After seeing Amur Leopard Cat and Pallas’s Cat, Snow Leopard is certainly next in line! Together with Terry, Tormod and Wills, we hurtled into the Valley of the Cats in the region of Yushu!
Our guide and host is a Tibetan yak herder- Sen (森), who is part of the Snow leopard monitoring group and Warden of the National Park. With his limited Chinese and us not speaking Tibetan language, body language and facial gestures came in handy. 🙂 Sen’s house is surrounded by mountains and streams; bears and wolves are regular visitors to his house when he moves his herd of yaks to higher grounds in summer! No wonder every yak herder rears a pack of Tibetan Mastiffs.
With only 4 days to spare, we’re constantly reassured by almost every yak herder we met who showed us their videos/ photos in their phones and enchanted us with their stories of their yaks being eaten by Snow Leopards and how often they see them! Definitely in this region, if your mobile phone doesn’t have a photo of snow leopard, you’re don’t belong to the club!
We held on to our hopes and we scanned the likely areas tipped by local yak herders and soon enough, Tormod spotted his first Snow Leopard on Day 2! The pressure is on for me and then on the morning of day 3, I spotted a moving rock with a long tail! It took me 10 seconds to convince myself its a Snow Leopard before I shouted to others who were scanning on the mountain top. I reminisced with joy, a cat ticked off my cat list!
Almost every noon, we’re invited to some yak herder’s home for yak meat and tea! On the noon of day 3, yak herder Chairen-nima pin-pointed us to another mountain to look for snow leopard! We were overwhelmed with tips from various yak herders, but for some reason we took his advice and went to the mountain he mentioned.
While the three men positioned themselves on a hill top, Sen and I sat in the car counting blue sheep.
Sen: 4 Blue sheep
Me: 6 blue sheep
Sen: Snow leopard.
I thought to myself” showhand?” Sen and I jumped out of the car for a better view and sure enough I saw the Snow leopard’s head bobbed up on the ridge of the cliff! I shouted towards the group on hill and Sen ran up the hill to tell them- not easy at 4700m! It took me ages to get to where the others were but we all had great views, videos and photos of the Snow Leopard for a whole 1 hour! How cool is that??!! 😛
Snow leopard walked along the ridge and displayed various behaviours captured on video!
Called the valley of the cats, this region is also home to Leopards, Lynx, Bears, Mountain Weasels, Glover’s Pikas, Himalayan Marmots, Musk Deers, White-lipped Deers, etc.!
At 4500m above, alpine birding was fruitful- Robin Accentors, Brown Accentors, White-browed Rosefinches, Tibetan Partridges, Vultures, Golden eagles, Lamagaias, White-browed Tits, Blue-fronted Redstarts, White-eared Pheasants, Ibisbills, etc. just to name a few!
Brown Accentors are garden birds
White browed Rosefinch is a delight to see!
Tibetan partridges roam freely everywhere
Solitary snipe stays solitary.
This trip is not for the faint-hearted! Weather can be extreme from snowstorm and gustly winds with temperature varying from -10 to 10 degrees in one day plus some hiking involved! If you don’t mind the basic accommodation, you’ll be highly rewarded with rare mammals, birds and the breathtaking landscape this area has to offer! It has been an incredible adventure for me, one to talk about for a lifetime. I will be heading back often to explore this exciting place. If you’re interested in having a pioneering experience and an unforgettable adventure, drop me a line! 🙂
warming up whilst scanning the mountains
The mountain where I saw my first snow leopard!
On the last night, each of us gave Sen a small gift.
And here’s a video of the road conditions!
Now that I also have a snow leopard photo in my mobile phone, I can join the yak herders’ “club”. 🙂 I definitely look forward to going back there again!