GILGIT: Five men trekked four several hours through heavy snow in Gilgit-Baltistan’s (G-B) Naltar valley to rescue a captive snow leopard, officials and rescuers said on Saturday.
The leopard, who has been in the custody of wildlife conservationists ever since it was a cub who had gotten separated from its mother nearly three years ago, had recently been shifted from Dhee in Khunjerab to a remote section of Dishkir in Naltar.
However, owing to the recent snowfall, access to the area was cut off.
Though there were two men guarding the fully grown snow leopard, rescue was required to bring the men and the wild cat to a safe location.
Subsequently, Abdul Hamid, a local volunteer, along with three of his colleagues including Hakeem, Ghulam Rasool and Farooq Azam and some employees of the wildlife conservation department, trekked for nine hours through heavy snowfall to rescue the wild cat.
“We received information the night the leopard and the men guarding it were stranded and it was our duty to come to their aid,” Hamid told The Express Tribune on Saturday.
“We just set out, even though we realised that the rescue effort would be a monumental task given the unabated snowfall,” said Hamid, who also happens to be an elder of the Naltar community.
And it would prove to be so.
From his home in another part of Naltar, Hamid and his colleagues set out on a vehicle to Dishkir. But the heavy snow soon stopped them in their tracks. The rest of the journey, they realised, would have to be made on foot.
They hiked up the remaining distance for nine hours overnight – when its far colder – but managed to reach their destination early the next morning. The biting cold meant that they Hamid and his colleagues suffered from frostbite and barely made it out alive.
Following a brief stay, they mustered their strength and picked up the cage with the leopard inside and started on the long journey back.
With the weight of a wild cat and its cage, navigating the five-feet deep snow became a new challenge. Hamid said they were constantly pushed deep into the snow with the lower parts of their bodies almost constantly submerged in snow causing their feet to suffer frostbite.
Abdul Sattar, a wildlife department employee, who took part in the rescue operation, said they were overjoyed over what they had accomplished.
“If we did not take this risk, the leopard would have died of hunger and the intense cold,” said Sattar.
The rescuers were heaped praise
“It was a daring attempt and we respect such activists,” Faizullah Faraq, the official spokesman of G-B government, told The Express Tribune.
“The government will reward them for their deed which proves that we have impeccable officers and cooperative members of the community,” he added.
Other members of the wildlife conservation department also lauded the courage of the rescuers.