains.

 

I saw this bird at Chitral Gol National Park in northern Chitral. We came here to observe the Markhol, but was able to observe this redstart on the mountain slopes while we were waiting for the Markhol to descend.

 

Photo & text: Mariko SAWADA
Observation: Dec 2020, Chitral Gol National Park, Chitral, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa
Reference: Helm Field Guide “Birds of Pakistan”

Category : ◆Khyber Pakhtunkhwa > - Chitral Gol National Park > ◇ Birds of Pakistan
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