Excerpt from my field journal..
“Early this morning, the dogs were barking like crazy for four hours! I just tried to drown them out by listening to music, but wondered if a snow leopard was nearby. My teammate and I would soon find out…
The day started with helping our host to herd the livestock out to graze. As the herd continued on one way, we veered off another way toward a couple kill sites from a few less fortunate goats and a sheep.
We hiked up one mountain to try to set a camera trap, but there were too many livestock tracks to find any pugmarks of a cat so we crossed a valley to a different one. The trek was cold. Not only was it -20C (and dropping), but it was also windy. The wind was blowing the snow into our faces and tiny ice crystals were falling from the sky, freezing my hair and the fur around my hood. On the way, we stopped at a neighbor’s ger (Traditonal home. Also known as a “yurt” in Russia) to warm up with some tea.
The next point we hiked up to was much higher, with a steep slope covered in deep snow and top layer of ice. I took it slow since I was still acclimating but it was getting easier. Once at the top, we found a bunch of fresh snow leopard tracks. Two sets! One was smaller, so it was probably a sub-adult. Turns out we weren’t the only ones having trouble with the footing. Some tracks we found were actually long slide marks where the cats skidded down before suddenly crashing into a soft powdery spot. Such graceful creatures. We followed them up to the peak to see tracks everywhere, as well as fresh scat and scrapes. Perfect spot for camera traps!
The location is also right behind camp so when the dogs were barking obnoxiously, they were alerting us to the two snow leopards. A scat sample was even collected on a boulder directly overlooking where our gers are! I could just imagine the snow leopard dropping its load while staring down at us defiantly, the way cats do, mocking our inability to see it in person despite how close it comes to us. (Fact: Cats are jerks.) However I did catch a glimpse of a red fox trotting up a nearby slope so we had an overall great field day!”