Wild Vault

Masters of Disguise: Snow Leopard

Quietly concealing itself in rocky crevices, the snow leopard merges perfectly with its surroundings in the high-altitudes of the Himalayas

By Malavika Bhattacharya

In the barren mountainscapes of India’s high-altitude Himalayas a stealthy, elusive predator roams. So difficult is it to spot a snow leopard, even for experienced trackers, that it is often called the ‘grey ghost of the mountains’. The snow leopard lives in dry, freezing climes, at altitudes upwards of 3,000 m. One would expect that with sparse vegetation comprising only grasses and shrubs, a large cat with a muscular frame and long tail would be easy to spot.

How many snow leopards do you spot in the picture?
Photo: Shivang Mehta, Cover Photo: Dhritiman Mukherjee

How many snow leopards do you spot in the picture? Photo: Shivang Mehta, Cover Photo: Dhritiman Mukherjee

Ace adaptation: But the snow leopard is a masterful camouflage artist adapted to survive and merge into the forbidding terrain it inhabits. It conceals itself cleverly among craggy rocks and deep gorges. The colouring of its thick and warm coat of fur ranges from ash-grey to pale-white, patterned with dark spots, helping it merge perfectly with the arid, rocky mountains. The long, bushy tail provides extra balance on the steep slopes.

Survival of the fittest: In these inhospitable climes, survival is tough even for an apex predator with hunting prowess. A snow leopard lies low and quiet in crevices at strategic high-altitude lookouts from where it stalks its prey. When the time is right, the surefooted cat strikes at prey like ibex, urial, and bharal.

Malavika Bhattacharya
Malavika Bhattacharya

is a travel and culture journalist always looking for an excuse to head into a forest or an ocean. Find her work at www.malavikabhattacharya.com.


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