With their thick white-gray fur and black rings, snow leopards are often hard to see against the rugged mountains that they call home. However, a team of photographers that included Mike Birkhead, has managed to capture amazing footage of this elusive cat walking away unscathed, after tumbling off a steep cliff.
The film, shot in an undisclosed location in June 2017, shows the wild cat pacing along the edge of a mountain, when it suddenly loses its footing and falls from what appears to be a great height. While most animals would have not survived the impact, the leopard did not appear to be hurt. Birkhead, who posted the video on his Facebook page, says, "No one had seen anything like it. We watched [the leopard] for another 20 minutes as it walked across a snow face and then disappeared into a cave."
Experts are not sure how often the agile cats miss their footing. Officials at the Snow Leopard Conservancy say, “The snow leopard is an elusive species, very hard to find, very hard to film. To our knowledge there are no recorded statistics about frequency of falls. However, logic would say that they probably do fall from time to time, given the ruggedness of the environment."
Native to the mountain ranges of Central and South Asia, snow leopards are solitary animals. The stealthy predators, which usually hunt at dawn and dusk, can kill animals up to three times their size and usually prey on herbivores like the bharal, or Himalayan blue sheep, Argali sheep and the Alpine ibex. Their short front limbs and longer hind ones allow the strong creatures to cover a distance of up to 30 feet (10-meters) in a single leap, while their long tail helps them balance in the rough, steep terrain.
The magnificent animals, which have been on the endangered species list since 1972 were recently upgraded to the slightly better vulnerable status, by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). However, Dr. Tom McCarthy, one of five experts who helped the organization decide on the change, says “[that] does not mean that snow leopards are 'safe' or that now is a time to celebrate. The species still faces 'a high risk of extinction in the wild', and is likely still declining - just not at the rate previously thought."