Chasing the Golden Marmot

By Ahmed Saeed Khan

On my way to Khunjerab pass aka, Pakistan-China border, I had observed several signs on the road saying “Help us preserve wildlife in Pakistan”. This was an indication that I was indeed near a region where you would expect to see some animals.

Listening to stories of rare sightings of makhors, snow leopards, wild fox and wolves, I was continuously looking out for signs of these animals. The over excited person I am, I even went on top of the van’s roof to get a better view. It was a very curvy road, mind you, so at every turn I would grab on to the carriers, and sometimes even close my eyes.

It was one of those moments when I had my eyes slightly shut that I noticed something move slowly from the corner of my eye. It got me excited.

Is it a snow leopard? A Persian leopard? Both rare species. We stopped the van.

“I  saw a long tail.”

“It’s a cub.”

“A leopard.”

“Can it be a fox?” – suggestions poured in.

One thing was sure, this little creature was hiding somewhere in the rocks. After spending half an hour at the spot, we decided to leave the animal at peace and head out to complete our journey.

As we got back in the bus, we saw more movement in the rocks. This time we had a better look at the animal. It was neither leopard or a lion or a fox– it was rodent.

As we moved along the road, there were many other rodents running along. That is when I took out my camera and started to chase the rodents. They had made their hide outs at very short distances so it got quite difficult trace them.

Then I saw one who wasn’t afraid, he wasn’t hiding, he did keep his distance, but gave me enough time to capture some pictures. It was the long tailed marmot, also known as the golden marmot.
The golden marmot is found in mountainous regions in Pakistan, China, Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Indian occupied Kashmir its altitudinal range is from 3,200 to 4,850 meters (10,500 to 15,910 ft) above sea level.

Its typical habitat is rough grassland and alpine meadows, often among rocks where dwarf junipers grow. Although the population trend is unknown, the International Union for Conservation of Nature has assessed its conservation status as being of “least concern” so basically there are lots of them.

Due to time constraint I couldn’t spend much time with these marmots, although they are a bit shy but usually when they don’t see you as a threat they do get close to you.

To all the nature enthusiasts out there, there is a lot than what meet the eye in Pakistan. Do take some time out to travel to places where you can get close to wild life, take a stroll in the mountains, swim in the rivers, (not literally). Do what you may but do experience the wilderness of this country.