The Guile of the Snow Leopard
Aap Drugey is a yak herder and a pony driver from Soe Yaktsa who I take along with me during my treks into the northern Alpine regions. I do not really need him but trekking at high altitudes during the thick of winter is dangerous and unpredictable. I take him along because in times of emergency, his experience and knowledge of the region can be invaluable.
One bitter cold night in February, 2011, we were camped in Soe Yaktsa, a village on the fringes of the Snow Leopard habitat. Sitting by the campfire, he narrated to me the following ingenious way a Snow Leopard employs, to hunt for and capture Blue Sheep.
The Blue Sheep is the primary food source for the Snow Leopard, a big, beautiful endangered cat living in the Alpine regions of Bhutan. The Blue Sheep move in herds. The cat is fast but not fast enough to outrun the sheep. So the cat employs a brilliantly ingenious strategy to prey on the Blue Sheep.
Snow Leopard (Photo courtesy: Wikipedia)
When the Snow Leopard sees a herd of sheep feeding on a mountain side, it will climb to a higher ground, about 200 – 300 ft. above the herd, concealed by the rocks and boulders that make up the landscape. Then, when it is certain that it is close enough, from behind a boulder, it will roll down a small pebble directly towards the center of the herd. The herd will be alerted but they realize that it is merely a small stone pebble accidentally rolling down .. so they will resume feeding. After a while, the cat will roll down another stone, this time a much bigger one than the earlier stone. Alerted, the sheep will look up at the approaching pebble and ignore it and continue feeding, indifferent and unhindered.
The leopard will continue to roll down stone after stone, each time bigger and bigger ones. After a while the sheep will completely ignore the rolling stones and not even look up what is coming down. Then, when the Snow Leopard is completely certain that the sheep have been lured and numbed into complacency, it will turn itself into a round ball of fur and come rolling down towards the unsuspecting herd. When he is in the middle of the herd, it will suddenly unfurl itself and grab the closest sheep in a strangulating grip on the sheep’s throat!