Snow leopard in Ladakh – A guide to India’s most elusive wildlife experience at the Hemis National Park Reference
The snow leopard is a medium-sized cat with a magnificent build of about 60 cm in height and 90 – 130 cm. in length. The female snow leopard weighs 35 -40 kg and the male snow leopard weighs 45 – 55 kg. The powerful physical structure of their hind legs has profound ability to leap six times the length of their body which enables them to clutch their prey. They sneak up silently and pounce upon their prey at the speed of lightening. They are the strikingly spotted beauty of the snowy alpine regions. They are habitant of the cold high mountains of Yangtze and Western and Eastern Himalayas, particularly in Ladakh highland of Jammu and Kashmir. However, the population of these cool cats is declining rapidly making them endangered species which are at the verge of extinction. As per the Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES), trading of snow leopard’s fur, bone and meat has been considered illegal. These big yet vulnerable snow cats are protected by several laws in some countries. Unfortunately, an estimated range of 450 to 500 of snow leopards are left India. If you want to catch a glimpse of these endangered snow leopards, scale to Ladakh before they disappear from India.
Perching at a height of 3,000 meters, the altitude of Ladakh works as an advantage for it provides a home to several wildlife like snow leopards, Yak, Chiru, Ibex, Bharal, Wild sheep, blue sheep, etc. The rugged steep terrains of Ladakh make it a comfortable habitat for these wild lives. The snow leopards, in particular, prefer to nestle in the outcrops and ravinesat 3,000 – 5,000 meters high in Himalayan region, which make an excellent feature of Ladakh and allows them to dwell. Their white coat with large black spots evenly distributed on their soft fur perfectly aids in camouflaging them with the steep dark mountains covered with white snow in Ladakh. That is why snow leopards have took shelter at Ladakh’s splendid height.
Ladakh is far from the chaotic city life and nestled in the remote region of Jammu and Kashmir is on every traveler’s bucket list. The sparsely inhabited region of Ladakh witnesses visitors around the twelve months. Even the harshest winter weather is not able to hold them back. The reason is simple – the snow leopard being the major attraction of Ladakh. If you are the adventurous type of tourist, trek up the Hemis National Park. This protected area is situated in the eastern part of Ladakh which is globally famous for wild animals. On the northern side of the park flows the majestic Indus River. Spread across the valleys of Markha and Rumbak, Hemis National Park is covered with unique flora and fauna. In fact, it is the largest national park of India which sustains number of endangered species. Tourists from all over the world flock to Hemis National Park just to catch a sight of these spotted leopards.
The best time to spy on the cool cats is from October to March. You have got to thank the Bharal or the wild sheep that bring the snow leopards down on their trail. You may be a brave heart but don’t get too close for comfort and endanger your life. Take a guide who would help you identify this camouflaged creature from a distant. Don’t be disheartened, if you don’t spot the crawling creature on the first day itself.
With patience, you would be lucky enough to spot the snow leopard in the rocky regions of Hemis National Park in Ladakh as they have been declared and listed as endangered species on the IUCN- World Conservation Union’s Red List.