By Luke Kenton
This elusive snow leopard proves to be very difficult to SPOT, as it showcases its mastery of camouflage while stealthily sneaking up on unsuspecting prey.
In Ladakh, India, veteran wildlife photographer Inger Vandyke captured what at first appears to be a regular photo of a herd of blue sheep, nonchalantly gathering on the side of a rocky slope.
But a closer look reveals a different image all together.
Lauded for their mastery of disguise, one hungry snow leopard can actually be seen lurking behind the oblivious herd, biding its time and waiting for the optimum time to strike.
Virtually invisible in the center of the shot, the lonesome male leopard can just about be seen peering from behind a collection of rocks and shrubbery: a scene that would even give ‘Where’s Wally’ a run for its money.
Inger, the general manager of Wild Images UK, who spent several days following the fleeting feline in February, said: “When I look at this image, I often find myself wondering how many leopards we must have walked past in the field and never actually saw.
“They truly are masters of camouflage.
“Snow leopards, by their very nature, are ambush hunters and this image really encapsulates how well they can hide while they wait for prey to come their way.
“Despite how well they manage to blend themselves in, eight out of 10 snow leopard hunts will end in failure, simply because the Himalayas is a very difficult terrain to live in.”
This hunt, Inger said, did end in failure, with the prey running away from the charging leopard – a series the photographer was also able to capture.
Inger added: “As the apex predator of the area they live in, they have to be so careful not to get injured on a hunt, if they do get injured they can soon die.
“Believe it or not prey species such as blue sheep are all very acutely aware of snow leopards lurking in their area.
“If they make warning signs like stamping their hooves or whistling, you know one is nearby – you just have to find it.
“The leopard had already tried to sneak up on a different herd of blue sheep once before, but after awaking from his sleeping spot on a better slope for hiding out, this was his second unsuccessful attempt.
“The leopard’s face is also quite disheveled which would usually mean an injury from a previous hunt.
“But these injuries were actually sustained after engaging in rough intercourse with a dominant female.
“With the weather ranging between -10C and -25C, you have to withstand some unbearable conditions, which all makes for a very tough expedition.
“I honestly had zero expectations of actually seeing any snow leopards, let alone one that was hunting.
“Thankfully, I was just very, very lucky.”
To keep up to date with Inger’s latest work, please visit: http://ingervandyke.com/