The Main Ingredient in Swedish Meatballs
Photo courtesy of SLT/Panthera
Orjan is a Swedish PhD student who works at the base camp of our long-term research project in Mongolia. These are his adventures…
Just before midnight the siren alerted us that an animal was in one of our safe leg-hold restraints (used so we can fit a collar on snow leopards) at the bottom of a big canyon. The canyon looks quite spectacular and so we had named it ‘Grand Canyon’. On our way there we saw our head lamps reflecting in a pair of eyes on one of the canyon walls, couldn’t tell what it was but it felt a bit like a cat. Then two more pairs of eyes were observing us and suddenly a third pair appeared.
The cat waiting for us was Shonkhor, a male we are already following. I carefully immobilized him and left to let him fall asleep. Couldn’t resist shining the strong flashlight that I have on the animals up on the wall. To my surprise I saw a very long tail – three snow leopards were sitting there observing us. Got a bit curious and started climbing, I soon saw that it was an adult leopard and two smaller cats further back. In the end I was about 15 meters from the adult cat, she was sitting on a rock just above me with her cubs behind her. I did not want to climb higher. The truth is that it felt a little awkward. I know that snow leopards are supposed to be non-aggressive but how many people have climbed up to a mother with her cubs behind her, in complete darkness and perfect hunting habitat? It felt a bit as if she looked at me, puzzling her brain for recipes of Swedish meatballs, all of them listing the main ingredient as ’1) Swede’…
I think it was Agnes and her cubs. We have been able to track three cats a couple of times the last weeks but they have otherwise avoided us. I have no idea why she stayed with her cubs to see what we were doing to Shonkhor. It is possible that he is a cub from her previous litter but it still seems odd to jeopardize her cubs for him. Perhaps they have much stronger bonds than we think. Or she felt so secure up on the cliff that she never considered her cubs to be in danger. Don’t know really, but it is another incident possibly indicating that snow leopards are more social than we used to think.