The local community has been partnering with Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF), the Snow Leopard Trust’s India partner, for almost two decades. Programs like livestock insurance or corral improvements have helped the people of Kibber cope with occasional snow leopard attacks on their livestock. In return, the villagers are protecting the cats and their prey species from harm, and have agreed to set aside grazing land for the wild ungulate populations.
This partnership and its location in the heart of India’s snow leopard habitat have put Kibber on the map as a destination for wildlife lovers, presenting photography enthusiasts with the rare opportunity to see and document rare high altitude wildlife while being surrounded by snowy trans-Himalayan peaks.
“Since few years now, our village is packed with tourists in winter, who travel from far off places to catch a glimpse of the elusive snow leopard”, says Kalzang Gurmet, the Spiti-based Field Coordinator for NCF. “From dawn to dusk one can see people carrying huge cameras and spotting scopes on their back. Locals and tourists alike can be seen scanning these slopes, braving sub-zero temperatures, till tears roll down their cheeks due to the harsh weather.”
Kalzang himself was part of this excitement last winter, as he shared with us recently:
“On one lucky day I even managed to get a rare photo and video of the snow leopard. This happened in a pasture that is often frequented by the snow leopard and is just outside Kibber. When I reached the place, there was a sizeable group of people engrossed in a chat. I enquired if they had seen any snow leopards.
‘Which snow leopard do you want to see? The greyish one, the white one or the old one?!’ one of the men gathered there replied softly.
There were three different snow leopards in different directions of the village — a grayish one (sleeping in the shade and hence looked grayish), a whitish one (which was exposed to the sun and hence looked whiter) and a third old snow leopard that had been seen often close to the village! I proceeded to see the snow leopard that had been sleeping under a cliff and seemed least popular among the snow leopard viewers.
A herd of ibex was not far from the spot where the snow leopard had been resting. As the sun set behind the slopes, the temperatures dropped further and one could barely sit with the wind blowing. Our hands were freezing. Most people had left by now. Just then, the snow leopard showed some activity. Slowly the snow leopard moved towards the ibex – it was stalking them. What followed was a rare sighting that I had never seen before.
Returning home I kept thinking that the snow leopard may have definitely made a kill that night. The next morning I went straight back to that sight to scan for the snow leopard and his hunt but there was no more than the big boulder and the foot prints a hungry snow leopard and a very nimble ibex.”