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.