Encounters with Pahadi Billi and Other Wild Animals

In 2016, we were doing the Tharikhango (Bhaba) Pass trek in Himachal Pradesh, a Shepard’s trail, that leads one from the green Kinnaur Valley to barren rocky Spiti Valley. Roughly around 50kms, this route passes through amazing green alpine forests of Kinnaur and concludes at Mud, a village in the valley of Spiti. We started our trek at Kafnu, a village located in Kinnaur.

Our route from Kafnu to Muling

Our guide Sitaram was an introvert and did not speak unless spoken to. He was quite content with his pack of bidis. I decided to break the ice by asking him about the area and his experiences with wildlife. I was keen on knowing more about his experiences with leopards. Our vocabularies were not aligned and my poor grasp on Hindi was of little help. It took me about 5 minutes to explain to him that I was asking about leopards. Finally, he settled with the word “billi” for leopard.

[The conversation was in Hindi, translated to this excerpt]

“So this billi, how does it look like you say?”, I asked.

“It is this big [gesturing height from ground], and has black spots all over the body. It is quite common here.”

“Have people faced any trouble here because of these leopards?”

“Not really, but they do come close to our settlements to pick up their prey”

“Prey like?”

“Livestock and sometimes dog”

“And what do you do if you come across one?”

“Nothing, go the other way… but these leopards are not scared of us… they actually don’t shy away from us. So we have to be careful.”

“oh ok… is there another kind of leopard here?”

“Ah… yes.. that is what we call the safed billi (white cat). But that is very rare. You don’t see it often. And unlike the other billi, these ones are very shy and they don’t come close to humans”

“ok, have people in this area seen any?”, I asked inquisitively.

“No, I don’t think so… not in this area atleast… it is very rare and does not show itself”

“So do people encounter wildlife here often? What about the fear of encountering them?”, I asked earnestly.

“There have been some instances of people encountering wild animals here before and being attacked by some too…like leopard or bear…actually few people have been killed too… but that is life here. I mean they [wild animals] are also after all looking for their food.”

Sitaram’s words rang in my ear. Would I be so calm, tolerant and understanding if I knew the neighbourhood leopard was out prowling for its prey [not humans]? What if I accidentally come in its way? Will it attack me? Will I be fine knowing small kids are out playing in leopard territory? These thoughts lingered in my head as I was walked through the wooded areas of Kafnu in broad daylight, whilst secretly keeping an eye out for wild animals.

PS: Here is the most amazing footage of ‘pahadi safed billi‘ I have come across in recent times. This footage is apparently from China. I am not sure of the source though.

Further reading:
Pilot Survey in Kannuar by Snow Leopard Trust reveals rich biodiversity in Kinnaur, including, Snow Leopards.

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My name is Adithi Muralidhar. I am a nature enthusiast based in Mumbai, India.

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