A Forbidding Kingdom of Snow Leopards
HIDE & SEEK Studying snow leopards in Afghanistan can be challenging.
Thomas McCarthy, director of the snow leopard program for the conservation group Panthera, has spent nearly two decades crisscrossing the absurdly rugged Himalayan plateau to study a magnificent, densely furred, rosette-stenciled cat that may well be the world’s most reliable no-show.
“I’m out here in snow leopard country for half of every year,” said Dr. McCarthy by balky telephone connection from Tajikistan, “and I can easily count on one hand the number of times I just happened to see a snow leopard.”
George Schaller, the renowned biologist and environmentalist and Panthera’s vice president, is vast in experience and reputation and normally raptor-eyed. “I put radio collars on a couple of snow leopards in Mongolia,” he said. “The radio tells me where they are, I go there, I look and look. I see nothing, unless the snow leopard chooses to move.
“If a snow leopard sits quietly and doesn’t want to be seen,” Dr. Schaller said, “you won’t see it.”
To study snow leopards, Dr. McCarthy said, “you have to be very dedicated, or part crazy, or both.”