Where Spotted Kingdoms Converge

Snow Leopard Trust’s India Program based at the Nature Conservation Foundation, conducted a pilot camera trap survey across two valleys in the Great Himalayan National Park in the second half of last year. Cameras were set up along a gradient from 2500 to 4500 meters in an attempt to determine the elevation range where snow leopards and common leopards overlap and potentially compete for resources.

Camera trapping is always an arduous task – but our researchers faced exceptional challenges during this pilot survey. The group set out shortly after heavy rains and floods in Himachal Pradesh, the province where the National Park is located, which destroyed many of the wooden bridges built by the Forest Department. Teams had to wade across waist-deep (and cold) water while carrying heavy equipment above their heads to avoid any damage. Even the trails that weren’t washed out were overgrown with grass taller than an average person. Already narrow paths were barely visible, with steep cliffs on the other side!

Wading through a river in Tirthan valley. Credit – Tanzin Thuktan

While the data are still being analyzed, we know how valuable this incredible effort from our team members will be for enhancing our understanding of where and to what extent common leopards and snow leopards overlap in these valleys. We also hope to better understand how human development and climate change may affect this in the future.

Typically, common leopards in the study region are found below the treeline and hunt prey such as goral, a relatively small-bodied mountain ungulate. In contrast, snow leopards are found above the treeline and hunt the larger blue sheep. However, at elevations where both species occur, we are unsure if they hunt the same prey and compete for resources.

Somewhat unexpectedly, our researchers recorded a high number of common leopards in the Tirthan Valley, while we did not detect any snow leopards. This may be due to insufficient sampling of snow leopard habitats in this area since much of the valley was inaccessible and unsafe due to the heavy rains and floods. Another surprise was the detection of a common leopard scent marking at 4,000 meters elevation in the same location where a snow leopard marking was found during a 2019 survey. This is quite high up for a common leopard, though these are preliminary observations.

Along with common leopards and snow leopards, our researchers were delighted to find the Western Tragopan, a rare bird that is classified as Vulnerable. Because this survey spanned a significant altitudinal gradient, including lower elevations than we usually set out cameras in, we also spotted several species we don’t often see or associate with snow leopards, like rhesus macaques. The Great Himalayan National Park is an ecologically diverse landscape and this survey beautifully showcases the habitat transitioning along elevation gradients, including broadleaf evergreen forests, coniferous forests, grassy alpine meadows with rocky outcrops and glacial peaks.

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We plan to continue this survey in future years to better understand these two big cat species and their converging spotted kingdoms.

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We would like to thank the Himachal Pradesh Forest Department for providing permits to carry out this work. We also thank several forest guards, local guides and porters, and the NCF field team from Kibber for carrying out the fieldwork.

Photo credits: ​​Nature Conservation Foundation, Snow Leopard Trust, Himachal Pradesh Forest Department


  1. This is such a fascinating study. Maybe it will result in better understanding of the two types of wild leopards that will enhance their lives and make it possible for them and then, and their human counterparts to live in harmony with the assistance of the Trust. Your concept for the trust has proven to be both innovative and effective,. Congratulations!

  2. I swear that more than half of the wildlife from your pics in The Great Himalayan National Park, they are actually staring into the camera and a couple are smiling! This is so beautiful.

  3. I absolutely love the pictures, however I wish you had a voiceover or subtitles telling us what each beautiful animal was! Thank you for all you do to help all animals!!

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