In 1973, the American author Peter Matthiessen accompanied the great field biologist George Schaller on his study of blue sheep in Nepal, and later wrote the travel classic The Snow Leopard, even though he never laid eyes on one during the two-month trip. Thanks in part to the book, but also their elusive nature, snow leopards became a byword for something as mythological and cryptic as the yeti – despite the fact that they were real. How things change.
The advance of digital technology has led to the development of cheap, easy-to-use remote cameras, and they have not only helped scientists uncover details of their once-mysterious lives but also made it far easier to see them in the flesh, because we know much more about where and how they live. The increased visibility of snow leopards is having broader positive impacts: tourists to locations such as Hemis, high up on the Tibetan plateau in northern India, give them an economic value to the people with whom they share this icy world. That can only be good news for the mountain ghost.