The Himalayan understudy

16 07 2014

One of the most sought after animal species in the world to see and photograph has to be the secretive snow leopard, and rightly so, but what most people don’t know, is what else is also running around high up on the Himalayas. The main prey species for the snow leopard is the blue sheep, or bharal to the locals.  These antelopes (the name is quite misleading – it is not a sheep at all, but a true antelope) generally live high up in the mountains between 4000 – 6500 meters (13000 – 21500 feet).  Their ability to manoeuvre up and down seriously steep cliff faces is remarkable, and is often their go-to defence against the smarts and cunning of the snow leopards. They come down into the valleys in the late afternoon, which is when they are at their most vulnerable.  If they get spooked while in the valley, they scramble for the nearest cliff, at a speed that makes you feel like a geriatric tortoise on a treadmill.  It is simply stunning watching these antelope navigate the rocky slopes of the mighty Himalayas.

The only way to see them and possibly get some photographs is unfortunately to climb up the mountains yourself, which starting at 400 meters is no easy feat.  On the up side, when they are comfortably settled on a sheer cliff face, they generally stand still and let their camouflage do the work, allowing you to get close enough to photograph them.  Once you get into position, have found your lungs again and managed to catch your breath, they are well worth the effort.  Their markings are striking, their behaviour both fascinating and slightly comical, and you really feel privileged to be in the company of a brilliantly designed animal.  The only trick left is getting back down the mountain…

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2 responses

16 07 2014
Lyle Krahn

That’s quite a commitment to get those great shots.

17 07 2014
BB

These are wonderful Kurt. Your eye sight must be fantastic! Well done and keep up the excellent work 🙂

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