Chasing the Phantom

Chapter  Previews and Tidbits

Chasing the Phantom will be published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers under their Singing Dragon imprint in June 2014.

From The Snow Leopard and the Bharal

In Ladakh, as in Tibet, the blue sheep, also known as bharal, is the main prey of the snow leopard, and the two species have evolved an extraordinary set of skills in the process of developing a survival of the very fittest relationship with each other. I have spent hours watching herds of bharal made up of as many as 80 individuals grazing a slope. What will inevitably happen is that the adolescents, those who are fully or nearly full-grown but are distinguished by their smaller horns, will form together as a smaller group. This group, which includes both males and females, will assemble at the top of a steep slope or gully. Then a leader will initiate a charge down the slope. The others will then follow. It is breathtaking to watch. One cannot believe that they will survive as they as they descend with incredible speed, performing leaps that sometimes seem like freefall down the steep, rough terrain while dislodging loose debris and creating clouds of dust.  Yet I have never seen one stumble, something that would mean almost certain death for the individual. Almost every time that I have watched this amazing performance there will be one or two animals who will remain at the top of the slope, poised to go, watching their fellows, but they will balk at this seemingly crazy act. It seems to me that their body language, if translated into English, says something like, “Shit, I’m not doing that!” But these are the individuals who are likely doomed to be eaten; for this charge down the gully is not just an act of teenage bravado, it is rather, I came to realize, the practice of a life and death skill – that of evading the predator cat. The fearful ones will probably soon die, while the bravest and fastest have a chance to live and procreate. In observing the incredible agility of the bharal I began to see the spirit of the snow leopard – she was the adversary that had endowed these animals, over generations, through natural selection, with this extraordinary power and grace.