In February of this year, researchers working in Pakistan's Karakoram Mountains captured "exceptionally rare footage" of a male snow leopard marking his territory and calling loudly across a snow-covered landscape. These secretive cats share their remote, mountainous homes with only a small number of human inhabitants, and the reverberating yawp is a sound few people have heard in the wild.

The remarkable video, released last week by The White Lion Foundation (TWLF), was captured using a specialist remote field camera strategically placed along a nature trail in the Khaplu Valley of Baltistan in the Himalayas. The high-definition cameras have been set up in the area to monitor the wild snow leopard population and assess how many of these "grey ghosts" are hiding out in the lofty landscape.

"It is extremely unusual and special to be able to get such clear footage of a snow leopard vocalising in the wild” said Dr John Knight of TWLF. "The adult male is exercising his vocal calls to establish territory and to let females know he is in the area."

With an estimated 4,000 to 7,500 snow leopards left in the wild, these elusive felines are among the world's most endangered big cats. They are also some of the least understood. Snow leopards usually reside at elevations between 9,800 and 17,000 feet and their solitary, secretive nature makes them very difficult to study. Remote camera traps and AI are helping to better understand the ecology of the stealthy cats – a vital step towards implementing effective conservation plans to reduce poaching and human-leopard conflict. 

"Being able to track the leopard population in this region provides valuable data on numbers, habitat and behaviour, in very remote and hard-to-access areas," TWLF explained in a press release. "This enables greater understanding and hence protection for the animals."

Many of the cats are killed by farmers in retaliation for livestock losses which is why TWLF works in conjunction with local villages and the Baltistan Wildlife Conservation and Development Organisation (BWCDO) to help put measures in place to reduce clashes between leopards and people. Predator-resistant corrals have already proven effective in keeping livestock safe from opportunistic leopards.

"In these challenging times, it lifts our collective spirits to see such unique and wonderful footage of the forever-beautiful snow leopard," said TWLF’s Director Shirley Galligan. "Our charity is working very hard to make sure these exquisite creatures are able to continue living in freedom, in the Karakoram mountains for many generations to come."

Spot the snow leopard-2015-8-30

Top header image: Mark Dumont, Flickr