Feedback from visiting wildlife watching tourists:
So happy to receive the testimonial below from Magda Niedużak who visited the Valley of the Cats with her husband, Olek, for their first wedding anniversary.
“Since I was a teenager it has been my dream to see a snow leopard in the wild. 1.5 years ago I came across a series of photographs of wild snow leopards taken in China. Those online photos led me to Terry Townshend and the Valley of the Cats. It was to my greatest delight when I learnt that it was actually possible to visit the Valley as part of a special eco-tourism pilot project developed by a local NGO, ShanShui, and try our luck at finding a snow leopard in the wild. Thanks to the never-ending patience of Terry and his many invaluable tips, almost 1.5 years later my husband and I boarded a plane to Yushu to begin our adventure of a lifetime (and celebrate our first wedding anniversary).
In the Valley of the Cats we were hosted by the lovely family of Anga, a local yak herder. Their home is located near a stunning viewpoint onto the Lancang (i.e. upper half of Mekong) River Canyon, with snow leopards regularly spotted on a nearby mountain right behind their house. In fact, during our stay there, Anga’s neighbours have seen a snow leopard there twice! We spent six days with Anga’s family, including four full days looking for the snow leopard with Anga’s son Tashi and Tashi’s cousin, Dongwen. We drove around the Valley in their 4×4 Hyundai to cover the best snow leopard spotting locations, splitting our time between driving and sitting still for hours, glued to our binoculars and a spotting scope, waiting for the cat to appear. Every single place we visited was absolutely stunning and the diversity of landscapes was unbelievable – from red-rock Mekong river canyons, to snow-capped peaks in the distance, to green rolling yak pastures, to high-altitude meadows in full bloom.
After nearly three days of not finding “sa” – as Tibetans call this elusive creature – we were starting to worry if we’ll ever see one. Of course, it is a wild animal, a sighting can never be guaranteed, and we prepared ourselves mentally that we might not see it in the end. However, deep inside, we all really believed that we will find our snow leopard before my husband and I leave the Valley. It could be anywhere, really, and it could have been looking at us at every single spot we visited… We just have to find it!
In late afternoon of our penultimate day we drove to a yet another scenic spot and as soon as we arrived and climbed a small hill above the road, there it was! Dongwen spotted an adult snow leopard walking along the ridge of a grassy meadow, a few hundred meters in front of our eyes! I was so excited that I couldn’t believe my eyes – in fact, the excitement was so high that I don’t remember a few seconds of that moment at all! To make things even better, few moments later we spotted a small herd of blue sheep crossing the same ridge and walking towards the cat without realising it! So there we were, about to witness a snow leopard’s hunt in the wild with our own eyes!
The leopard crouched very low on the ground, hiding on a narrow, rocky path near the ridge, camouflaging itself perfectly in the browns and grays of the terrain. In a matter of seconds, the biggest blue sheep from the herd was leading the group down the ridge onto the grassy meadow when the snow leopard sprinted down to chase it. The cat missed its prey by mere centimetres as our very blurry photos proved! It was a truly unbelievable sight and a shame for the snow leopard and us. If the hunt had been successful, we would have been able to observe the cat for hours! Nevertheless, the snow leopard didn’t disappoint and stayed with us for nearly 2 hours (!), walking along the grassy meadows in front of us, every now and then walking across the ridge to the other side of the mountain or hiding behind rock formations. During that time, we spotted yet another herd of blue sheep and a few marmots, which were all alarmed by the presence of the snow leopard. Nearly 2 hours later, the cat tried to hunt another blue sheep before finally disappearing for good on the other side of the ridge…
Seeing that mysterious, extremely rare, and threatened cat in the wild was by far the best wildlife encounter we could have ever dreamt of! Being able to share that moment with our guides Tashi and Dongwen and seeing their own excitement and passion was really fantastic, making it clear how valuable this animal is to the local communities in the Valley of the Cats. Not only seeing the snow leopard, but also discovering the natural beauty of the Valley, spotting many other rare animals and birds, and spending six wonderful days with Anga’s family were truly unforgettable. On top of this, going on such an adventure as part of an eco-tourism programme that provides local communities with additional livelihoods while also supporting snow leopard conservation is a fantastic bonus.
All in all, we strongly recommend travelling to the Valley of the Cats! There is no better way of spending holidays than looking for sa while also contributing to the conservation of this magnificent species and to supporting more stable local livelihoods.”
Magda and Olek, September 2019 (travelled to the Valley of the Cats in July 2019)
Thank you, Magda and Olek! We hope you will return… you’ll always be welcome!
We’ve just received a wonderful write-up and photo from Joyce Li, aged 12, whose dream was to see a Snow Leopard. In October her dream came true in the Valley of the Cats and she writes about her experience:
12岁Joyce Li寄来了一封优美的信并附上了照片，她的愿望之一就是能一睹雪豹的真容。去年10月， 她的这个愿望在大猫谷实现了， 以下是她写下的这次经历：
The First Encounter
“In October 2018, I went to Angsai (Namsei) along with my parents, to look for the elusive snow leopard. This is a simple recount of my first encounter with this mysterious big cat.
On the second day of our trip, we woke up at 6:00 am, washed, downed some porridge, and we were off. It was snowing outside, with hares popping up in front of our car lights. They froze whenever we passed, too terrified to move.
About an hour had passed, and the sky had lightened up, and rays of sunlight peeked through the mountains. The snow blanketed the slopes and we searched them for any sign of a big cat. We even asked a local if he’d spotted one. He said that he had seen a carcass of a dead sheep around here, killed by a predator, and we continued searching. We came across quite a few herds of blue sheep and white-lipped deer, but no snow leopard. We decided to move to a new location. Suddenly, Yixi, our guide, started running up the slopes, and we followed him, scrambling up the mountainside. When he stopped, we caught up to him, Yixi said that he thought he had spotted a large animal feeding off a dead sheep. We were buzzing with excitement. But it was only a large dog, picking off the scrap bits of meat.
约莫一小时后， 天逐渐亮了起来，阳光的光束从山顶射出。山坡上铺满了白雪，我们仔细的在山坡上搜寻着雪豹的痕迹。 我们也问了一位当地人是否有见过雪豹， 他说在附近见到过一只被猎食者杀死的羊的尸体，于是我们搜寻。我们又见到好几群岩羊和一些白唇鹿，但还是没有雪豹的踪影，我们决定去下一个地方寻找。突然，我们的向导义西开始往山坡上跑，我们赶紧跟上他，沿着山坡蹒跚地往上爬。终于在义西停下的时候，我们追上了他，义西说他觉得他看到了一只大型的动物从羊的尸体旁跑开。我们都激动坏了。 结果那只是一只狗在捡尸体上的肉吃。
With no more signs of anything interesting, we decided to stop by Yixi’s cousin’s and have a nice cup of tea. After resting up, we went looking for the snow leopard again, and asked Yixi’s cousin for some help on the walkie talkie. Yixi drove us along the dirt road again, and I fell asleep.
I was already awake when mom called, and still deciding whether to snooze for a few minutes more, but when I heard the words “snow leopard”, all thought of another nap disappeared. Yixi came rushing back to us (he was out searching for snow leopards while we rested in the car) and told us that his cousin had spotted one across the valley. We sped along the small dirt road to the spot where the snow leopard was last found. We raced up the mountain, panting and out of breath, and threw our equipment down. It took a LOT of searching for us to spot the snow leopard, it was so well camouflaged on the rocks, with its grey and white pelt.
我被妈妈叫醒过来， 正想着要不要再睡一觉的时候， 我听到有人喊了一声“雪豹”，顿时睡意全无。义西极速地向我们跑过来（他之前让我们在车里休息，自己下车去搜寻雪豹了）告诉我们他的堂兄弟在山谷里看见一只雪豹。我们赶紧一路小跑，向着雪豹最后被看见的地方赶去。我们奔上山坡，上气不接下气， 器材也顾不上了。费了很大功夫搜寻，我们才找到了雪豹， 它灰白的毛色完美的将自己和岩石融为了一体。
The snow leopard seemed quite lazy and full, because when a herd of blue sheep came by, it made no move to hunt, instead lounging on a rock. A few minutes later of cameras clicking and admiring the big cat, the King of the Snow Mountains decided to take a little nap, and disappeared behind the rocks. We waited for another hour, and the sky had turned dark. It didn’t reappear, so we went home too, to a warm dinner.”
这只雪豹看上去吃的很饱，懒洋洋的，因为当一群岩羊正好经过的时候， 它动也不动，丝毫不想捕猎，只是懒懒的趴在石头上。大家的相机快门不停的闪着，欣赏着这只大猫，几分钟后，这位雪山之王决定打个小盹，消失在了岩石的后面。我们又等了1个小时， 天也黑了，雪豹也没有再出现，我们便回家了，去享用温暖的晚餐“
The Second Encounter
“It was our third day in Namsei, and we were up in the mountains, searching again for the mysterious snow leopard. We parked outside Yixi’s cousin’s house, watching them milk their yak and collecting their dung for fueling fires. Someone had spotted a red fox up the mountain, and we rushed to see. We were snapping away at the little creature, until Yixi yelled “Sa!” which means snow leopard in Tibetan. The poor fox was suddenly not the center of attention anymore. We scrambled to follow Yixi, and set up our equipment. There were two of them! They were a little far away, but we could see their big furry heads poking up. Sometimes a fluffy tail would appear and wave around. An hour later, they went down the mountain to somewhere we couldn’t see. We tried searching for them again, but with no success.
“那是在昂赛的第三天， 我们又上了山，去寻找神秘的雪豹。我们把车停在了义西堂兄弟的家， 看他们挤牦牛奶，捡用于烧火的牛粪。有人在山上看见了赤狐，我们赶紧跟了上去。正当我们被这个小家伙分散了注意力的时候， 义西大喊了一声“sa！”，也就是藏语中的雪豹，再也没人紧盯着赤狐看了。 我们踉跄地跟着义西，架好了摄影器材。这次一共有两只雪豹！它们离我们有一点远，但我们能看见它们探出毛绒绒的脑袋，有时候是一条大尾巴，晃动着。 一小时后， 它们沿着山坡往下走， 我们再看不见它们了。又搜寻了一会，也无果。
We moved to a new part of the valley, and waited an entire four hours for a snow leopard to appear. No luck. Not even when we spotted three herds of blue sheep, the snow leopard’s favorite snack. So after a while, we just started to eat snacks and not really bother looking. About twenty minutes later of infinite boredom and listening to dad’s observations of blue sheep and their horns and markings, Mr. Puma, a local guide for another group (we call him because he was wearing a puma jacket), drove up the little dirt road (you could hardly call it a road, path more like it), and shouted that the two snow leopard siblings we saw in the morning were spotted again, on the same mountain, but this time closer.
我们去了山谷的另一个位置， 在那等了整整4个小时，看见了3群雪豹最喜欢的食物-岩羊，却没有看见雪豹。于是我们吃起了零食，也懒得再去搜寻了。大概20分钟无聊的等待和听我爸爸描述那些岩羊的角和标记后，另一个团队的当地向导Puma先生（因为他穿了一件Puma的外套）开车过来（那条泥巴路称为小道还合适点），喊道我们早上看见的那两只雪豹又出现了，还在早上那个山谷里， 不过这次更近了。
We descended the slopes as fast as we could, trying not to let large piles of yak manure get in our way, and scrambled in to our car.
When we arrived, there seemed to be nothing in sight, but two little ears gave the snow leopards’ hiding place away. The two siblings were having a very nice afternoon snooze. We waited, and waited, and waited for them to stir. A while later, a big furry paw raised, and playfully cuffed it’s sibling on the head. A few seconds later, the paw disappeared. When it reappeared again, this time a paw and one of the snow leopard’s heads, it was to very excited rapid clicking from our cameras. Soon after they’d woken up, the snow leopards were play fighting. They also sprayed and rubbed rocks to make what we guessed were border marks. We captured photos and videos of them digging holes, then pooping in them, which was also a form of marking their territory, as we later learned.
我们赶到时，那里看上去似乎什么也没有， 但雪豹的两只耳朵却出卖了它们的藏身之处。这两个同胞兄弟正舒服的午睡着。我们等啊等，盼着它们醒来。过了好一阵子，一只毛绒绒的大爪子抬起来了，玩耍似的拍在了它同胞的头上。几秒钟后，爪子消失了， 当它再次出现时，一只雪豹的脑袋也出现在了视野里，大家的相机快门又疯狂的闪起来。 两只雪豹醒来后开始嬉戏打闹。它们还在石头上摩擦和喷射尿液留下标记，我们猜测这可能是它们领地的边界位置。 我们还拍到了它们挖洞并在洞里排便，后来了解到，这也是它们标记领地的一种方式。
It was getting dark, and all too soon, we had to go. Apparently the snow leopards agreed, because they climbed back to their hiding spot. It had been an amazing day, and I was literally dancing on the rocks.
After dinner, we visited the Research Station to meet a volunteer who’s coming here today, who has lived in Qinghai for a year, studying wildlife and their behavior. When we told the researchers we had seen two young snow leopards, they wowed and congratulated us. I asked the volunteer some questions on snow leopard behavior, and she confirmed that the snow leopards were indeed marking their territory by pooping and spraying. We also learned that young snow leopard siblings, no matter what gender they are, can stay together for a few months after becoming independent from their mother. I had once thought that only females will stay together, because males will be aggressive towards each other, as adult males often are.
Another amazing and fruitful day in the Valley of Cats!”
March 10th, 2019
“Our time in Valley of the Cats far surpassed even my highest expectations; a breathtakingly rugged and awe-inspiring landscape where man and beast not only co-exist but thrive. The success of the community project is testament to this harmonious relationship and respect for the environment. And the icing on the cake, well our very own Snow Leopard sighting of course, not to mention some superb encounters with Wolves, a Eurasian Lynx and a plethora of other mammals and birds. A naturalists paradise.
An exemplary community-based ecotourism and conservation project.”
Dan Brown, UK
“The Valley of the Cats is an absolutely amazing place to visit: stunning, varied scenery in every direction; an abundance of mammals (herds of Blue Sheep [we counted up to 120 at one spot] and magnificent White-lipped Deer [the largest herd we saw was c. 80 individuals!], chubby Himalayan Marmots, adorable Glover’s Pikas, Red Foxes, Wolves and – most importantly – very good chances of seeing Snow Leopard!) and some very special birds (e.g. the stunning Lammergeier is common!); and wonderful, hospitable local host families. I’m already longing to return!”
Professor Per Alström, Sweden
The reaction of Professor Per Alström after seeing, and videoing, a Snow Leopard in the Valley of the Cats.
“100% adventure-packed mammal and birding site! Truly unforgettable stunning scenery and a cultural experience that should be on every keen birder’s bucketlist!”
Irene Dy, Philippines
“As a professional animal illustrator, I had the pleasure of traveling to your area of the National Park and I was very impressed by the variety of wildlife and the beauty of these landscapes. But also meet your team from your NGO, and see the actions you take for the environment in collaboration with the breeders of the region: a very good example of collaboration and harmonious life with the great fauna! I take beautiful lessons of life and relationships to the wilderness!”
Yves Fagniart, Wildlife watercolor artist, Belgium
Yves Fagniart, 野生动物水彩画家, 比利时
“The experience of staying with the local and very friendly yak herder families, way off the beaten track, while enjoying world-class scenery and unique wildlife is one of the most memorable of my life. The fact that I spotted a Snow Leopard slowly making its way up a snowy ridge one morning (from the homestay!) and found a completely new breeding area for Koslov’s (Tibetan) Bunting just shows what is possible in a few days in this wonderful corner of the planet.”
Jocko Hammar, Sweden
Jocko Hammar, 瑞典
Jocko Hammar and Chris Campion shortly after seeing their first Snow Leopard in The Valley of the Cats.
写于Jocko Hammer 和 Chris Campion 第一次在“大猫谷”看到雪豹不久之后
“Few places remain where you get a sense of intact nature. A strong presence of apex predators, such as the Snow Leopard, is a sign of a healthy ecosystem. And this place is not just a wildlife experience – the people, the landscape and the wildlife made a lasting impression on me. What a privilege it was to experience The Valley of the Cats.” – Tormod Amundsen, Biotope
“只有少数地方能让你感受到纯净的大自然。雪豹等顶级食肉兽的大量存在是生态系统健康的标志。在这个地方，我不仅仅获得了野生动物的观察体验。这里的人民、风光和野生动物都让我记忆深刻。能体会“大猫谷”的美丽是多么的荣幸！” — Tormod Amundsen, Biotope