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The snow leopard is an elusive and shy animal. Though not often seen it is very much present in many areas of Spiti. It is does not rival the common leopard or the tiger in size but with its thick, pale, spotted, greyish-fawn coat and its very long tail it has a ghostly grace all of its own. It keeps to the high mountains all through the winter. In Spiti’s high places its main prey are the blue sheep and the ibex. It has not been known to attack people but will prey on unguarded domestic livestock. Spiti people, being Buddhists, generally respect the lives of other creatures, one factor in the snow leopard’s survival in Spiti.
Are blue sheep sheep? Or are they more closely related to goats? They have some qualities of both types of animals. Are blue sheep blue? Some see a blue sheen on the coats of older animals. Certainly the colour of their coats blends well with the rocky cliffs that are their place of refuge. Their handsome coats must also be of the warmest since they are happy feeding on Spiti’s highest pastures and scattered bushes. Hunting them is illegal in Spiti. Emboldened, they may sometimes encroach on the village crops to the exasperation of the poor farmer. In turn they are an important item in the snow leopard’s diet.
Ibex are sure-footed goats that love the high mountains and so are at home in Spiti, in steep places with the sparsest vegetation. They gravitate to the cliffs in winter because the snow does not lie so thickly on such steep ground and more food plants remain exposed. The horns of the males can be massive, magnificently curved and ridged.