Last week at the Australian Himalayan Foundation fundraising dinner I met Peter Hillary, Everest summiteer and son of the legendary Sir Edmund Hillary. It turns out in over 40 years of climbing and trekking through the Himalayas he has only ever caught glimpses of snow leopards twice. The most recent was in April this year when he was in the Solo Khumbu region near Everest.
Speaking with Peter about snow leopards he asked me if there had ever been an incidence reported of a snow leopard attacking a human. I remembered Dr Rodney Jackson, one of the world’s foremost snow leopard experts say recently that to his knowledge there’s never been an authenticated case of a human losing his or her life to a snow leopard attack. “This cat is amazingly shy and rather docile. Really, the opposite is the case given the number of stories of snow leopards — caught in a livestock pen — being stoned or beaten to death by angry villagers.”
Peter did an amazing high altitude Himalayan traverse in 1981, when, with Chhewang Tashi and Graeme Dingle they walked from Sikkim to the Karakoram. This first ever traverse of over 2000km took him and his team ten months and in that time he never saw a cat.
Snow leopard expert Dr Tom McCarthy also says, “I can say with much certainty that humans in snow leopard habitat are in no danger from these big cats. Snow leopards have simply never been known to attack people. Even when they are cornered by herders who find them in their livestock corrals snow leopards do not try to attack. I have captured many of the cats, and even when they are in a snare, they do not act aggressively towards me as I work to sedate them – they just try to avoid me.”
Also the great George Schaller, snow leopard expert extraordinaire is also on record in this issue saying to the New York Times, “I don’t know of a single case of a snow leopard that would attack and kill people.”
Lastly Raghunandan Singh Chundawat, a snow leopard expert from India told National Geographic that he once saw a village girl tug in a goat carcass that unknown to her was also being grabbed by a hidden snow leopard, the girl came away from the encounter unhurt.
Well, that’s pretty weighty evidence in favour of the snow leopard, but if there is anyone out there with a different story we’d love to hear it. Email firstname.lastname@example.org