Goat Wars: Phantom Menace

The following is an excerpt from my field journal…

DISCLAIMER: Descriptions of fresh snow leopard kill sites may seem graphic to some readers.

2-14-2016

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Alas poor Yorick, I knew him well!

“… We checked the 3 camera traps we set around the 4 goat carcasses from the start of the season. This was where each goat was owned by a different herder. Herders often combine their livestock into a larger herd to help move them to pasture easier, and keep them safer as a whole. In order to tell them apart, horns of each herd are uniquely painted. There was NO fresh sign of a snow leopard anywhere near them. The kills were apparently abandoned. The camera traps only showed crows having a feast, And feast they did! The bones were picked completely clean. For 2 of the remains, all that was left were the stomach’s dried and frozen mound of undigested vegetation.

Around the area, a fox was present. Evidence of tracks, scat, and bits of gnawed bones trailing along its path, showed it carried its share of the meal off. Surprisingly, the fox was not captured on the camera traps. In a valley, a bit south, we found fresh cat tracks so placed a camera trap from the goat site there.

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Snow leopard tracks go right past where a camera trap was set. But no image. GAH!!

We also visited the site where cats have been seen on many occasions by herders, and where park staff have gotten photos. We thought for sure a cat would be on our camera traps. There were fresh tracks everywhere. In fact, tracks went right in front of and past 2 cameras! A perfect opportunity! However, neither camera got the shot. Only hundreds of images of goats. We don’t know what happened. Both camera traps were working when we retested them. So either both cameras happened to glitch at the same time from the cold, or we really were dealing with a ghost.

Disappointed, we reset one, then moved the other to a new spot where a local woman showed us a busy area for tracks. They crisscrossed between a couple saddles, and up a few small draws. There was a total of 3 different sets. One being very small, a possible cub from last spring. Hope our next try is successful!

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An adult pugmark (left) next to a cub’s pugmark (right)

On the way back down the mountain, the woman showed us a couple of freshly killed goats that a cat had taken. For the first one, tracks led right to the uneaten animal as steam still rose from the body’s spilled fluids. Its neck torn open in the method only a big cat would do.

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A still steaming snow leopard kill. A stark reminder of the conflict herders face.

The other goat was being scavenged on by the local herders’ dogs. It appears to me that the dogs have associated snow leopard kills with a feast, and so will scare the cat off of kills. The downside to that is that the easily spooked, hungry cat will prey on more livestock again sooner or more frequently.

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At least the dogs get a good meal…

When we left that site, we stopped just around the bend at a camp where two goats survived an attack 2 nights prior. One died the following day, but the other was barely clinging onto life with a large clump of frozen blood hanging from the wound on its neck. I doubt it’ll last much longer. One thing is for sure, for a site with mountains that are only just over 2,000m, there is a TON of cat activity!”

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