Snow leopards are found high altitudes between 9,500 to 19,000 feet. Opportunistic hunters who also feast on carrion, they come down to altitudes as low as 4,000 in search of food in winter. Using the terrain to conceal themselves, snow leopards prefer to ambush prey from above. The prey for these mighty hunters includes Himalayan blue sheep, Himalayan tahr, argali, ibex, etc. I was fortunate to sight and photograph a snow leopard with its kill — a female ibex.
The black panther is a rarity among leopards, even though the difference is only in its dark fur. Referred to as a melanistic leopard, Kabini in Karnataka hosts one. Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve has recently discovered a semi-melanistic leopard.
In Kabini, I was lucky to not only see a black panther, but also to witness it mating with a female leopard.
Although, several cases of man-animal conflict have been reported across India, Jhalana presents an interesting contrast. It is a rare example of man and leopard living close to each other in perfect harmony. The Jhalana Leopard Sanctuary is situated in the heart of Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan. Here, leopards are at the apex of the food chain, and Jhalana is where you are most likely to spot one. In contrast to leopards in other habitats, the Jhalana spotted cats appear quite comfortable around human presence.
It is believed that Bera village near Jawai Bandh in Rajasthan has the highest concentration of leopards in a non-forest area, and the probability of sighting one here is as high as 93 per cent. The vast expanse of small undulating hills, rocky outcrops, caves and crevasses are an ideal habitat for this spotted beast. The villagers of Bera and surrounding villages have cohabited peacefully with leopards for years. Thanks to the pioneering conservation efforts of people like Thakur Devi Singh Bera, the population of these big beautiful spotted cats is on the rise.
The leopard in these pictures appears to have taken a fancy to God’s Pataka (flag), playing with it joyfully, presenting me with the unique opportunity of capturing him in various moods.