We have decided to strike while the iron is hot. As you know, as a result of our recent interviews with local herders, we have discovered two very recent incidents involving alleged leopard attacks on young horses in two of the bigger and more remote valleys in this system. Each were within the fortnight or so and in response to the more local account, we investigated on horseback the site of an atttack. As we placed a camera beside a heavily used pass, the unmistakeable cough of what we surmised to be a big cat in the cliffs above could be heard. Whilst none of the party saw the animal, we are now fairly certain that there is a snow leopard in that location.
The more distant and more recent incident is in fact in the valley of the original base camp. The stories are very similar, with a young horse discovered dead with large puncture and crush wounds to the throat. This is highly typical of the leopard method of killing large prey, gripping the throat and asphixiating the quarry (there is a photo sequence of this killing method on http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2014/02/20/the-first-ever-successful-snow-leopard-hunt-and-kill-caught-on-camera/). The fact that a snow leopard will apparently abandon the kill at the slightest disturbance has led to the almost ubiquitously believed folk tale that the snow leopard is in fact drinking the blood of its prey rather than eating its flesh. Either way, large dead animals with “vampire-like” neck wounds can only mean one thing and the consistency of the stories as told by the herders who recently lost their horses, and by the wider community of herders throughout our huge survey region who’ve simply heard about those losses, suggests that we are not being led on a wild goose chase by folk who just want to tell us what we want to hear.
So, the hot iron… We have decided to split the team into two overnighters who will each attend an incident site and attempt to make a more thorough investigation of the environs surrounding the two kills. One team has returned to the valley of the original base camp and will atempt to get to the bottom of that story before heading further into the valley with Volodya. The other team has been deployed back into the valley that was the subject of my recent experience and will spend two days making a careful survey of its upper reaches. We have sent the FLIR thermographic equipment with the second team as they will be camping closer to the cliffs and will have a better chance to use the gear to best effect. The first team have a powerful spotting scope to scan the wider valley ends that they will face.
Your truly has remained at base camp with our awesome chef, Emma, as it represents a “central” point of contact that either group will be able to find me at should the need arise, rather than trying to locate me in either of the large ranges that each group will be negotiating.
For some reason I feel like this will be an exciting next couple of days… For the team at least. At least I’ll eat well…
From our snow leopard volunteering expedition in the Tien Shan mountains of Kyrgyzstan