There seemed something faintly Quixotic about the very idea and indeed that is how we first marketed it. That the very act of searching for such an elusive and charismatic cat in it’s high, hostile, awe-inspiring home was the real reward and any actual sighting of a flesh and blood cat a matter of indescribable good luck or hallucination. However, some serious thought had been invested in the planning.
This was just after the ground-breaking BBC series had first captured Snow Leopards on film in the Rumbak valley of Ladakhs’ Hemis National Park. The people who had made it possible were the researchers and trackers from the Snow Leopard Conservancy lead by their inspirational director (late) Rinchen Wangchuk.
In winter as snow covers the high pastures, snow leopards follow their wild and domestic prey to the valley floors with many individuals concentrating around high value areas like the Rumbak valley. Knowledge of this behaviour and favoured routes gained over long arduous months of field-work on the part of the SLC team helped to position the BBC cameramen in the right places.
Rinchen’s idea was to leverage this same method for small scale tourism. He understood clearly that the only way to neutralise the severe threat of revenge killing of leopards by Ladakhi shepherds – which dovetailed with the illegal fur and bone trade – was to make live snow leopards more valuable to local communities than dead ones. This was the formula we adopted working with the SLC and to our astonishment the first snow leopard trek struck lucky and managed to get some excellent sightings.
Over the years the snow leopard trips have become a huge success. Motivated by increased earnings local communities have supported the Snow Leopard Conservancy’s conservation programme leading to significantly higher snow leopard numbers, leading in turn to better sightings, leading in turn – alas - to a snow leopard ‘gold rush’. The quiet valleys and remote ridge tops that our small groups searched in virtual isolation are now (relatively) over-run by snow leopard ‘hunters’. While these numbers are great for local communities and therefore for snow leopards, it was not great for the visitor experience that we like to provide in wild country.
Last year we moved our area of operations to another valley where a SLC trained tracker has set up an excellent homestay with some help and advice from us. Here in relative comfort our small groups (maximum 4) spend 9 nights.
Three trackers with access to communications equipment fan out over three valleys. Snow leopards are carefully tracked and if activity is reported in a remote area we have the ability to quickly set up a mobile camp and spend the required amount of time in the field if required. This gives us a huge degree of flexibility. We stay away from the crowds; contribute directly to snow leopard conservation and the local community, enjoy a spectacular area with a diverse array of wildlife in complete peace and quiet.
Our clients don’t have to be super-fit prize-winning photographers and because we use a homestay not only do you get to interact with a lovely local family but you can stay in considerably greater comfort with excellent food, real (!) coffee and additional creature comforts. Best of all we can utilise the services of some exceptional local trackers and of a specialist local naturalist. Contact us now to book your snow leopard safari.
Where else can one find big cat safaris in Asia?