SNOW LEOPARD. The Snow Leopard.
The snow leopard (Panthera uncia or Uncia uncia) is a moderately large cat native to the mountain ranges of Central Asia. Classically, two subspecies have been attributed but genetic differences between the two have not been settled. The snow leopard remains on the endangered species list classified as C1.
Snow leopards are slightly smaller than the other big cats but, like them, exhibit a range of sizes, generally weighing between 27 and 55 kg, with an occasional large male reaching 75 kg and small female under 25 kg. They have a relatively short body, measuring in length from the head to the base of the tail 75 to 130 cm. However, the tail is quite long, at 80 to 100 cm. They are stocky and short-legged big cats, standing about 60 cm at the shoulder. Snow leopards have long thick fur, and their base colour varies from smoky grey to yellowish tan, with whitish under parts.
Snow leopards prefer steep, rugged terrains with rocky outcrops and ravines. This type of habitat provides good cover and clear view to help them sneak up on their prey. They are found at high elevations of 3000-5000 meters and even higher in the Himalayas. The snowy peaks act as a camouflage for the animal.
The strikingly beautiful snow leopard remains one of the most mysterious cats in the world. This roving, high altitude cat is rarely sighted by local people or scientists. Snow leopards live in the mountain regions of central Asia. In India their geographical cover encompasses a large part of the Western Himalayas including the states of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, and Uttarakhand with a sizable population in Ladakh, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh in Eastern Himalaya.
Hunting and diet
Snow leopards are carnivores and actively hunt their prey. Like many cats, they are also opportunistic feeders, eating whatever meat they can find, including carrion and domestic livestock.
The cubs are blind and helpless at birth, although already with a thick coat of fur, and weigh from 320 to 567 grams. The eyes open at around seven days, and the cubs can walk at five weeks and are fully weaned by 10 weeks. The cubs leave the den at around two to four months of age, but remain with their mother until they become independent after around 18–22 months. Snow leopards become sexually mature at two to three years, and normally live for 15–18 years; although in captivity they can live for up to 21 years.
Human conflict is a key factor affecting the survival of the snow leopard. Snow leopards are often killed by local farmers because they prey on livestock such as sheep, goats, horses, and yak calves. In some areas domestic animals can make up to 58% of the snow leopard's diet. Much of the population decline is also attributed to hunting for the much coveted fur and for bones which are used in Chinese medicines.
Encourage others not to buy traditional Chinese medicines that include tiger or snow leopard bones or organs. With tougher restrictions on killing tigers, some Chinese medicine makers have started using snow leopard parts instead, believing that they bring special healing powers. Fewer snow leopards would be killed if such practices were discouraged.
Jivitesh Yadav and