Rare triplet of snow leop­ards sighted for the first time at JDNP

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In one of the rarest mo­ments in wildlife front, a di­rect sight­ing of snow leop­ard that too, a triplet had been made in Jigme Dorji Na­tional Park (JDNP), re­cently. The sight­ing was made at Tong­dreysh­esa in the alpine re­gion at an el­e­va­tion of 4050m above the sea level. Tong­dreyshena is a re­mote rocky un­du­lated alpine re­gion in the cen­tral part of the park and is of­fi­cially three days stren­u­ous walk from the near­est road­head. It falls un­der Lingzhi Drungkhag of Thim­phu dzongkhag.

Leki, an in-ser­vice B.Sc. forestry stu­dent in his fi­nal year at Col­lege of Nat­u­ral Re­sources (CNR) in Lobesa, with his re­search team, sighted the snow leop­ards and cap­tured the photo of the triplet. Be­fore he left for the stud­ies, he worked in Lingzhi Park Range of JDNP as a park ranger.

He was with his team, in the park, re­cently, con­duct­ing re­search on blue sheep when the sight­ing was made. “Con­duct­ing cen­sus took us to ev­ery pos­si­ble habi­tat of blue sheep within the park,” re­called Leki, adding it was dur­ing one such cen­sus that they spot­ted the mag­nif­i­cent and charis­matic preda­tor, three of them to­gether, at a crow flight dis­tance. Blue sheep are the pri­mary prey of snow leop­ards.

At first, he said, they didn’t re­al­ize it was the snow leop­ard. This is be­cause; it is so elu­sive that ex­cept on a very rare oc­ca­sion, it is very un­com­mon for them to ap­pear in pres­ence of hu­mans. In ad­di­tion, the iconic preda­tor has huge cam­ou­flage ad­van­tage. It blends so well with the rocky sur­round­ings, that one could lit­er­ally walk past or al­most step on it, with­out even re­al­iz­ing it is there. This, many con­ser­va­tion­ists say, makes the flag­ship species very hard to de­tect.

How­ever, upon closer scru­tiny with a binoc­u­lar, they re­al­ized it was the snow leop­ard. “We saw three of them, all in a stealth mode. They were hunt­ing the same herd of blue sheep we were count­ing,” shared Leki.

“All I could think of was try­ing to cap­ture the mo­ments in photo,” he said. “I re­al­ized that not many get to sight snow leop­ard with one’s own eyes and def­i­nitely not three on prowl to­gether.”

Leki claims that he is the sec­ond per­son to have made such di­rect sight­ing of elu­sive snow leop­ard but the first to sight three to­gether, in the park. Phub Tsh­er­ing, a forester cur­rently with For­est Sur­veil­lance and Pro­tec­tion Unit, has sighted a lone snow leop­ard in 2007.

Study by Dr. Phuntsho Thinley, the then Park manager has pro­jected that there are atleast 11 to 17 in­di­vid­u­als of snow leop­ards thriv­ing in the west­ern part of the park. Leki’s pro­jec­tion from his cur­rent study has also val­i­dated the fig­ure based on the cur­rent pop­u­la­tion of blue sheep.

“I was luck­i­est of all to see them three in one spot,” re­joiced him. “Never in my wildest dream, I thought I’ll be able to see such hard to de­tect crea­ture with my naked eyes,” con­cluded Leki, who served all his decade of ser­vice in wildlife con­ser­va­tion in pro­tected ar­eas.

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