Spotlight on the snow leopard: The day I tricked the ghosts of the mountains (Part 1)

This holiday season, WWF is introducing six new species for you to adopt and take home, including the snow leopard. We’re bringing you a special six-part blog series on the snow leopard, the most mysterious member of the world’s big cats.
There I was in the Eastern Himalayas. The morning of November 25, 2013 was exceptionally cold and windy and our tents were almost completely engulfed by the thick layer of frosts. It took some serious effort for me to get out of the sleeping bag at 4 a.m. that morning, but I had to turn on the radio receiver, spread out the antenna and listen to the VHF signals to check if any of the traps were triggered. As usual, I did not receive any positive signals and went back to sleep cursing my luck while alerting my tent mate, Dr. Narendra Pradhan, about his turn to check at 6 a.m. that same morning. We had become quite habituated with this kind of routine after sticking to it for so many days.

Checking for radio signals (VHF) from the trap site transmitters. ©Rinjan Shrestha/WWF
Checking for radio signals (VHF) from the trap site transmitters. ©Narendra Pradhan/WWF

As a matter of fact, it was the 18th day since we embarked on a mission to track one the most mysterious cats of the world, the snow leopard, aptly referred to as the “Ghosts of the Mountains.” We had a total of 16 traps fitted with foot-hold snares and equipped with satellite/VHF radio transmitters. These traps were spread across the likely dwelling places of the snow leopard in the northwestern part of the Kangchhenjunga region in the Eastern Himalayas. At an elevation of 8,598 m from the sea level, Mount Kanchhenjunga is the third highest mountain peak in the world and is one of the most secluded regions of the planet. It took us eight days of foot expedition to reach our camp site that was situated on the western base of Kangchhenjunga at an elevation of 4,200 m.
Mt. Kangchhenjunga at 8598 meters. ©Rinjan Shrestha/WWF
Mt. Kangchhenjunga at 8,598 meters. ©

Thanks to the technology, we could monitor all our trap sites remotely from the comfort of our base camp through VHF signals as communicated by the trap site transmitters. A beep at an interval of every eight seconds would indicate if the trap was triggered, while the 16 seconds interval beep meant that the trap was active but not triggered. We were taking turns to check for these beeps once every two hours around the clock.  As the days passed by in the cold of the mountains, all of us had become utterly impatient to listen to the eight second interval beep. Some of my team mates started dreaming about it while others resorted to offering a special prayers to local mountain deity – Ghangjenjwenga.
I did not know when Narendra left the tent that morning for I might have been fast asleep then. I got a bolt of electric shock when I was awaken by our vet, Dr. Giri. Instantaneously, I figured out the reason behind all the commotion that was coming from the campsite across the river.  As it turned out, Narendra got the signal from the trap site situated at the ledge in the hill slope directly above our camp.
Check back soon for part two of Dr. Rinjan Shrestha’s exciting field story of how he tagged a snow leopard!
By symbolically adopting a snow leopard, you are helping to support WWF’s conservation efforts.  Adopt a species today at