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Witness the First Ever Successful Snow Leopard Kill Caught on Camera

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:

Snow leopard kill

A snow leopard peers over a rocky outcrop in the Tarbung Valley. Photo by Adam Riley

Snow leopard kill

Ten blue sheep enter the scene and begin grazing their way toward the snow leopard’s hiding place. Photo by Adam Riley

Snow leopard kill

The snow leopard slinks into a fault line in the rocks above the grazing blue sheep. Photo by Adam Riley

Snow leopard kill

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

Snow leopard kill

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

Snow leopard kill

The snow leopard’s great leaps allow it to gain ground on the young sheep. Photo by Adam Riley

Snow leopard kill

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

Snow leopard kill

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

Snow leopard kill

The slope steepens and the young blue sheep begins to lose its lead. Photo by Adam Riley

Snow leopard kill

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

Snow leopard kill

The blue sheep tries to ascend an almost vertical slope to escape its pursuer. Photo by Adam Riley

Snow leopard kill

The blue sheep and snow leopard make abrupt turns. Notice how the snow leopard’s large tail assists its balance. Photo by Adam Riley

Snow leopard kill

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

Snow leopard kill

The snow leopard makes its second attack and stretches its paw out to ankle-tap the sheep. Photo by Adam Riley

Snow leopard kill

Contact is made and the snow leopard immediately latches onto the sheep’s throat. Photo by Adam Riley

Snow leopard kill

Predator and prey tumble head over heels down the steep and rugged slope. Photo by Adam Riley

Snow leopard kill

The snow leopard finally manages to take control, still firmly attached to the sheep’s throat. Photo by Adam Riley

Snow leopard kill

The snow leopard spends three minutes suffocating its prey. Photo by Adam Riley

Snow leopard kill

After ensuring that the blue sheep is dead, the successful snow leopard scans its surroundings while it catches its breath. Photo by Adam Riley

Snow leopard kill

The snow leopard begins to drag its victim back into the rocky outcrop from where it had attacked. Photo by Adam Riley

Snow leopard kill

The big cat takes a rest from the hard work of carrying its upcoming meal. Photo by Adam Riley

Snow leopard kill

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

Snow leopard kill

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.

Comments

  1. Michael Souter
    Cape Town, South Africa
    March 25, 5:04 pm

    Visit Indri Ultimate Wildlife Tours. It was on the tour to find the rare Snow Leopard that these photos were taken. See details of further tours to India and also to see Jaguars in Brazil.
    http://www.indritours.com

  2. Mohan Pradhan
    Canberra - Australia
    March 24, 11:13 pm

    Congratulations – an amazing series of photographs.

    Recently saw a tiger in Kazi Ranga – in Assam…and I was thrilled with that. Might now have to go looking for snow leopards!

    http://www.trekking.com.au
    Mohan

  3. Vishal Singh
    New Delhi
    March 22, 3:11 am

    You are a very luck man to have witness the Snow Leopard hunting sequence. We have been sending people to Hemis for many years on Snow Leopard Treks and Support local conservation initiatives. I will be sharing this link of this extraordinary recording they all will be delighted. Many thanks sharing it

  4. bearmon2010
    March 3, 7:50 am

    I hate Leopard! Poor sheep! This world is so cruel!!!!!!!!

  5. Zalmai Moheb
    Afghanistan
    March 2, 7:08 am

    Wow, great photos and thanks for sharing it.
    Such events are very rare and interesting.
    In 2011 I had a wildlife survey in Hindu Kush range in Afghan Wakhan where I witnessed such an interesting event. After a four hour walk in the field, I and my 3 other colleagues sat for a short tea break. While having our food, we heard a strong noise as something is running very fast. Suddenly we saw a dust close to us and then a herd of around 12 urial were just scattering here and there. The urial escaped far away. When I went to the dusty area, I didn’t see any predator or victim but i found snow leopard tracks together with the urial tracks then I realize that it had been a snow leopard perdition attempt on those urial. No idea whether the SL succeeded or failed!

    • Paul Steyn
      March 2, 12:50 pm

      Great story Zamai thanks. I guess that why they call this animal the ghost of the himalayas.

  6. Lenda
    US
    March 1, 6:31 pm

    Many thanks, for this and the future. Ours and theirs. My gratitude. I feel I owe you one .

  7. Kenneth Liegner
    United States Dutchess County, NY
    March 1, 11:07 am

    Amazing!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  8. Belinda
    Cape Town, South Africa
    March 1, 6:27 am

    Thanks to blogging websites like National Geographic these amazing wildlife photography sequences can be enjoyed by people all around the world.We need people in the world like photographer Adam Riley and wildlife journalist Paul Steyn to spread the message of conservation. I have just read that Botswana has recently abolished the animal hunting industry completely and that the trend is that previous hunting concessions are being taken up by photograhic operators.

  9. Vinay
    India
    February 28, 4:00 am

    wow, amazing, I feel jealous! keep grabbing such rarest of rare chances.

  10. Andy Cutler
    Sammamish WA
    February 28, 2:49 am

    The Animal Planet film appeared to show one failed attack by a snow leopard where the prey clearly got away, then later the snow leopard returning to her cub with a second kill with no film of the attack. So I don’ t think it necessarily makes this headline inaccurate.

  11. K.D.Sathya Narayanan
    Bangalore
    February 26, 1:58 pm

    These images are truly amazing and shows the drama played out in the wild.
    Kudos to the Photographer for capturing this amazing spectacle and sharing it.

  12. Dan Warren
    Australia
    February 24, 10:49 pm

    I have to say I think Dikaios Logos is right: the footage from the earlier film clearly shows a snow leopard stalking and attacking her prey, and the kill was apparently successful. It is nowhere near as dramatic or as detailed as these photos, but it does mean that the headline of this article is probably inaccurate.

  13. Dikaios Logos
    Eastern U.S.
    February 23, 6:21 pm

    Paul, the filmed kill is from 2005-2006 in the Pakistani Hindu Kush. It is from ~minutes 42-44 of this BBC/Animal Planet production:
    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1870255/

  14. deva Lahiri
    India
    February 23, 8:44 am

    Incredible! A tribute to this great animal and to the patience & skill of a truly great photographer!

  15. Zahid
    Pakistan
    February 22, 11:38 am

    Awesome!…that’s surely a Rare Catch

  16. Rauf Tramboo
    Srinagar,Kashmir India
    February 22, 11:15 am

    Fantastic photography, best compliments to Adam Riley who brought us these live images of wilderness and its wild life.

  17. Kathlyn Millan
    CA
    February 22, 10:47 am

    sorry, 2004 was the correct year!

  18. Kathlyn Millan
    CA
    February 22, 10:44 am

    My son and a Ladakhi friend, Jigmet Thingles, were lucky enough to get video footage of 2snow leopards making a dzo kill near Stok Kangri, in April, 2014. It took the dzo many hours to die, and, sadly, no assistance could be given. I had trouble submitting this, so sorry if it appears twice!

  19. Kathlyn Millan
    CA
    February 22, 10:40 am

    My son and friend, Ladakhi, Jigmet Thingles, have video photoage of 2 snow leopards making a dzo kill near Stok Kangri, taken in April, 2004. Very sad and beautiful–it took the dzo many hours to die, but nothing could be done to assist it.

  20. Pemba Gyalje Sherpa
    Kathmandu Nepal
    February 22, 10:22 am

    Namaste Adam,

    Thank you very much for shearing the imaging pictures. we call Hiu Chituwa in Nepal for snow leopard and Naur for blue sheep.

  21. Minor Torres
    Costa Rica
    February 22, 9:58 am

    Absolutely an amazing secuence, the pictures are great! How far were you from the leopard, Adam? Congratulations and thanks for sharing!

  22. baig
    tokyo
    February 22, 9:16 am

    thank you for sharing the great seen of Snow leopard ..from Himalaya …

  23. SUMAN KUMAR
    Bangalore,India
    February 22, 6:16 am

    exceptional pictures, you people doing grate job thanks for sharing ……keep coming.. :)

  24. Dikaios Logos
    eastern U.S.
    February 22, 6:03 am

    Great catch, I’ve spent hours looking at bharal hoping to see such an event. BUT, I think the first two minutes of this might qualify as the first filmed kill:

    • Paul Steyn
      February 23, 1:57 pm

      Hi there. Thanks for posting this but I can’t seem to view it. YouTube has blocked it in my country.

  25. Jayakumar k c
    kerala
    February 22, 3:17 am

    what spectacular work

  26. Navaneethan
    India
    February 22, 1:47 am

    Thanks for sharing, best wishes for your team to wait so calm and cool and for the moment. Great experience in this field.

  27. Mayur desale
    india, pune
    February 22, 12:17 am

    Thanks for sharing adam
    Awesome work

  28. Jeff Kraus
    New York
    February 22, 12:00 am

    Spectacular unique photos! I was an Earthwatch volunteer in 1997 and 1998 in Nepal and Ladakh on snow leopard expeditions, and was lucky to track blue sheep and argali, let alone snow leopards. One of them left tracks past our camp in Ladakh and we spent a day following its trail around the ridges. It’s hard to hike at 18,000 feet with gear! George Shaller studied them for seven years without ever seeing one in the wild. You hit the jackpot and many thanks for sharing these utterly unique photos!

  29. Greg Miller
    Knoxville, Tennessee
    February 21, 11:21 pm

    This article states that there are 50-60 left in the wild, while a recent “Outside” piece (http://www.outsideonline.com/outdoor-adventure/nature/Incredible-Wildlife-Encounters-Snow-Leopard-20120703.html) increases that number by a couple of orders of magnitude. Please check your numbers… I much prefer the Outside statistic, but hope for some validation.

    • Paul Steyn
      February 22, 12:16 am

      Hi Greg, my writing states that there are 50-60 animals in the Hemis National Park left in the wild. Not total in the world.

  30. archer
    February 21, 3:13 pm

    why is the image quality so poor? are these frames from video?

  31. Andrew Porter
    United Kingdom
    February 21, 2:10 pm

    Well Done and thank you for supporting the Snow leopards by sharing your amazing images.

    This is were Wildlife Heritage Foundation (WHF) is going in 2015. If anyone is interested we have places left. Please contact Andy at photography@whf.org.uk for further information and a dossier of what the trek involves. All funds raised from the trek go to support WHF which is a charity involved in the breeding of endangered species of cat in the UK.

    Amazing images and yes we are all hoping to see one in Feb 2015. I was luck enough to see one in 2011 on honeymoon but too far away to photograph. The image is in my mind. Well done on holding the camera steady!!

    Andy Porter
    Smarden, Kent, UK

  32. UPENDRA UPADHYAY
    INDORE , INDIA
    February 21, 1:31 pm

    Well done….. Adam Riley……this is amazing …!!!
    Snow Leopard are extraordinary Amazing shots,
    Congrats…and thanks for sharing…..!!!

  33. Anthony Boulan
    San Antonio TX
    February 21, 1:14 pm

    Spectacular

  34. Yogesh Dudhapachare
    Chandrapur, India
    February 21, 11:50 am

    it is very lucky things to see the Snow leopard in himalaya, it Is really rare chance to capture an attack, salute to your job.

  35. Adam Riley
    Pietermaritzburg, South Africa
    February 21, 11:03 am

    Thank you all for your positive comments and compliments. It was indeed an experience of a lifetime to witness and photograph this action and an honour to share it with everyone!

  36. Lorna
    Montana, USA
    February 21, 10:41 am

    Absolutely breathtaking, thank you so much for your hard work, perserverance, and generosity! What a phenomenal creature and your beautiful pictures are wonderful! Thank you for sharing!

  37. Prajwal Shetty
    Bangalore
    February 21, 9:13 am

    Amazing work!! Going through the pics and reading the description got me goose bumps. Stunning images.. thanks for sharing! :)

  38. Ripu Kunwar
    Boca Raton, Florida
    February 21, 8:53 am

    Splendid and incredible!

  39. Jerry Haigh
    Saskatoon, Canada
    February 21, 8:44 am

    Fascinating and dramatic series of shots – well done. Over and above the series is the remarkable camoflage of the leopard. In some shots one really has to look closely to see it. No wonder Mathiessen had such a tough time.

  40. Debarshi Mondal
    Parbatipur, Domjur, Howrah, WB, India
    February 21, 8:27 am

    Amazing shots, thanks for sharing. You had a great tour it was with these moments, very special. Cheers!

  41. Richard Hunt
    South Africa
    February 21, 8:14 am

    Wow….. a very awesome capture!!!!

  42. girish
    February 21, 7:04 am

    Awesome work to get such moments on the cam. Thanks for sharing.

  43. Kanwar Deep Juneja
    New Delhi
    February 21, 6:38 am

    Brilliant Adam! Just Brilliant!
    I am still trying to catch my breath after seeing the pictures and reading the excellent narration along with the entire movement of the animals on the last pic. You have been blessed to have witnessed this and had the nerve to capture it all ….. makes you a great wildlife photographer.
    Congratulations and thanks for sharing! :)

  44. Francisco Neto
    Portugal Caldas da Rainha
    February 21, 6:01 am

    Fantástica sequência!! Linda a Natureza!!

  45. Jigmet Takpa IFS Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) Ladakh
    Ladakh India
    February 21, 4:29 am

    Yes, It is the first kill caught on camera. But for the Park manager and the Rangers it is a common phenonmenon. Density of Snow leopard is highest in Ladakh, due to the radical conservation approach adopted by the park manager. Today hundreds of wildlife enthusiast from all over the world visits our Hemis National Park in Ladakh to encounter snow leopard. Making Hemis High Altitude National Park ” THE CAPITAL OF SNOW LEOPARD OF THE WORLD”.
    The population of Snow leopard can recover throughout the world, if the Ladakh model of conservationist adopted.

    JIGMET TAKPA
    CHIEF CONSERVATOR OF FORESTS(WILDLIFE) LADAKH

    • Paul Steyn
      February 21, 10:35 am

      Thanks for the Note Jigmet. I’m glad conservation measures are working out and tourism seems to be assisting in the preservation of these rare cats. Paul

  46. maharshi jani
    anand,gujarat,india
    February 21, 3:57 am

    wow great job being done and its lovely to see them hunting and growing thanx to show me this out

  47. maharshi jani
    anand,gujarat,india
    February 21, 3:56 am

    wow great job being done and its lovely to see them hunting and growing

  48. govindu nagaraju
    karimnagar, andrapradesh.india
    February 21, 3:41 am

    this is amazing

  49. lokesh madaiah
    coorg
    February 21, 3:34 am

    Adam,
    Great shots, congratulations!!!! Hard work really paid you. hope the Leopard is left alone by the humans !!!!!.

  50. NANDAKUMAR M N
    India
    February 21, 3:28 am

    A lifetime dream of every Photographer wishing to sight the Grey Ghost. Hats off To Mr. Adam Riley . He is just more than lucky to witness this Epic.

    I was there in December 2013 and had a tiring and testing expedition of 10 days. I was lucky to sight one of these beauties on 8th day, and could photograph it from a distance of few 100 meters.

    How I wish to go back again in Jan 2105 to see these beauties.

  51. Pranab J Patar
    Delhi
    February 21, 3:25 am

    Unbelievable….. congratulations to the photographer. Its a landmark for both science and photography.

  52. namal
    Sri Lanka
    February 21, 1:32 am

    wow…..like a dream

  53. sunita
    Bangalore, India
    February 21, 1:10 am

    speechless

  54. Yash Veer Bhatnagar
    Mysore, India
    February 21, 1:06 am

    Amazing sequence of pics. Congratulations! Wildlifers have often discussed the importance of cliffs as ‘escape terrain’ for wild prey like ibex and bharal. On the other hand, they have also suggested how cliffs and outcrops can actually provide ‘stalking cover’ to snow leopard. This series of pics shows both in play. Some interesting thoughts are there w.r.t. these, as also the role of cursorial predators such as wolf.

  55. Susan Stretesky
    Dallas
    February 21, 12:28 am

    Another ADAM RILEY original FIRST! What a great contribution to human recordings of that beautiful species! Well done!

  56. DEEPAK SHARMA
    Australia
    February 21, 12:02 am

    Amazing, unbelievable, I have seen this elusive and shy animal in Siachin Glacier Region, found a lost cub given to Chandigarh zoo, yr 1994, did not survive. This is truely amazing stuff can imagine the kind of effort planning and extraordinary luck……cheers great work!

  57. Nate
    February 20, 11:28 pm

    These photos were originally published on the 10,000 Birds blog on 2/17.

    http://10000birds.com/snow-leopard-hunt-by-adam-riley-indri-ultimate-wildlife-tours.htm

    Did you have permission to use them?

    • Paul Steyn
      February 21, 10:27 am

      Hi Nate. Yes, full permission was given to me by Adam to publish these images here. If you have any other questions, don’t hesitate to contact me direct. Details on my profile. Paul

  58. Tarun Jain
    New Delhi, India
    February 20, 11:24 pm

    Adam, Many Congratulations on capturing the rarest of the rare sighting and the amazing shots captured first time ever on camera!!!
    It would be really nice if you could post more of your pictures on the mail. cheers!!

  59. Dwayne LaGrou
    Lapeer, Michigan
    February 20, 11:07 pm

    INCREDIBLE!!! Words cannot convey the awesome pictures and the story with them. For a moment I thought I was watching Wild Kingdom. Spectacular in every way. This is the ONLY way to shoot these majestic creatures. Bravo, Bravo!!!

  60. artist praveen g nair
    kottayam
    February 20, 10:45 pm

    this is amazing wildlife study… grate…

  61. Jeanne Anne Decosta
    USA
    February 20, 9:42 pm

    Amazing set of photographs. I really wish snow leopards were left alone tho. People have no business intruding on them.

  62. Kuban
    Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
    February 20, 9:23 pm

    Extraordinary pictures. Many thanks for sharing this.

  63. Corbett aadil
    Jim Corbett National park
    February 20, 9:11 pm

    Lucky u

  64. Allison O'Reilly
    Cave Creek, Az.
    February 20, 9:08 pm

    Adam, impressive photos. Peter Matthiessen would be proud.

  65. Dieter
    Puget sound
    February 20, 9:03 pm

    Nice job on the photos.
    Pet peeve….Himalaya is plural as is.
    Good explanation:
    http://www.himalayamasala.com/himalaya-blog/himalaya-or-himalayas

  66. Sergio David Velez Franco
    Bogota, Colombi
    February 20, 8:47 pm

    incredible, but I expected a video :P

  67. Ted Bauer
    San Diego
    February 20, 6:56 pm

    The natural camouflage on these animals is unbelievable. What an incredible sight to witness. Thanks for sharing

  68. Dirk Nobus
    Europe, Belgium, Knokke
    February 20, 4:39 pm

    Réally stunning images of one of our most beautiful wild cats, hunting….
    Congrats!
    Dirk!

  69. Patck Ursomanno
    U.S.A, Florida
    February 20, 3:42 pm

    Milja Spruit, I do hope she has cubs, thay are truly beautiful and majestic.

  70. Janis Weltzin
    Seattle, WA, USA
    February 20, 3:25 pm

    Extraordinary pictures! Congrats…and thanks for sharing!

  71. Milja Spruit
    Durham, UK
    February 20, 3:10 pm

    This snow leopard is very dark and looks female. She looks very much like the female we saw last year February in the Tarbuns Valley, together with a male. The male was filmed the day before by Theo from Holland, feasting on a blue sheep (although not the kill itself – that is a first for you!!) So who knows, this leopard was hunting to feed cubs! Thank you for sharing this

    • Paul Steyn
      February 21, 10:37 am

      Thanks for the background Milja.

  72. Santosh
    Bangalore
    February 20, 2:39 pm

    This is splendid and congrats on a rare sight :)

  73. David Selzer
    Novato, California
    February 20, 2:27 pm

    The headline mislead me into thinking the leopard was the victim. How relieved I am that that wasn’t the case. I became fascinated with these cats after reading Peter Mattheissen’s inspiring 1980′s book about his search for them. After months of observations he only caught a glimpse of one. Inspiring

  74. SteveHole
    England/India
    February 20, 2:11 pm

    You will remember this moment for the rest of your life, congratulations on the photography, a rare event indeed.

  75. Maurizio boscheri
    Bolzano Italy
    February 20, 2:02 pm

    Extraordinary images super thanks

  76. Terry Colborn
    Davis, CA USA
    February 20, 12:31 pm

    Adam,
    Your series of photos documenting this kill by a rare Snow Leopard are extraordinary! You and your team witnessed something very, very special. Thanks for sharing this.
    Terry Colborn
    Davis,CA USA