How to spot a snow leopard in its natural habitat

Ahead of Earth Day 2021, photographer Ismail Shariff — whose eye-catching wildlife photography of snow leopards in the Himalayas has gone viral — tells us how to pick out this elusive big cat in its natural habitat

Updated - April 22, 2021 01:29 pm IST

Published - April 21, 2021 03:40 pm IST - Hyderabad

Hyderabad-based wildlife photographer Ismail Shariff was enroute to Ladakh on work when he decided to take a break at Dras, in Kargil, in the hopes of catching a glimpse of the Himalayan brown bear. Ismail and his team knew they were in luck when they learnt that a brown bear had strayed into a nearby village for food; he whipped out his camera and captured them at leisure.

While Ismail’s photos of the brown bear show the mammal in all its glory, something unexpected happened when he posted the shots on various wildlife photos websites — his photos of a snow leopard in 2017 resurfaced started trending, receiving over 12,000 shares and 58,000 likes.

Read More | Ismail Shariff on why wildlife photographers should exercise restraint

“The snow leopard has been my muse ever since I first saw its photograph in 2012 taken by Dhritiman Mukherjee, the baap of Indian wildlife photography,” he says over the phone.

Ismail started photographing snow leopards in 2014; this particular photograph that has gone viral shows the animal camouflaged in the rocky Himalayan terrain. Ismail is a regular to Spiti Valley; every year he visits to photograph snow leopards. The last time he went was in February 2020, just before the nation went into lockdown. “Unfortunately, my hard disk crashed and the only image that I could salvage was that of the snow leopard drinking water.”

‘A trained eye’

A snow leopard expedition conductor for bespoke tour operator Voygr in India and Central Asia, Ismail says that it is an extremely shy animal. “One needs trained eyes to spot it in the snow,” he adds. Snow leopards are smaller in size to regular leopards found in the wild, but they appear bigger due to their thick fur.

A snow leopard in the snow

A snow leopard in the snow

“The thickness of their fur in the stomach can be upto 12 inches, and the tail is as long as its body. The snow leopard uses its bushy tail as a muffler to wrap around when sleeping curled up,” he notes.

It took him several visits to track the animal’s movement in the snow. “The photograph resurfacing shows that there are a lot of people who are learning about Indian wildlife.”

The comments on his viral photo made him wonder if conducting online sessions may help add more awareness on the elusive big cat. “I will conduct sessions for another week,” he says.

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