Snow leopards have an amazing ability to blend into their surroundings with their natural camouflage, which makes them some of the fiercest predators on the planet.
They called the “grey ghosts of the Himalayas” because it’s nearly impossible to see them against the grey stone and landscape in which they thrive, as you’ll see in the photos.
Photographer Adam Riley captured the moment one of these magnificent animals moved in for a kill while he was taking people on a tour through India’s largest national park called Hemis.
The sequence of photos shows the leopard stalking a blue sheep, inching closer to the animal before finally making his move and ripping the sheep’s throat out.
In the first photo you can see the lone feline patiently eyeing its next meal, three sheep who had been separated from the rest of their herd.
Then the cat makes its move, and gravel and dust explode from its feet as it pounces on one of the sheep that tried to make a run for it. It leaped 50 meters from its hideout, chasing the sheep up and down the steep and jagged slope.
The sheep didn’t stand a chance against the hungry predator and its fate was basically sealed. Just like that the leopard had its teeth sunken into the sheep’s throat and it was over.
Riley believes his photos to be the first ever of a snow leopard making a kill.
“I have worked with big cats most of my career and having led the tours I know how elusive snow leopards can be,” he said in an interview.
“But I have never managed to photograph a snow leopard before, let alone a kill, so it was really exciting for me personally.”
He said that his tour group was rather excited to have seen the beast, especially in such an awe-inspiring act. “There were high fives, hugs, and huge smiles,” he said.
“We use an extremely experienced team on our tours, but that doesn’t guarantee anything and I felt enormous pressure to help locate this almost mythical creature.”
There’s only around 7,000 snow leopards that are surviving in the wild which has gotten them placed on the endangered species list by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Their rarity and elusive nature has made them sort of a “holy grail” for wildlife photographers who have tried before to capture them on the hunt, making Riley extra excited about his feat.
“I love these moments,” he said. “Looking for wildlife is like going to the greatest theater on earth where you really have no idea what you might experience.”