The snow leopard is one of India’s most elusive animals and tourists on holiday in Kashmir don’t usually encounter the felines. So when Australian skier Owen Lansbury and his friends almost ran into one while skiing down the slopes of Gulmarg, they were thrilled to bits.
Lansbury posted this photo to his Facebook account earlier in February, calling it “a regular getting chased by wild leopards kinda day”, followed by a video of the chance encounter. The skiers, on their way down, suddenly spotted the leopard crouching in snow that was at least a couple of feet high. After surveying the human intruder for about a minute the leopard realizes its cover is blown. The animal lunges out of its hidey-hole and disappears behind some foliage.
Giving a quick description of the adventure Lansbury wrote on his Facebook page: “We skied our first powder line and the guide in yellow almost ran over the leopard. I stopped just as it huddled in the snow, where it stayed for about a minute checking us out. It then let out a solid roar and bounded away down the slope towards Dave, but scooted off into the forest, where we think it probably had a kill stashed. Pretty amazing experience!”
Lansbury might have heard the snow leopard emit a sound but the cats can’t roar. Instead they make an aggressive puffing noise called “chuff”. The cats are a smoky grey colour with black markings that camouflage them on snowy mountain slopes.
Snow leopards are found in twelve countries, mostly in Central Asia at altitudes between 9,800 and 17,000 feet. India has about 10% of the world’s snow leopard population across Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. But the leopard is an endangered species facing threats of habitat and prey loss. The leopard is also often killed by people in retaliation for stealing cattle and poached for its pelt.