Since 2016, we’ve had a big snow leopard male visiting the area where we try to capture and collar these cats. This guy has the rather irritating habit of eating our trap cameras, which are set out to monitor the population.
In at least four instances, the last photos taken by a specific camera before its untimely destruction shows this big dude as he spots the camera and walks over to it – and then everything goes black.
A few weeks ago, we picked up a camera set out to monitor one of our collared snow leopards, a female we refer to as F10, and her cubs. We found the camera on the ground, batteries taken out and spread out on the ground. Even the memory card had been removed (which takes some effort if one doesn’t have thumbs) and was nowhere to be found.
A few days later, we caught the perpetrator of these wanton acts of vandalism only 200 meters from our camp. He had stepped into one of the cat-friendly snares we use to trap and then equip snow leopards with GPS collars. We didn’t target him specifically, of course – but we were nonetheless excited when we examined him.
He weighed 53.8 kg, which is almost 8 kg more than the previous biggest male recorded. His scientific ID is M15 (the 15th male in our study), but we’ve nicknamed him The Dude at first.
When we caught him, he had a huge belly full of meat. He must have taken down and devoured an ibex shortly before. When he isn’t full of ibex, I’d estimate that he weighs around 52kg.
As far as we know this is the biggest snow leopard ever caught and weighed – the Dude might be a World Record holder.
The Dude is a confident cat, when we came up to him as he was caught in the snare, he didn’t try to escape or hide. He just sat there looking at us. When we came close he lay down – maybe getting ready to pounce. Lucky for us, he wasn’t able to move, and we immobilized and collared him.
An hour later, The Dude was back on his four paws, growled at us in a slightly displeased manner, and set out into the early morning – probably looking for the next camera trap to take out! He’ll be on the air for the next 18 months, providing us with valuable insights into snow leopard behavior!
While “The Dude” has a nice ring to it, his size, confidence and skill (in dismantling camera traps) has since made us think of other possible nicknames. I suggested naming him Zlatan, after Swedish soccer star Zlatan Ibrahimović, who is certainly as big, confident and skilled as anyone out there – and he can pounce on the ball like a snow leopard pounces on an ibex. Plus Zlatan is one rare cat himself.
If anyone out there has a way to contact either of these two iconic athletes, please let them know they’re in the running to have the biggest, most badass snow leopard ever named after them – whoever sends us a signed jersey first wins!