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Page last updated at 17:42 GMT, Tuesday, 21 September 2010 18:42 UK
Baby snow leopard filmed in wild mountains of Bhutan

By Matt Walker
Editor, Earth News


Face to face with a baby snow leopard

A wild baby snow leopard has been caught on camera.

Filmed over 5,000m up in the highlands of Bhutan in the Himalayas, the baby leopard investigates a camera trap set by a BBC Natural history film crew.

The young snow leopard walks right up to the camera lens, sniffing it before off-screen walking into the bleak, rocky snow swept landscape.

Snow leopards are the highest living of all big cats, and are among the most rare and elusive of all animals.

"No wonder hardly anyone sees snow leopards, they are just so well camouflaged. You could literally walk four metres past one and not notice," says BBC wildlife cameraman Gordon Buchanan, who took the images.

He believes the cub's mother had left it near or in front of the camera trap while she went off hunting.

"It is one of the most exquisite looking animals I have ever seen."

Mr Buchanan, who on the same expedition also filmed tigers are living at a higher altitude than any others, has filmed wild cats worldwide for more than 10 years.

Snow leopard

Footage of the young snow leopard will be broadcast this week as part of the BBC One programme Lost Land of the Tiger.

The programme's makers cannot be sure, but they suspect it may be the first footage of a snow leopard cub filmed in the wild.

Only last year, scientists uncovered evidence that suggests snow leopards and tigers evolved at a similar time, with the ancestor of both branching off from other big cats around 3.9 million years ago.

That makes the snow leopard and tiger "sister species", say experts.

Both snow leopards and tigers are among the world's most endangered big cats.

Snow leopards live between 3,000 and 5,500m above sea level in the mountain ranges of Central Asia, but due to their elusive nature their exact number is unknown.

Estimates vary, suggesting that between 3,500 and 7,000 snow leopards survive in the wild.

Lost Land of the Tiger will be broadcast on BBC One at 21.00BST on Wednesday 22nd and Thursday 23rd September.

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