Finding snow leopards on these photos didn’t surprise the researchers – after all, that was the purpose of their camera trap study. But the appearance of a common leopard on three cameras stationed near Batora glacier, at more than 3,200 meters above sea level, was unexpected.
“It’s the first time we’ve captured images of a common leopard this high up in Pakistan’s snow leopard habitat” says Dr. Ali Nawaz, the Snow Leopard Trust’s Pakistan Program Director and head of Snow Leopard Foundation Pakistan (SLF). “We’ll need to investigate further to see if this was just an isolated case, or if the common leopard is beginning to encroach on snow leopard habitat, perhaps due to climate change.”
The surprising photos are the result of a study conducted by researchers from SLF, students from Quaid-e-Azam University Islamabad and officials from the Gilgit Baltistan Parks and Wildlife Department. They set out 48 remote-sensor camera traps in Central Karakoram National Park (CKNP) in April, covering just over 4,000 km2 of snow leopard habitat. “The goal of the study was to gather data on the population of snow leopards, their movement patterns, diet preference and habitat preference”, Dr. Nawaz says.
Last month, the team recovered the cameras and retrieved the photos they had taken. They found 11 species, including the snow leopard and common leopard. A thorough analysis of the photos will take time, but Ali Nawaz sees several immediate benefits of the study that go beyond pure science: “This type of work also helps create awareness for snow leopards and other wildlife among local communities”, he observes. “Our team members spend a lot of time in remote villages during such a study, sharing meals and stories with local people, and discussing issues and conflicts related to snow leopards and other predators. The local communities are incredibly hospitable and helpful, giving valuable inputs and sharing information. Their attitudes seem to be very positive, and they understand that our work is not only helping snow leopards, but also them.”