Exclusive with Khenrab Phuntsog | Spotting the ‘Mountain Ghost’ of Hemis National Park the ‘Ladakhi’ way

Photo Credit: Khenrab Phuntsog
Snow leopards are shy, elusive cats known for their solitary nature–these cats are perfectly equipped to thrive in extreme, high-elevation habitats and are most active at dawn and dusk.

With close to two decades as a Wildlife Guard in the Wildlife Protection Department in Hemis National Park in the eastern Ladakh region, Khenrab Phuntsog has–tracked, rescued, and engaged with wild snow leopards a.k.a the ‘Mountain Ghosts’ his whole career. His expertise in snow leopard behavior is not only known in India but globally as well.

Khenrab joined the Wildlife Protection Dept as a wildlife guard at the age of 22 in the year 2000. Since then, Khenrab along with his colleagues have rescued 47 snow leopards.

He also holds abundant knowledge on all other species in the Trans-Himalayas including the Tibetan wolf, the Eurasian lynx, the Pallas’ cat, and the Himalayan brown bear.

Khenrab is an award-winning snow leopard conservationist. He was recently awarded the Royal Bank of Scotland’s ”Save the Species Award” for his work on snow leopard conservation. The wildlife guard has tracked and planned expeditions for the BBC’s Planet Earth II crew for their famous snow leopard sequences in the Mountains episode, the recently released snow leopard sequences in National Geographic’s Hostile Planet, and has worked with several well-known wildlife photographers and conservationists.

Khenrab has also published a book called ‘Tales of the Snow Leopard’ as the co-author. The Book was awarded the ‘San Miguel Rich’ award in 2017 & ‘Kirloskar Vasundhara Mitre Award 2020’ to Khenrab Phuntsog, Tashi & Smalna Tsering–forest guards at Ladakh’s Hemis.

International Snow Leopard Day 2020

International Snow Leopard Day is observed on October 23 to raise awareness of the protection of endangered snow leopards.

The awareness started in 2013 when government leaders and officials from all 12 countries encompassing the snow leopard’s range (Afghanistan, Bhutan, China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan) came together at the Global Snow Leopard Forum (GSLF).

At the GSLF meeting, the 12 range countries signed the ‘Bishkek Declaration’ on the conservation of snow leopards.

Globally, as few as 3,500 snow leopards may remain in the wild– the animal is listed among the ‘vulnerable species’ in the IUCN Red List of threatened species.

When it comes to India, it is believed to have 400 to 700 snow leopards spread across Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh.

Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change in 2019 launched the first national protocol to enumerate the snow leopard population in the country on the occasion of International Snow Leopard Day.

‘The Mountain Ghosts’ are threatened due to habitat loss, human-wildlife conflict, less prey, poaching illegal trade, and climate change. Let us join hands in conserving and preserving the vulnerable species.

(With inputs from Voygr Expeditions)

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