This incredible set of photographs is, to my knowledge, the first snow leopard kill to be documented on camera.
These images were taken by Adam Riley deep in the Himalayas in the Hemis National Park while hosting a snow leopard tour through the area.
Known as the “gray ghost of the Himalayas,” the snow leopard remains extremely rare to see. In the Hemis, only an estimated 50-60 individuals still live in the wild, making the park an important genetic reserve for this species.
The photos below are a remarkable record, expertly captured in the midst of what must have been an exciting moment for Adam. Here’s what happened:
A snow leopard peers over a rocky outcrop in the Tarbung Valley. Photo by Adam Riley
Ten blue sheep enter the scene and begin grazing their way toward the snow leopard’s hiding place. Photo by Adam Riley
The snow leopard slinks into a fault line in the rocks above the grazing blue sheep. Photo by Adam Riley
Three blue sheep unwittingly approach the rocky outcrop. The snow leopard’s head is visible at the very top middle of the image. Photo by Adam Riley
The snow leopard launches its attack and bounds down the rocks toward a young blue sheep, which turns tail and flees. Photo by Adam Riley
The snow leopard’s great leaps allow it to gain ground on the young sheep. Photo by Adam Riley
The blue sheep loses its footing, but in the process kicks gravel and dust into the snow leopard’s face, temporarily blinding the predator and allowing the sheep to escape the attack. Photo by Adam Riley
Dust trails ahead of the young sheep indicate the direction of escape of the adult sheep. The snow leopard’s target chooses the upper route and pulls away from the snow leopard. Photo by Adam Riley
The slope steepens and the young blue sheep begins to lose its lead. Photo by Adam Riley
The two adult blue sheep can be seen in this image, one at the bottom left and other at the top left. Toward the center of the image is the young blue sheep with the snow leopard right behind. Photo by Adam Riley
The blue sheep tries to ascend an almost vertical slope to escape its pursuer. Photo by Adam Riley
The blue sheep and snow leopard make abrupt turns. Notice how the snow leopard’s large tail assists its balance. Photo by Adam Riley
The blue sheep takes a great leap down the slope, but it cannot match the 15-meter (50-foot) bounds of the cat. Photo by Adam Riley
The snow leopard makes its second attack and stretches its paw out to ankle-tap the sheep. Photo by Adam Riley
Contact is made and the snow leopard immediately latches onto the sheep’s throat. Photo by Adam Riley
Predator and prey tumble head over heels down the steep and rugged slope. Photo by Adam Riley
The snow leopard finally manages to take control, still firmly attached to the sheep’s throat. Photo by Adam Riley
The snow leopard spends three minutes suffocating its prey. Photo by Adam Riley
After ensuring that the blue sheep is dead, the successful snow leopard scans its surroundings while it catches its breath. Photo by Adam Riley
The snow leopard begins to drag its victim back into the rocky outcrop from where it had attacked. Photo by Adam Riley
The big cat takes a rest from the hard work of carrying its upcoming meal. Photo by Adam Riley
The snow leopard drags the sheep across the rocky outcrop and out of view of the observers before it begins to feed. Photo by Adam Riley
The scene of the snow leopard hunt in the Tarbung Valley: The white line begins at the point where the snow leopard spent the day and tracks the route of the leopard’s stalk along the back of the rocky outcrop and then across the fault line in the rocks. The blue line follows the route of the blue sheep as they grazed toward the rocky outcrop. The red line follows the chase, with the yellow dot indicating the first failed attack and the red dot being the final kill position. Photo by Adam Riley
Photos and captions by Adam Riley of Indri Ultimate Wildlife Tours.
Many people have tried and failed to even glimpse a snow leopard in the wild. Historically it was almost impossible, requiring months of endurance and and camping in harsh conditions. Peter Matthiessen, in his famous book Snow Leopard describes how he spent two months searching for the cat but ultimately failed to find a single animal.
Today it is easier to access the isolated habitat of the snow leopard, but still remains a challenge to find them due to shrinking numbers in the wild. These pics are an exciting record of a rare creature, but also a careful reminder of how important it is to conserve the last of the species still existing out there in the frozen Himalayas.