By Amy Bucci
A young yak herder, Wangchuk, captured this footage of snow leopards with camera traps provided by the Bhutan Foundation and biologist Tshewang Wangchuk, also a National Geographic Waitt grantee. The yak herder, Wangchuk (who goes by only one name), is a 24-year-old young man who lives in the mountains of Bhutan, in Tsharijathang Valley near Shinjeyla Pass in Jigme Dorji National Park. (Residents in this area are primarily yak herders as the area is mostly above the tree line.) In February 2013, when one of his yaks was killed, he set up the cameras and got several hundred shots of a family of three snow leopards eating the yak.
Normally, snow leopards hunt alone, but here you see three leopards feeding together. Tshewang and Wangchuk believe this is a family unit—most likely a mother and two grown cubs who are not totally independent yet. The cats seem well fed. They spend about fifteen minutes at the kill, eating as much as they can until they are disturbed by a dog. The dog then eats the kill after the snow leopards run away, and crows scavenge the rest.
Snow leopards are notoriously elusive to photographers and conservationists alike. There have been several reports of a snow leopard with two cubs from different parts of Bhutan indicating that this endangered feline could be breeding and doing well in Bhutan. It is estimated that about one hundred snow leopards in live in Jigme Dorji National Park.
Bhutanese Yak Herder Cooperation
Tshewang’s challenge is to offset yak losses—like the yak these snow leopards killed—for herders like Wangchuk so that there are no retaliatory killings. He would like to get other herders working toward snow leopard conservation. More....