22 Slices
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Medium 9781607321934

PANGJE

Don Hunter University Press of Colorado ePub

S O M   B.   A L E

NEPAL In a mystical land of sacred valleys, a young biologist sets out to save the snow leopard and discovers in the process an ageless ethic that exists between the local Buddhist people and all living things, including the snow leopard.

October 24, 2004. Dawn gradually approached as we gathered field gear to leave for our next camp in Phorche, a small Nepali village en route to the Everest base camp. A series of piercing whistles interrupted our work. Sensing something out of the ordinary, I hurried toward the sound and spotted five Himalayan tahr whistling alarms toward the nearby cliff. Crouched low, my field assistant, Lalu, and I scanned the cliff and surrounding slopes with binoculars. Nothing moved except the occasional startled flights of Impeyan pheasants. Far away, I could hear the faint echo of a herdsman yelling at his yaks. After half an hour Lalu whispered in my ear, “Something is moving on the rock.” I slanted my spotting scope toward a cluster of boulders on the hedgy horizon. Something moved. I could hardly believe my eyes. A snow leopard came into focus, lying on a boulder, calmly grooming its paw. Several pheasants perched near the cat became abruptly noisy, their piercing calls penetrating the silence. The cat remained authoritatively unperturbed by the loud pheasants and jittery tahr. Suddenly, thin clouds moved swiftly across the entire mountain, briefly engulfing the drama before our eyes. The leopard rose abruptly, yawned, and then ambled toward us. Hands unsteady with excitement, I managed several pictures. In and out of a veil of wispy clouds, the ghostly apparition moved to the base of an overhanging rock, sniffed it, rubbed its left chin, then turned its rear toward the rock and sprayed—an invitation to mate or a cautious warning to competitors. After nearly twenty minutes it moved slowly out of view, leaving me breathless, heart pounding . . . quiet. After ten years I had finally witnessed the spirit animal of Nepal’s great mountains.

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Medium 9781607321934

MAGIC VALLEY

Don Hunter University Press of Colorado ePub

H E L E N   F R E E M A N

QOMOLONGMA The world’s highest mountain heeds the call for help as danger invades the peaceful valley of the snow leopard. This is only a fairy tale, but then, who knows? As the song says, “Fairy tales can come true . . .”

They had lived in the valley for a thousand years. They knew what life had been like before they had come to this isolated region because the Old Ones had told them. Before was a time of eternal ice, when the world was frozen and the air was filled with dread and endless cold. Now the sun had returned, and although snow stayed on the mountain peaks, in the spring streams flowed and flowers filled the meadow.

They were the snow leopards, and this was their Magic Valley.

The first snow leopards that had come to the valley had grown old and gone up to the shining palace in the sky. Other snow leopards had stepped in and become the leaders. This story is about one such couple, Igor and Maria.

One day, after patrolling the boundaries of his range, Igor walked up a steep talus slope to his favorite lookout. He lay down on a flat boulder, gave a long yawn, and rested his head on his massive paws. Maria, his mate, arrived at the same time. She gave him a gentle head rub to say how pleased she was to see him. Igor responded by blowing little puffs of air through his nostrils. It was a soft sound, the greeting call of the snow leopard. Maria looked into his eyes and made the same soft little noise back to him. They snuggled together, their tails touching.

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Medium 9781607321934

THE PELT SMUGGLER

Don Hunter University Press of Colorado ePub

S H A F Q A T   H U S S A I N

PAKISTAN In trying to do the right thing, two colleagues must embark on a journey filled with danger and intrigue until the final moment.

It was the winter of 1999. My assistant, Ghulam Mohammad (GM), and I had just completed our first in a series of surveys in northern Pakistan’s Baltistan region. Earlier in the year I had received a small grant from a London-based conservation organization to look into the possibility of starting an insurance scheme for domestic livestock against snow leopard predation. The idea was to protect the snow leopard against the retaliatory actions of angry villagers who had lost livestock to them. In gathering ethnographic and biological data, we conducted surveys in four valleys across Baltistan. GM and I were the core survey team, together with a number of porters to carry our supplies.

December 22—the day after we returned to Skardu (the principal town in Baltistan) from our first survey—was cold, dark, and still. I stayed in a guest house run by an enterprising local elite who, more than monetary gain, sought to provide more cosmopolitan accommodations than were otherwise available in this small town nestled high in the Karakorum Mountains.

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Medium 9781607321934

CUBS

Don Hunter University Press of Colorado ePub

T O M    M C   C A R T H Y

MONGOLIA, KYRGYZSTAN A noted snow leopard scientist and father describes two young cubs that capture his heart.

For nearly two decades I have been exceedingly privileged to have been able to make a living doing something most people can only dream of—studying snow leopards. And yes, I am one of the fortunate few, even among my peers, who has seen a wild snow leopard in its native habitat, several in fact. Not that it could ever become mundane, gazing at a beast so mythically rare and elusive. Had I seen fifty in the wild, and the actual number is not even half that, each encounter would still be as inspiring as my first. A moment with a snow leopard on its home ground, playing by its rules, is an ethereal and moving occurrence that is not soon forgotten. So when asked if I could write about some of my most profound or heart-touching experiences in the presence of snow leopards, I had to sort through a fair number of emotion-filled memories to settle on a couple that I wanted to share. In the end, it was a fairly easy decision and it came down to tales of cubs, all now grown but just cubs at the time and the source of some of my most personally inspiring recollections.

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Medium 9781607321934

KASHMIR

Don Hunter University Press of Colorado ePub

H E L E N   F R E E M A N

INDIA On behalf of the snow leopard, a middle-aged woman endures an arduous trek into a mountain paradise and is rewarded in the end with an unexpected gift.

I read a travel guidebook on India that said it did not matter if the traveler was on the ground or in the air, the visitor’s first view of Kashmir would be unforgettable. The Mughal emperors who came here coined a word for the valley: paradise.

As the guidebook said, it was unforgettable, but it was not what I had expected. Instead of relaxing in paradise, I was freezing and scared stiff. Heavy snow was falling and the trail was icy. I kept muttering to myself, “Explain it again, why did I want to do this?” Then, after hours of questioning myself and not getting a satisfactory answer, I turned to pleading: “Please, please, let our destination be around the next bend. I promise to eat bran muffins instead of chocolate.” But when darkness fell and we still had not reached our destination, I concentrated on only one thing: survival.

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Medium 9781607321934

FROM RICE FIELDS TO SNOWFIELDS

Don Hunter University Press of Colorado ePub

Y A S H   V E E R   B H A T N A G A R

INDIA A young biologist who starts his career in sweltering rice fields shifts to the high Himalayas and becomes captivated by the rare cat that roams free there.

There was a low rumble from the opposite mountain. We rushed out to see the stream turn into a gray, turbid, frothy mass. The sound grew to a deafening roar; huge boulders began tumbling downward, crushing everything in their path, barely missing a farmer’s house—sheer natural force and violence grown from barely a streamlet just a few hours ago. I marveled at this spectacle of nature from my base camp deep inside Pin Valley National Park in northern India’s Trans Himalaya, the rain-shadow region of the main Himalaya. Rarely did this region receive such heavy monsoonal precipitation. The raging torrent was frightening but at the same time thrilling to behold. But then the clouds parted and the evening sun emerged, coloring the entire landscape in a golden tinge. I stepped outside, sat on a small earthen bench, and looked about in awe and wonder, sipping hot sweet tea spiced with ginger. One thousand feet above the Parahio River, the Phooma Ridge shimmered green with rain-washed grass, its side slopes a tangled mass of multicolored rocks. In the distance, farther downstream, the river danced wildly at the confluence with the Pin River. Upstream, Kalank Turbo Peak at 19,685 feet glistened white. Behind me a group of ten ibex females and their young nibbled fresh sprouts nonchalantly. “What a life,” I thought in contentment.

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Medium 9781607321934

GOBI MAGIC

Don Hunter University Press of Colorado ePub

D O N   H U N T E R

MONGOLIA As foretold, a journey to the desert delivers lively mental and physical stimulation . . . and a touch of magic.

Each journey to the unknown begins by leaving the known. The familiar. The comfortable. Such thoughts filled my mind as I worked through my checklist for a field project in Mongolia. The last two items brought back the uneasy feeling in my stomach: #62—photos of my wife and three small sons, from whom I would be away for several weeks. I culled pictures from family albums to a handful that made me smile and turned to #63: phone my family in Tennessee to check on my father. On my last visit a few months back, Alzheimer’s disease had stolen his memory of me. His condition had not changed; I was wished safe travels.

At leaving time, our little “ranch” swirled with mixed emotions. My sons, ages six, three, and one, sensed the change in the normal rhythm of a peaceful world. “Daddy, where is Mongolia?” Daddy, how long will you be gone?” “Daddy, we will miss you.” My wife Annie’s assurance that she and the boys would be fine didn’t assuage the heaviness on my heart. I was averaging one or two fieldtrips a year, having just returned from Pakistan a few months back. It seems everything in life comes with a price, even the good things. When I first began working internationally there were no kids; ten years later, my family owned my heart but competed with a rare cat for my time. When the kids came along, Annie and I agreed to a three-week limit on my trips, the minimum time to accomplish fieldwork but not the months some colleagues spend away from family. I wasn’t resentful, but, in fact, each trip became harder as I missed seeing my sons grow.

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Medium 9781607321934

TWO SNOW LEOPARDS, MY FATHER, AND ME

Don Hunter University Press of Colorado ePub

A L I   A B U T A L I P   D A H A S H O F

CHINA Much can change in a generation. A son admires his father’s heroic deed but finds a different path for himself.

Whenever people talk about snow leopards, I can’t help but think back to my childhood, to the story of my father and the two snow leopards he killed with his bare hands.

My father, Abutalip Dahashof, was born into a Kazak family in 1913 in the high Altai Mountain region near the place where the borders of Mongolia, Kazakhstan, and China come together. By today’s standards, his family of nine lived simply and was poor. During the late 1920s the local people who lived in the Altai region of Xinjiang engaged in resistance against nationalist forces. One day in 1926 a bomb exploded in the doorway of my father’s family’s house, killing everyone except my father and uncle. At thirteen and four, respectively, they had no choice but to begin a wandering life, making do for their livelihoods as best they could. Many Kazak families migrated westward, some as far as India, Pakistan, and Turkey. My father and uncle, however, traveled eastward to Gansu Province, where they learned to herd livestock for a meager living. Through the kind introduction of others, my father met and married my mother. But the three were so poor that they could claim but a single sheepskin and a woolen rug as possessions.

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Medium 9781607321934

EPIPHANY

Don Hunter University Press of Colorado ePub

K Y L E   M C   C A R T H Y

KYRGYZSTANA young boy’s destiny is revealed one cold winter night on a mountain in a distant land.

Here I stand, in the middle of a small photo booth somewhere in the streets of Bishkek, the capital city of Kyrgyzstan; in my hands is the culmination of two months worth of backbreaking effort—a washed-out photograph of a snow leopard. I think to myself, a decade ago the snow leopard tore my family to shreds. So why am I here? Why have I dragged my new wife with me to the middle of nowhere? To a diet of rotten goat meat and moldy potatoes, a toilet of curved ibex horns over a shallow hole, tea strained through teeth in a vain effort to remove glacial silt, torturous days of hiking, worthless camp gear, and the nearest hospital two days away on horseback followed by an eight-hour jeep ride. What could possibly have led me to this remote, harsh world? The answer lies in the path my life has taken since childhood, leading me to an unlikely kinship with a rare cat. This cat, the snow leopard, guided me through sorrow to an awakening love.

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Medium 9781607321934

LEGENDS OF ZANSKAR

Don Hunter University Press of Colorado ePub

R I N C H E N   W A N G C H U K

INDIA The snow leopard guides a native Ladakhi to safety and to a career in conservation.

Once upon a time, there were three friends: a snow leopard, an otter, and a house cat. One fine day, after playing among themselves, they decided to partake of a special meal. “I will hunt a fat ibex on the far slope,” said the snow leopard. The otter declared, “I will bring water from the river to quench our thirst.” “I will bring fire from the nearby village for cooking our delicious meal,” offered the house cat. Having decided so, the three went in separate directions. After much stalking, the snow leopard managed to kill a fat ibex. He then dragged the ibex carcass down the steep slope to the place where they were to meet. The otter, which had gone to fetch water from the river, came across a school of fish and became so absorbed chasing and playing with the fish that he forgot to return to the meeting spot. The house cat found the comforts of a house and stayed in the village relishing tasty butter and milk. The snow leopard waited and waited for his friends to return, then gave up and ate the ibex, leaving the spleen for the otter and the fat for the house cat. While the two friends never returned, to this day the snow leopard always leaves the spleen and fat of a kill for his friends, the otter and the house cat. So goes the legend from the Valley of Zanskar.

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Medium 9781607321934

FACE-TO-FACE WITH SHAN

Don Hunter University Press of Colorado ePub

J O S E P H   L.   F O X

INDIA After much searching, a professor from a Norway university finds himself face-to-face with a snow leopard.

She had been on a kill for the past two days. Though partially obscured by thick brush, we could see her feeding. On the dawning of the third day, crawling from my bitterly cold tent, I spotted her emerging from the brush. She climbed steadily up the sparsely vegetated walls of the gorge surrounding our camp. On an impulse, I grabbed my camera and decided to follow, knowing full well that pursuing a snow leopard on foot up a steep ridge was not likely to result in anything but exhaustion on my part. She went out of view about 500 yards ahead of me, straight up rocky terrain. Climbing as fast as I could in the lean air of 11,000 feet, I began to despair that this would be my last image of this magnificent cat.

Eager for another glimpse, I kept climbing in hopes that she would still be in sight. Just as I moved around the sharp ridgeline at a slight easing of the steep pitch, there she was, immediately in front of me, lying on a rocky ledge—not more than twenty yards away. Face-to-face, we stared at each other, neither moving as time slowed for what seemed like minutes but may have been only seconds. I was stunned to be so close, feeling no fear, just frozen in the presence of this apparition, this mystical cat I had spent months searching for. She lay there calmly on the rock, staring back with dark wary eyes, showing no sign of alarm. Motionless but still breathing heavily from the steep climb, my mind raked in the vision in front of me, my spirit buoyed by the gift of just being there. Finally, breathing more easily and with steadying hands, I raised my camera slowly and took a photo. She then rose gracefully and walked leisurely farther up the steep ridgeline; her long tail swept the air as she skirted a rocky promontory. I followed, desperate to stretch this magical, once-in-a-lifetime moment. She granted one more glimpse, one more fleeting picture as her luxuriant gray and off-white fur suddenly vanished into a wall of rock.

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Medium 9781607321934

THE SPIRIT OF BAGA BOGD

Don Hunter University Press of Colorado ePub

R O D N E Y   J A C K S O N

MONGOLIA In the middle of a difficult study, a renowned snow leopard biologist makes an unusual find in the desert.

I had no way of knowing, when I received the gift of a jaguar head carved from greenstone, just how potent a force lived within that small talisman. He was given to me by my friend Apela Colorado, an Iriquois tribeswoman who uses her doctorate in social policy to promote consensus and collaboration between Western and indigenous scientists, by networking with shamans across the globe.

The day I met Apela, she sized me up for a few moments, then said she had something to give me. As she lit a dry sprig of cedar, she began—in the indigenous way of passing on a gift of power—to tell this story:

Sheltered from the torpor of a Yucatan afternoon, I sat with Kin, a Mayan Jaguar shaman who had carved the amulet. Kin was barefoot and dressed in the traditional white tunic of a tribal elder. Wanting to bridge the language challenges, I opened my laptop to a photo of a snow leopard, tail held high, walking across a flat snowy patch. I told Kin about the traditional sacredness and the modern-day perils the cat faces. “This amulet will go to someone protecting the snow leopard,” I said, then asked Kin to pray for this person and for the cat. The old man leaned into the computer screen and looked as if to merge with the being on the screen. He stayed this way for several minutes, then leaned back slightly. Holding the amulet between his hands, Kin voiced a soft Mayan incantation. For a moment the surrounding jungle grew silent. Then he opened his hands, smiled, and placed the amulet in my hands.

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Medium 9781607321934

ON MEETING A SNOW LEOPARD

Don Hunter University Press of Colorado ePub

G E O R G E   B.   S C H A L L E R

PAKISTAN A renowned biologist vividly describes his first encounter with a snow leopard and the lofty world it inhabits.

Whenever I walk through the Bronx Zoo, I like to halt in front of the snow leopards. Their luxuriant smoke-gray coats sprinkled with black rosettes convey an image of snowy wastes, and their pale, frosty eyes remind me of immense solitudes. For a moment the city vanishes and I am back in the Hindu Kush, the home of these magnificent cats.

The December cold gripped the valley as soon as the feeble sun disappeared behind the ridge. The slopes and peaks above an altitude of 11,000 feet were snow-covered, and a bank of clouds along the distant summits suggested that soon so would be the valleys. I hurried down the trail along the edge of a boulder-strewn stream until the valley widened. There I stopped and with my binoculars scanned the steep slope ahead, moving upward past the scree and outcrops, past scattered oak trees and stands of pine, to a cliff over a thousand feet above me. A female snow leopard lay on the crest of a spur, her chin resting on a forepaw, her pelage blending into the rocks so well that she seemed almost a part of them. Several jungle crows sat in a nearby tree, and a Himalayan griffon vulture wheeled overhead, intent, I knew, on the carcass of a domestic goat the leopard was guarding.

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Medium 9781607321934

AN ACCORD OF HOPE

Don Hunter University Press of Colorado ePub

A V A A N T S E R E N   B A Y A R J A R G A L

MONGOLIA This teacher-cum–snow leopard conservationist shares her experiences in changing the attitudes of local people who share the world of the snow leopard.

I began my career as a language teacher in the northern province of Mongolia called Khuvsgul, never imagining that someday I would become deeply connected to the snow leopard. My lucky break came out of the blue when I was asked to translate for a research team from the United States that was just beginning a study of snow leopards in the Gobi Altai, Mongolia. This chance opportunity opened a new career that allowed me to involve local people in an innovative conservation scheme to protect the snow leopards of my country. In ten years of active conservation work, I’ve never seen a snow leopard in the wild, yet my heart beats a closeness with this rare cat.

Part of my new job was to translate the responses of local herders interviewed by the snow leopard research team. The attitudes of local people toward this natural predator dominated the interviews. There were no snow leopards where I grew up in northern Mongolia, so the responses both educated and touched me. After hundreds of interviews, some common themes surfaced: most herding families subsisted on less than one dollar per day and the snow leopards menaced their lives, killing precious livestock. Local people often trapped and killed them as a consequence.

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Medium 9781607321934

WINTER AT CHÖRTEN NYIMA

Don Hunter University Press of Colorado ePub

D A R L A   H I L L A R D

SIKKIM, NEPAL, TIBET At a sacred pilgrimage site, winter grants a young Buddhist nun a reprieve from the changes in her world as growing blindness deepens a spirit-filled life.

In today’s world, Chörten Nyima (Sun Shrine) lies at the place where the borders of Sikkim, Nepal, and Tibet come together. But the known history of this major Tibetan power place goes back thirteen centuries, to the time when miraculous deities carried precious relics from India on a ray of sun and deposited them at the site of Chörten Nyima. Sacred phenomena abound here: a crystal that came on the ray, medicinal springs, and an oracle lake that can foretell the future to those with a particularly pure mind.

Conversely, a pilgrimage to Chörten Nyima, and a bath in the oracle lake’s freezing waters, is said to wash away defilement and sin.

The remarkable explorer Alexandra David-Neel visited the monastery in the early 1900s and wrote about the four nuns she found in residence: “Numerous examples of strange contrasts are to be seen in Tibet, but what astonished me was the tranquil courage of the womenfolk. Very few Western women would dare to live in the desert, in groups of four or five or sometimes quite alone. Few would dare . . . to undertake journeys that last for months or even years, through solitary mountain regions infested by wild beasts and brigands. This shows the singular character of Tibetan women.” David-Neel could have been describing herself.

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