Caught on camera

One evening, after a long day of trekking in the mountains in Lahaul, Himachal Pradesh, our team retired to the basecamp. Our tents were the only ones set up in the valley at the time. However, that particular day was different—we had company. Two herders, along with their livestock, horses and guard dogs, had pitched their hand-woven, woollen tent (which was ten times warmer than our polyester fabric tent) about a kilometre away. I had gone out for a walk with a teammate, and keeping true to the warm and welcoming mountain tradition, we were invited to their cozy setup the minute they saw us. We had a lovely chat over lassi, made from fresh goat milk that was still warm. It was one of the most delicious things I had tasted in over a month. We were also taught to kindle a fire by using their traditional bellow made out of sheep skin by blowing air into it.  We offered chai, another mountain tradition, the next morning and introduced the herders to the rest of our team. By the end of this encounter, we had become friends and they would visit us often after we were back in our tents after the day’s fieldwork was done.

As we got to know them better, they told us that two of their goats were killed by a snow leopard in just two nights. Their trained mastiff dogs did not seem to dissuade the pursuer. We offered to set up spare camera traps to catch the snow leopard in action that night. They vigorously nodded their heads and four traps were set— they guided us about where the cat may have left from. The herders looked on, enchanted by the process as we were. The thought of catching the ghost of the mountains on camera is always thrilling, even if it feels like the biting cold will numb your fingers and make them fall off during the process! There was a river running around the bend of the mountain, atop which their tent was pitched guarded by their two dogs.

After a whole night of anticipation, we went to check the traps. We returned, disappointed—there was no sign of the cat. But a few days later, the trap we had set up a few kilometres into the valley had caught a snow leopard at night! Close to the place of attack, we speculated that it might have been the same individual—its coat was wet from crossing the river. Unfortunately, the herders had left by then and we didn’t get a chance to show them the photograph.

 

Most likely the snow leopard that killed the goats

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