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