Take a look at this photograph, and tell me what you see. You’d be forgiven for thinking it’s just a barren, rocky cliff face, up in the mountains somewhere, with some snow and a few icicles.
But you’d also be mistaken.
Pore over the details of the picture for long enough, and you’re likely to spot among the cold, rocky crag a large, wild feline—a snow leopard, to be exact!
But it’s no wonder if you can’t easily make out the carefully hidden cat; snow leopards are masters of camouflage.
According to the Snow Leopard Trust, the species has earned itself the nickname “Ghost of the Mountain” for its incredible skill of blending in with its surroundings.
The picture, which was captured by photographer Saurabh Desai in early 2019, is part of an animal photo series titled “Art of Camouflage.”
“I was on my search of the world’s most illusive cat,” Desai told My Modern Met.
At an elevation of 17,000 feet in the Himalayan valley of Spiti, he sought out the specter of a cat. The wildlife photographer said he captured this shot right after he and the male feline spotted each other.
“The picture depicts the snow leopard trying to get off the cliff, but observing our presence, it decided to wait until it got really dark and it stayed there on the edge,” Desai recounted.
According to the photographer, it took an astonishing three years for him to locate the snow leopard. He endured temperatures of -30 degrees Celsius (-22 degrees Fahrenheit) and a 50 percent oxygen level, but in the end, his perseverance paid off.
“When I found it up and close to me, I was speechless,” he admitted.
Desai added that the photograph itself reflects the nature of the snow leopard.
“I wanted this animal to be captured the way people have described it, they say that often they don’t see the ‘Shan’ but ‘Shan’ always sees them,” he said, using the word for “snow leopard” in the Ladakhi language. “I was very [keen] to portray this animal in its own environment, perfectly camouflaged, which is an important skill that helps it in hunting.”
If you haven’t yet spotted the “Shan,” here it is, revealed:
My Modern Met shared the image in a Facebook post on Aug. 4, 2020. The post went viral, garnering some 5,300 likes and 1,500 shares, to date.
Social media users were astounded by the photo.
“Amazing camouflage,” one user wrote. “I finally spotted his face looking up.”
“Very much camouflaged in the rocks,” said another.
Some had a harder time making it out. “I was ready to give up …” said one commenter. “But I finally see the cat.”
Here are a few more moments of incredible camouflage captured on camera by Desai: