Documentary highlights need to protect snow leopard

December 21, 2018

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A scene from In Pursuit of Phantom.—Tahir Jamal / White Star
A scene from In Pursuit of Phantom.—Tahir Jamal / White Star

KARACHI: Among the snow-capped mountains, and a rugged and unforgiving terrain, only the fittest survive and that is the very home and hunting ground of the snow leopard. At the PACC on Wednesday, a documentary titled In Pursuit of Phantom showcased the work of a group of dedicated conservationists who painstakingly tracked the snow leopard in the Khunjerab National Park and adjoining areas in Gilgit-Baltistan.

A Woodnote Films documentary, directed by Abdullah Khan, it is a fascinating journey into uncharted territory where amid an inhospitable environment, the snow leopard survives.

According to assistant editor Celesta von Chamier, who had flown to Karachi especially for the screening, many times people have asked her where the documentary is shot. “They do not believe that it is entirely shot in Pakistan, that Pakistan can be so beautiful. This country is a very stunning place. This showreel was filmed 100 per cent in Pakistan, by Pakistanis and for Pakistanis.”

‘They do not believe that it is entirely shot in Pakistan, that Pakistan can be so beautiful’

The absence of director Abdullah Khan was most potently felt; however, she shared the reason behind his absence. “Abdullah received a call from Chitral National Park after sightings of wolves there, which is another project he is working on.”

According to the documentary, snow leopards are one of the most difficult cats to film in the wild. “They are extremely elusive and superbly camouflaged in the rocky terrain they inhabit. This documentary is truly [a] labour of love,” said the organisers.

Tracking them was a daunting task for the team and involved charting a treacherous terrain, enduring physical hardships, and witnessing carcasses of livestock that had been attacked in the night, leaving villagers bereft of their means of livelihood. The documentary beautifully captured the dilemma between saving an endangered species and protecting the main source of income for villagers and herders.

“One snow leopard is killed every day, and 450 annually; more than half of these are killings in retaliation by herders which are a major threat to the survival of these cats. There are around 7,000 snow leopards left in the wild. There is no system in place here that would help these people protect their livestock against such attacks, and only garner negativity against the species,” said the documentary.

These facts raise grave concerns regarding the lack of conservation by the government. According to recent research, snow leopards are now listed as endangered according to IUCN Red List of mammals. Snow leopards are not the only animals that make an appearance in the documentary; the ibex is also shown in all its glory, navigating an unforgiving landscape and surviving a blistering winter on the scarce food sources available. The fox, alpine chough and many other flesh-eating birds — those that feed on the carcasses of the snow leopard’s kill — were used to track the magnificent cat, and also feature in the documentary.

In Pursuit of Phantom is not the first Woodnote production. The professional wildlife film-making entity has also made documentaries on different varieties of kingfishers. Equipped with the latest technology, and fresh storytelling techniques, they aim to tell stories about Pakistan to the world.

Published in Dawn, December 21st, 2018