Acclaimed wildlife filmmakers capture the first intimate portrait of the world’s most elusive cat.
Most big cats do their best to remain hidden from human eyes, but none are quite as adept at this as the snow leopard. These cats lead largely solitary lives, populating the Himalayas at altitudes that offer only about half the oxygen to which humans are accustomed. So when wildlife filmmakers Hugh Miles and Mitchell Kelly set out to film this animal they knew they were in for a challenge.
The filmmakers chose Hemis National Park in the northern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir as their base camp. There they selected a team of native mountaineers and trackers to accompany them into the Himalayas. The team climbed as high as 15,000 feet, tracking the cats via paw prints in the snow and the scented urine that snow leopards use to mark their territory. The group also concealed remote, sensor-activated cameras equipped with infrared light to allow for stealth, night observation of the cats.
After five weeks without a single sighting, the team finally spotted one of the rare cats on a mountain ledge. After several months, the filmmakers had doggedly compiled a growing body of work. The crew filmed close-ups of several cats and identified individuals.
To further improve their understanding of the snow leopards’ complex behavior, the filmmakers turned to Rodney Jackson, director of the Snow Leopard Conservancy. Jackson’s insights helped them achieve greater success in filming snow leopards hunting, courting, and even mating — none of which had previously been captured on film.
In the end, Miles and Kelly accomplished most of their goals, with only one disappointment: they did not find a litter of cubs. At one point, they did spot a female followed by a little youngster. But mother and cub quickly vanished into the snowy realm in which the elusive snow leopard reigns.