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Snow Leopard vs. Blue Sheep Battle Captured In Amazing Photos

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Snow leopards are often described as elusive, and for good reason: they live a mostly solitary life at high altitudes.

So when an INDRI Ultimate Wildlife Tours group not only spotted a snow leopard, but also got to personally witness a snow leopard hunt, you can imagine that they were pretty elated. The high speed chase occurred in the Hemis National Park in India, where about 50 to 60 individuals still exist in the wild, according to National Geographic.

Photographer Adam Riley writes in a blog post:

And finally in a blur, everything happened. The Snow Leopard leapt from its cover, bounding across the rocks in great leaps towards the young Blue Sheep. All three sheep took to flight, creating dust trails in their wake. The speed at which the snow leopard closed ground on the young sheep was remarkable as it barreled off the rocky outcrop to open ground, clearing a large rock en route.

Within seconds the snow leopard was on the hapless sheep. After careful scrutiny of images, it seems that the blue sheep lost its footing as it tried to escape but in the process it kicked up a load of gravel and dust, right into the snow leopard’s face, temporarily blinding the cat. This gave the sheep a vital break and it was able to pull away from the leopard which kept at its heels but was several critical paces behind.

The two adult sheep had gone their separate ways, one heading downhill away from the danger and the other, possibly the younger sheep’s mother, scrambling up a steep slope. At this point, our young sheep made a tactical error and instead of fleeing downslope, it tried to follow the upper sheep. The slope became incredibly steep, almost vertical, and this gave the Snow Leopard its chance to gain ground on its shorter legged target.

Snow leopards live in the mountains of Central Asia and prey upon blue sheep, mountain ibex and small mammals, according to National Geographic. They're incredibly talented cats, as they're able to jump 50 feet and eat prey three times their weight. Snow leopards are listed as endangered on the IUCN's Red List of Threatened Species, and only about 4,000 to 6,500 individuals still exist, according to the World Wildlife Fund. Their biggest threats are poaching, habitat loss and killings by local farmers.

Check out these photos below for a play-by-play of the incredible hunt. You can visit INDRI Ultimate Wildlife Tours' Facebook page for more information.

  • Adam Riley
    Snow leopard peering over a rocky outcrop in the Tarbung Valley.
  • Adam Riley
    Ten blue sheep entered the scene and began grazing their way to where the snow leopard was hidden.
  • Adam Riley
    The snow leopard slinks into a fault line in the rocks above the grazing blue sheep.
  • Adam Riley
  • Adam Riley
    The snow leopard launches its attack and bounds down the rocks towards the young blue sheep which turns tail and flees.
  • Adam Riley
  • Adam Riley
  • Adam Riley
    The snow leopard’s great leaps allow it to gain ground on the young sheep.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Adam Riley
    The slope steepens and the young blue sheep begins to lose its lead.
  • Adam Riley
    Both the adult blue sheep can be seen in this image, one at the bottom left and other at the top left. Towards the center of the image is the young blue sheep with the snow leopard right behind.
  • Adam Riley
    The blue sheep tried to ascend an almost vertical slope to escape its predator.
  • Adam Riley
    The blue sheep and snow leopard make about turns, notice how the snow leopard’s huge tail assists it's balance.
  • Adam Riley
    The blue sheep takes a great leap down the slope but it cannot match the 15m (50ft) bounds of the cat.
  • Adam Riley
    The snow leopard makes its second attack and stretches its paw out to ankle-tap the sheep.
  • Adam Riley
    Contact is made and the snow leopard immediately latches onto the sheep’s throat.
  • Adam Riley
    Predator and prey tumble head over heels down the steep and rugged slope.
  • Adam Riley
    Finally the snow leopard manages to take control of the situation, still firmly attached to the sheep’s throat.
  • Adam Riley
    The snow leopard spends three minutes suffocating its prey.
  • Adam Riley
    The successful snow leopard scans its surroundings whilst it catches its breath after ensuring the blue sheep is dead.
  • Adam Riley
    The snow leopard begins to drag its victim back into the rocky outcrop from where it had attacked.
  • Adam Riley
    Taking a rest from the hard work of carrying its upcoming meal.
  • 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 towards 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.

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