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Tien Shen and the Journey to find a Snow Leopard

Stephen Sparrow on horse back in the Serychat

Tien Shen and the Journey to find a Snow Leopard

Our Founder Stephen Sparrow recently undertook an incredible journey by horseback into the Tien Shen mountains, in search of the elusive snow leopard. Not his first journey into the wilds of snow leopard territory, he is now a seasoned explorer. Stephen always has one goal in mind; to learn about snow leopard habits and behaviours and how better to protect them in the wild. 


His biggest desire, of course, is to spot a snow leopard in the flesh once again, something only a handful of people have ever had the privilege of encountering in the wild.


In his own words, you can read about his epic adventure in Kyrgyzstan. Over to you Stephen: 


“I have recently returned from the Tien Shen mountains where Kuban (the Kyrgyzstan head of the Snow Leopard Trust), three park rangers and I spent 7 days on horseback siting and installing 40 camera traps to monitor the local snow leopard population and to help catch poachers. Travel by horseback is the only option in order to access the Serychat protected area we were headed. We travelled between 20-35 kilometres each day. On the way we encountered cold nights, snow and rain but we succeeded in our quest to install all 40 cameras and even found one which had been missing for 12 months!


I kept a video diary of my journey which you can view on Instagram @SnowLeopardStephen.


Day One: Arrival in Tien Shen

After a long journey and with many delays, I made it to Kyrgyzstan and to the beautiful Tien Shen mountain range, ready to search out snow leopard territory. Exhausted but happy, I spent the night at the Ranger Station in the buffer zone close to where we would enter the protected reserve at the start of our journey. 


Day Two: Preparing the cameras

We spent the day getting all the equipment ready for the journey, most importantly making sure we had 40 working cameras. With 300 square kilometres to cover in 10 days, over unforgiving terrain, we had a big job ahead of us.



Day Three: Installing a camera trap

On day three we installed a camera trap in a snowy gulley, looking up we could see several male Ibex watching us from the crag.


Day 4: Finding fresh spoor

A positive sign on day 4, when we tracked and located Snow Leopard spoor. The cats scent marks the rocks in their territory and it seems that from the freshness of the spoor, we couldn’t have been far behind them.


Day 5: Retrieving damaged equipment

On day 5, incredibly, whilst inspecting the bottom of river canyon, we stumbled across a camera which had been lost for 12 months. Not only was the camera still working (after 6 months frozen in ice and 6 months at the bottom of the river) but it had recorded a beautiful and healthy snow leopard and then a rather large brown bear who'd decided it didn't fancy being photographed and had thrown the camera down the river canyon!


Day 6: Another river crossing

The territory was hard and the journey arduous. We experienced some cold, cold weather – rain and snow! By this point I was looking forward to getting the last cameras installed and heading back to base camp. 



Day 7: Our last day in the Serychat

We installed our last camera in the rain before beginning our journey back to the Ranger Station.


Day 8: A Ranger’s supper

I enjoyed a well-deserved hot and hearty meal cooked by the rangers. Just what I needed after 7 hours in the saddle and 3 river crossings! Nothing like wilderness camping to help you appreciate a good meal.


Day 10: Job Done

Well, I made it to day ten! Forty cameras successfully set up and ready to monitor and before I knew it, it was time for me to say goodbye once more and head home until next time.”


Thanks for reading. If you want to take part in the action to help protect and conserve snow leopards, visit The Snow Leopard Trust to find out how.


What’s your greatest adventure? Tell us using #RareCharacter



Snow Leopard Vodka is perfect for a classic martini, served on the rocks and in premium cocktails.

Snow Leopard Trust

The Snow Leopard Trust is the world's largest organization in the study and protection of the endangered Snow Leopard. 15% of all our profits go directly to the Trust to help them on their mission.

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