Sheroo gets an invitation. One he is surprised to receive. But his interest is piqued and off he goes to meet his host.

It’s been a while since you and I made a new friend so when an invitation arrived from a certain mysterious Mr M, I thought I’d accept. Mr M did not say much except that according to some recent scientific study we were apparently related and therefore would like to make my acquaintance. “I don’t as a rule socialise but would welcome your company,” said the letter.

So suitably fortified for a harsh Himalayan climate, I set out to the Nanda Devi, the second highest peak in our country. Mr M was there at the appointed place. For a relative, he was nothing like me. For one, he was a leopard, much smaller than us tigers and his coat was grey white!

“Hello Sheroo, I’m M, the snow leopard,” he said offering a very furry, soft paw. I shook it warmly, (or should I say it warmed me) noticing that his solemn eyes were a greyish green, again unlike us big cats with yellow eyes. He was much smaller than me; his body covered with dark grey blotches ringed with black. His tail was very long and furry.

“I use my tail like a blanket to wrap around me,” he said reading my thoughts, “besides it also helps me maintain my balance as I climb through these steep cliffs.” Yes, his home consists of rocky outcrops and ravines being at an altitude of over 12,000 feet. The snow falls thick and fast and I find it difficult to keep pace with Mr M in my snow shoes. M is barefooted of course for his paws are obviously better than shoes as he moves swiftly.

“Snow leopards are found only in Central Asia. In China, Russia, Mongolia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet, all in snow- clad mountains. Here in India, you’ll find us where the great Himalayas are — Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh, Arunachal and Sikkim,” says M. The icy mountain looks desolate with no one in sight. “Must be lonely for you...” I say.

” I don’t actually enjoy company and keep to myself. Humans are at best avoided for they would love to skin me for my fur. Sometimes in the winters when food is scarce, I come down to pick up some food from their animal pen,” he turns and waits for me to catch up.

“What do you get to eat here?” I ask, for his territory doesn’t exactly seem teeming with life. “Well, there are other mountain dwellers too — bharal, the Himalayan blue sheep, thars, markhors and ibex which are mountain goats in these parts, the bobak marmot which is a kind of a largish rodent. An occasional bird or a woolly hare is also welcome,” he half smiles .“I don’t attack until the prey comes 20 to 50 feet close. Then I go for the kill in one leap.”

I’m amazed. “You can pounce from that far?” I ask. “No problem,”says M. This guy is something else!

Later in the evening as we sit in his den eating a fine meal of blue sheep and wild hare, I roar just to break the silence. M looks at me strangely, saying, “We don’t do that!” I should have guessed, after all he is the invisible cat.

Mail to sherook@wildmail.com

A Children for Nature and Animals Unlimited (CANU) Initiative

Caught in the cross fire

Snow leopards are an endangered species and number only 100-200 in India.

Indo-Pak border tensions have cost the snow leopards as their habitats are disturbed by firing and terrorist activity.