Chasing the elusive snow leopard
Squamish resident set to share story of his 30-year search for Asian ‘phantom’
Squamish resident Ed Fischer pauses during an acclimitization hike in May of 2010. Behind Ed are some of the typically upturned stratifications of the Stok Range; this was once an ancient seabed that was pushed up in front of the Himalayas as the Indian subcontinent collided with Asia 70 million years ago.
April 8, 2011
The snow leopard is known throughout the animal kingdom as a secretive animal.
The large cat is native to the mountain ranges of South and Central Asia and lives a highly solitary life. Because of the animal’s secretive nature and ability to remain well camouflaged, human interaction has been extremely limited.
The animal’s lifestyle is part of what attracted Squamish resident Ed Fischer to the majestic beast. For close to 30 years, he made it a life goal to spot a snow leopard in its natural habitat, and he will be showing his findings to anyone interested at the Squamish Adventure Centre theatre on April 20 with his “Chasing the Phantom” slideshow.
“I read Peter Matthiessen’s book, The Snow Leopard and was really inspired by it,” he said. “So back in 1985 I sort of went on a self-discovery voyage and spent the better part of the year looking for wild snow leopards in the Ladakh area in India.”
Despite a few close calls, Fischer ultimately was unsuccessful in his goal to see a snow leopard in the wild back in 1985.
“I did see a still-steaming carcass of a Dall sheep when I was 17,000 feet up and it probably was a snow leopard’s kill, but it was nowhere to be seen,” he said. “That was the closest I ever got back then and for the next 20-year period, I was so busy with business that I had no time to go back. But recently I had some free time and decided I’m going to go back and look for the cats.”
It wasn’t until the fall of 2009 that Fischer returned to the region, but he admitted that the desire to spot a snow leopard in the wild never really left.
“I really relate to the snow leopard as an animal,” he said. “It’s really a soloist of an animal and that’s part of the reason why I decided to try and spot it all on my own. The usual way with normal tourists is you find a guide and he leads you. That’s not really my nature to do something like that.”
For the next two months, Fischer searched for the snow leopard. Typically, he would look for tracks or scat that the cats left behind and try to figure out what the animal’s next move would have been. Again, he had several close calls but seemed to be just missing the creatures.
“One day I found some fresh tracks and it appeared the animal was running away,” he said. “It got away and while I was trying to track it, down came 25 centimetres of fresh snow, covering up the tracks. It was cold, I was exhausted and my feet were swollen, so I called it a day.”
Fischer said it seemed as though the leopards were toying with him at one point during the trip.
“I remember looking at my own tracks one morning and seeing the tracks of a snow leopard inside my own boot print,” he said. “It was almost like they were mocking me.”
He returned to Squamish at the end of November 2009, still not having seen an elusive snow leopard. However, he returned the following spring, with his wife Helen Habgood.
“She’s full of spirit and adventure,” he said of his wife. “She would have gone with me before, but she’s a partner in her own business and can be very busy. I figured that she would be good to bring along because she’s very observant and is able to find things around the house all the time when I can’t.”
After a few unsuccessful weeks, the duo finally achieved their goal, spotting an entire family of snow leopards.
“When we finally did see them, we were only the third party to pass through that particular area for years,” he said. “It was totally unspoiled land and it was so ironic to see a family after everything I’ve read that they are solo animals. We talked to the locals and they told us how rare it was to see a family. We were both pretty amazed.”
Fischer is also working on a book about his travels searching for the snow leopard and is about one quarter done. He said he’s not sure when the book will be released but admitted the final product is a ways off.
The slideshow is about 90 minutes long and Fischer said that if ticket sales continue at the steady pace they’re going at, he may add a second show that evening. The first scheduled show takes place April 20 at 7:30 p.m. at the Squamish Adventure Centre theatre. Tickets are $6 and can be purchased in advance at the Adventure Centre box office. As of press time only 15 remained.
For more information and a preview of Fischer’s upcoming book, visit his website at www.chasingthephantom.com.