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A magical chance to see snow leopards in the wild

Wild snow leopard sighted by KarmaQuest eco-tourists in 2007. Photo by Brian Keating, Calgary Zoo.

Wendy Lama from the eco tourism company KarmaQuest tells me there are still places available for the Winter 2011 snow leopard trek in Ladakh (India). I’ll be going along on this one and it’s a great opportunity to join a small group of hardy international travelers to search for snow leopards in this magnificent mountain habitat with Jigmet Dadul, the “top snow leopard tracker in Ladakh.”

Wendy says “KarmaQuest has an unbeatable track record of enabling snow leopard enthusiasts from around the world to see this elusive cat in the wild.  Every group has spotted a snow leopard as well as many varieties of bird and wildlife on this ten-day trek into Hemis National Park.

A Homestay house in Ladakh, India where local people welcome eco tourists and ear income in return for protecting snow leopards. Photo by Wendy Lama, KarmaQuest.

Your trip benefits snow leopard conservation with a tax-deductible donation to the Snow Leopard Conservancy and generates income for local villagers as an incentive to protect the snow leopard.

The experience of staying with Ladakhi families who share snow leopard habitat in traditional ‘homestays’ generates nearly as much positive visitor feedback as the snow leopard sightings. Guests enjoy the cozy ambiance; homegrown food cooked over elaborately decorated metal box stoves, and the chance to exchange stories and pictures with their remarkable hosts and hostesses.

Wendy has shared with us an excerpt from Brian and Dee Keating’s journal of their 2007 KarmaQuest Wintertime Quest for the Snow Leopard in Ladakh. (Brian is Director of Calgary Zoo.)

Rumbak village in snow leopard habitat in Ladakh, India. Photo by Brian Keating, Calgary Zoo.

“Today was a day to remember.  We saw the snow leopard, and not only saw it, but enjoyed its company for well over an hour. The day started off with coffee and tea in bed, delivered by happy staff.  We decided that the day’s strategy would be to stay around camp for the day, as the previous group’s cook had apparently seen a leopard twice, in the 6 days they were camped in this spot, when the group was out hiking for the day…

“After our first wash in over a week … (a bucket bath with some warm water!) we headed back to our valley rock lookout, sundowners and warm clothing packed and ready to go… Nurbu suddenly appeared below us on the trail, quickly informing us that there was a leopard sighting just 30 minutes down the trail, with the cat on a blue sheep kill yet!  We left all our stuff, and burst over the hill, and ran… Within 10 – 15 minutes, running almost the entire way, we were there, and so was the snow leopard!  He was lying quietly and patiently about 30 meters above his tangled kill, draped like a carpet of fur over the rock at the top of a small cliff.  His kill sat in a heap at the valley bottom like a pile of hairy burlap, with a magpie picking away at it, between two bushes within easy view of where we sat.

“The leopard watched with intent as all of us arrived in dribs and drabs.  A few of the group were already there when I got there, scopes, binoculars and cameras already in action.  The thick tail of the cat hung down long off the side of the slope, as he lay on a rock prominence, looking down at us with indifference… The fur on his face was stained red with blood, and the carcass looked seriously ravaged.  As we watched, the cat eventually settled completely, and dozed off, only opening his eyes now and again to check us out… The cat, an adult of approximately 6 to 7 years of age, eventually got up to move his position, but hardly a half a meter, and then flopped down again like a sack of heavy potatoes.  He blended in immediately when he laid down- his camouflage was simply perfect…

“Needless to say we were one happy bunch at dinner, with the chatter increasing in pitch as the shared Scotch had its warming effect.”

For information or to join this trip contact KarmaQuest at KarmaQuest@earthlink.net. Deadline for signing up is December 31, 2010.  Check their website.

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