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Program Big Cats Initiative

Background Info

Big cat trapper Boone Smith is on a mission to capture and collar the world's most elusive big cat—the snow leopard. To make matters more complicated, Boone is looking for these mysterious predators in the Hindu Kush of Afghanistan. Of his mission, Boone says "it's gonna be like finding a needle in a haystack."

 

Very little is known about snow leopards. Making Boone's mission harder is the location of his task. The Hindu Kush is a vast mountain range that stretches between central Afghanistan and Northern Pakistan. The Hindu Kush is 800 kilometers (500 miles) long and covers an area of roughly 152,800 square kilometers (59,000 square meters). Rugged peaks and valleys are characteristic of this area, historically making it very hard to travel through.

 

The area where Boone is headed is called the Wakhan Corridor. The Wakhan Corridor is a small valley that extends from Afghanistan to the border of China. It separates Tajikistan from Pakistan. A buffer zone, it was established in 1895 in a treaty between Britain and Russia. At 322 kilometers (200 miles) long, this valley splits the Pamir mountains from the Hindu Kush. Notoriously hard to cross, mostly above 3,000 meters (10,000 feet) in elevation, and home to Siberian ibex, grey wolves, Marco Polo sheep, yaks, and snow leopards, the Wakhan Corridor is one of the wildest landscapes on Earth.

 

This clip is from National Geographic's Big Cat Week episode "Snow Leopard of Afghanistan." Big Cat Week is part of the Big Cats Initiative. To learn more, visit the Big Cats Initiative website.

Fast Facts

  • It's estimated that there are no more than 200 snow leopards in all of Afghanistan.
  • The name Hindu Kush means "Hindu Killer." One reason behind this nickname could be that the mountains are extremely dangerous, with high elevations and extreme climate that prevents development or reliable transportation. Another reason could be that the Hindu Kush are the traditional "gateway to India" for invaders from the north and west, such as Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan. Both of these reasons explain why the Hindu Kush is a dangerous place.
  • The Wakhan Corridor makes up one of the most forbidding sections of the Silk Road, the 6,437 kilometer (4000 mile) trade route that links Europe to the far East.

For Further Exploration

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Editor

Caryl-Sue, National Geographic Society

Producer

Samantha Zuhlke, National Geographic Society

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