It’s such a huge thrill to see a rare wild animal in its own remote habitat. Most of us live in urban environments far away from anything wild, so seeing a wild cat is certainly an unforgettable experience. And when you are hoping for a glimpse of one of the most elusive cats on the planet?
This week I got photos from a group of Australian eco trekkers who’d been in the high altitude Hemis National Park in Ladakh in India, with World Expeditions. They’d trekked long hours and into the high thin air of the Himalayas when they saw a big cat.
According to 2 of the group, Trish McHugh and Sumant Gupta “it was late evening, at about 4350 m above a tiny little settlement, one house really, at a place called Yurutse. We were looking up to a ridge above the low camp before Ganda La, so about 4350 metres and late evening when we saw it.”
Was it a snow leopard?
“We all thought it was a snow leopard and so did Norboo, our guide and our horseman.” They were excited and hopeful but close inspection of the photos once they got home showed it was another cat, a lynx that shares its habitat with snow leopards in this part of the Himalayas.
The lynx is a medium sized wild cat and from a distance it can easily be mistaken for a snow leopard – its typical solid wild cat body has white fur on the chest and large padded paws for walking on snow. But up close you can spot the differences – the lynx has a short tail, very obvious fly away tufts of black hair on the tip of its ears and very long whiskers on the face.
Like snow leopards, lynx are usually solitary, although small groups of lynx have been known to travel and hunt together occasionally, something that only snow leopard mothers with sub adult cubs would do.
Lynx and snow leopards share habitats where there are high altitude forests. Although the IUCN Redlist doesn’t consider the lynx endangered, some populations are dwindling due to humans clearing forests and moving in livestock. In fact they face the same challenges to their habitat and their long term future as do snow leopards.
I know the group would have loved it to have been a snow leopard, but seeing a beautiful wild lynx in its home habitat on a ridge in those magical mountains was pretty special too. And getting such great photos was an extra bonus. Well done team!