The Snow Leopard is restricted to the high mountains of Central Asia, with core areas including the Altai, Tian Shan, Kun Lun, Pamir, Hindu Kush,
Based on elevational analysis, Hunter and Jackson (1997) estimated potential range at over 3 million km, with much of this in Mongolia and the Tibetan plateau of China, although it is unclear to what extent snow leopards use much of the flatter parts of the plateau (R. Jackson pers. comm. 2008). There was evidence of snow leopard occupation in 1.83 million km, and only about 550,000 km was considered to be good habitat (Hunter and Jackson 1997, McCarthy et al. 2003). Williams (2006) used historical data to improve mapping of potential range, but there remains a significant lack lack of information about current snow leopard status across much of its known and potential distribution.
In an attempt to improve knowledge of Snow Leopard distribution and status, a conservation planning conference held in
Snow leopards inhabit the mountain ranges of Central Asia stretching from northwestern China to Tibet and the Himalayas.
Biogeographic Regions: palearctic (Native ); oriental (Native )
Base fur color ranges from light gray to smoke gray, shading to white on the belly. The head, neck, and lower limbs are covered with solid spots, while the rest of the body is covered with "rosettes," large rings that often enclose smaller spots. The fur is very thick, one inch long on the back, two inches long on the tail, and three inches long on the belly. Characteristically, the tails are extremely long in comparison to other cats, measuring almost as long as the body. They use the tail both for balance and covering their body, nose, and mouth during times of sub-zero temperatures. Also characteristic of snow leopards are the very large and furry paws, functioning both as snow shoes and padding against sharp rocks.
Head and body length is 1000 to 1300 mm, tail length is 800 to 1000 mm.
Range mass: 25 to 75 kg.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; bilateral symmetry
Snow leopards live in mountain steppes and coniferous forest scrub at altitudes ranging from 2000 to 6000 meters. In the summer they frequent alpine meadows and rocky areas, and in the winter they may follow prey into forests below 1800 meters.
Terrestrial Biomes: forest ; mountains
Habitat and Ecology
The cat’s principal natural prey species are bharal or blue sheep (Pseudois nayaur) and ibex (Capra sibirica) whose distribution coincides closely with snow leopard range. Snow leopards also prey on marmot (Marmota spp), pika (Ochotona spp.), hares (Lepus spp.), small rodents, and game birds. Considerable predation is reported on domestic livestock. Annual prey requirements are estimated at 20 to 30 adult blue sheep, with radio-tracking data indicating such a kill every 10 to 15 days. A solitary leopard may remain on a kill for up to a week (Jackson et al. in press)
Snow Leopard home ranges overlap widely between the sexes, and are reported to vary from 10 to 40 km² in relatively productive habitat in Nepal (Jackson and Ahlborn 1989). By comparison, home ranges are considerably larger (140 km² or greater) in Mongolia, where terrain is relatively open and ungulate prey densities lower (McCarthy et al. 2005). Densities range from 0.1 to 10 or more individuals per 100 km² (Jackson et al. in press).
Their prey includes wild sheep, wild boar, hares, mice, deer, marmots, and other small mammals. They also feed on domestic livestock. Prey is either attacked or ambushed. Snow leopards attack usually from a distance up to fifteen meters and feed initially on the chest, lower abdomen, or thigh.
Animal Foods: mammals
Primary Diet: carnivore (Eats terrestrial vertebrates)
Threatened Vertebrate Associates in the Hindu Kush Alpine Meadow Ecoregion
The Hindu Kush alpine meadow has an expanse of some 10,900 square miles, situated in northeastern Afghanistan and northern Pakistan. Most of the lands lie within the Hindu Kush Mountain Range in the altitude bracket between 3000 to 4000 meters, and correspondingly most of the precipitation is in the form of snow. This ecoregion is classified within the Montane Grasslands and Shrublands biome.
This ecoregion manifests a low rate of vertebrate endemism; however there are ten special status mammals found here, ranging from the status of Endangered to Near Threatened. The Hindu Kush alpine meadow ecoregion consists of higher elevation terrain of moderate to severe slopes. Vegetation is often sparse or almost lacking, with resulting pastoral usage of low intensity grazing of goats and sheep in some areas. Soils are largely leptosols, but many areas are covered by large expanses of rock outcrop or rocky scree. In the limited areas of arable soils, wheat is sometimes farmed, although growing of opium poppies is the only cash crop. Most of the water available for plant and animal life is supplied by snowmelt. The Helmand River, Afghanistan's largest watercourse, represents the chief catchment within the ecoregion, with headwaters rising in the Hindu Kush Range, and eventual discharge to the endorheic Sistan Basin.
Special status mammals found in the Hindu Kush alpine meadow are: the Near Threatened argali (Ovis ammon), the Vulnerable Asiatic black bear (Ursus thibetanus), the Near Threatened European otter (Lutra lutra), the Near Threatened leopard (Panthera pardus), the Endangered markhor (Capra falconeri), the Near Threatened mountain weasel (Mustela altaica), the Near Threatened Schreiber's long-fingered bat (Miniopteris schreibersi), the Endangered snow leopard (Uncia uncia), the Near Threatened striped hyena (Hyaena hyaena) and the Endangered Moschus leucogaster. Special status birds in the Hindu Kush alpine meadow are represented by the Endangered Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopteris).
- C.Michael Hogan & World Wildlife Fund. 2013. ''Hindu Kush alpine meadow. Encyclopedia of Earth, National Council for Science and the Environment, Washington DC ed. Peter Saundry
Known prey organisms
Based on studies in:
This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
- L. W. Swan, The ecology of the high Himalayas, Sci. Am. 205:68-78, from pp. 76-77 (October 1961).
- Myers, P., R. Espinosa, C. S. Parr, T. Jones, G. S. Hammond, and T. A. Dewey. 2006. The Animal Diversity Web (online). Accessed February 16, 2011 at http://animaldiversity.org. http://www.animaldiversity.org
Life History and Behavior
Perception Channels: tactile ; chemical
Status: captivity: 18.0 years.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
Mating occurs between December and March, and most births occur after 100 days of gestation. The young are born in a rocky shelter lined with the mother's fur for warmth. The litter can include from one to five young, with the average two or three. The infants are blind for about nine days. After three months they start to follow the mother for food and are dependent on her for at least the next year. Sexual maturity is reached at the age of two years.
Range number of offspring: 1 to 4.
Average number of offspring: 2.04.
Range gestation period: 98 to 103 days.
Range weaning age: 48 to 180 days.
Key Reproductive Features: gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual
Average birth mass: 475 g.
Average number of offspring: 2.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
Sex: male: 730 days.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
Sex: female: 730 days.
Parental Investment: altricial ; post-independence association with parents; extended period of juvenile learning
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Uncia uncia
Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.
See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.
-- end --
Download FASTA File
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Uncia uncia
Public Records: 2
Specimens with Barcodes: 3
Species With Barcodes: 1
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Panthera uncia
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 3
Species With Barcodes: 1
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
The global Snow Leopard population is estimated at 4,080-6,590 (McCarthy et al. 2003: Table II). IUCN Guidelines (IUCN 2006) define population as the number of mature individuals, defined as “individuals known, estimated or inferred to be capable of reproduction.” While in general this refers to all reproductive-age adults in the population, the Guidelines also “stress that the intention of the definition of mature individuals is to allow the estimate of the number of mature individuals to take account of all the factors that may make a taxon more vulnerable than otherwise might be expected.” Two factors which increase felid vulnerability to extinction are their low densities (relative to other mammals, including their prey species) and relatively low recruitment rates (where few animals raise offspring which survive to join the breeding population, which has been documented in a number of felid populations). Low densities means that relatively large areas are required for conservation of viable populations; it has long been recognized that many protected areas are too small to conserve viable snow leopard populations (Nowell and Jackson 1996, Jackson and Hunter 1997, McCarthy et al. 2003). Low recruitment rates also require larger populations and larger areas to conserve viable populations, as well as mortality reduction in non-protected areas to maintain population size through connectivity. The IUCN Guidelines advise that “mature individuals that will never produce new recruits should not be counted.” Low recruitment rates indicate that fewer adults than would be expected produce new recruits. Defining population size as the total estimated number of reproductive age adults in the taxon would also not take into account that many occur in subpopulations which are too small or too threatened for long-term viability. Instead, the number of mature individuals is defined as equivalent to the estimated effective population size.
Effective population size (Ne) is an estimator of the genetic size of the population, and is generally considered representative of the proportion of the total adult population (N) which reproduces itself through offspring which themselves survive and reproduce. Ne is usually smaller than N, and based on four felid demographic studies, it is roughly estimated at 50% (Nowell et al. 2007). The global snow leopard effective population size is suspected to be fewer than 2,500 (50% of the total population, or 2,040-3,295).
- 1996Endangered(Baillie and Groombridge 1996)
- 1994Endangered(Groombridge 1994)
- 1990Endangered(IUCN 1990)
- 1988Endangered(IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1988)
- 1986Endangered(IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1986)
The main threat to snow leopards is hunting for their fur. Snow leopard pelts are considered a trophy, and poaching for the luxurious pelts continues to be a threat to the existence of this species. Black market pelts are found in central Asian bazaars and a full length coat, consisting of six to ten full body skins, can cost around $60,000. In 1981, the International Snow Leopard Trust was created in Seattle as a non-profit corporation working on conservation of the snow leopard and its mountain habitat.
There are approximately 500 leopards in 150 zoos world-wide. Many zoos are involved in a snow leopard species survival project, a coordinated breeding program among zoos. The goal of this project is to maintain a genetically sound population in hope that these animals may someday be released into the wild. Other methods of conservation include habitat protection, captive breeding, stiff penalties for those harming them, and public education.
US Federal List: endangered
CITES: appendix i; appendix ii
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: endangered
Date Listed: 03/28/1972
Lead Region: Foreign (Region 10)
Where Listed: Central Asia
Population location: Central Asia
Listing status: E
For most current information and documents related to the conservation status and management of Uncia uncia, see its USFWS Species Profile
Himalayan region (Tibetan Plateau and other southern China, India, Nepal and Bhutan): reduction of natural prey due to competition with livestock, killing of snow leopards in retribution for livestock depredation, lack of trans-boundary cooperation, military activity, and human population growth or poverty.
Karakhorum and Hindu Kush (Afghanistan, Pakistan and southwest China): habitat degradation and fragmentation, reduction of natural prey due to illegal hunting, killing of snow leopards in retribution for livestock depredation, lack of effective law enforcement, lack of institutional capacity and awareness among local people and policy makers, and human population growth or poverty.
Commonwealth of Independent States and western China (Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Xinjiang province of China): reduction of natural prey due to illegal hunting, poaching snow leopards for trade in hides or bones, lack of trans-boundary cooperation, military activity, and human population growth or poverty.
Northern range (Russia, Mongolia, and Altai and Tien Shan ranges of China): poaching snow leopards for trade in hides or bones, lack of appropriate policy and effective enforcement, lack of institutional capacity and awareness among local people and policy makers, and human population growth or poverty.
Snow Leopard habitat undergoes extensive agro-pastoral land use, both within and outside protected areas. Conflict with local communities over livestock depredation is amongst the most important threats to the species its range.
The inherently low wild ungulate density in the snow leopard’s range, owing to relatively low primary productivity, is further exacerbated by prey declines due to hunting for meat and competition with livestock. A declining prey base reduces habitat quality for snow leopards and escalates livestock depredation. Competition with livestock for forage is one of the most widespread causes of prey base decline (Jackson et al. in press); reduction of the wild prey base because of hunting by people is also significant in parts of snow leopard range (McCarthy et al. 2003).
Snow Leopards are capable of killing all domestic animals except perhaps for fully-grown male yak. Although herders take steps to reduce the risk of depredation (Jackson et al. in press), livestock populations are a locally abundant food source for snow leopards and make up to 58% of their diet in some areas. The relative abundance of livestock vs. wild prey is a reasonable predictor of the level of livestock depredation by snow leopards (Bagchi and Mishra 2006).
Snow Leopards are killed in retribution for livestock depredation, but also for commercial purposes, and poaching for illegal trade represents a significant threat. Pelts appear to be the main snow leopard produce in demand, but there is also evidence of demand for live animals for zoos and circuses. Other body parts found in trade include bones (used especially in Chinese medicine as a substitute for tiger bone), as well as claws, meat and sexual organs of male cats (Theile 2003). Illegal trade increased in the 1990s in the economically depressed, newly independent Central Asian states that emerged from dissolution of the Soviet Union (Koshkarev 1994, Koshkarev and Vyrypaev 2000). Illegal trade appears to be increasing rapidly with China’s growing economic power, for example, in neighbouring Mongolia (Wingard and Zahler 2006). In Afghanistan, a new market has emerged which is difficult to police due to ongoing military conflict (Habibi 2004).
The general lack of awareness at both local and national levels for the need to conserve wildlife and especially predators, further hinders conservation efforts. Up to a third of the snow leopard’s range falls along politically sensitive international borders, complicating trans-boundary conservation initiatives. Military conflict is taking place across much of the snow leopard's range, causing immense damage to wildlife through direct loss of species and destruction of habitat, losses to landmines, the demands of displaced peoples for food and fuel, and the encouragement of trade in wildlife (Jackson et al. in press).
The Snow Leopard Survival Strategy (McCarthy et al. 2003) recommends the following conservation measures:
- Grazing management and livestock husbandry: promote livestock grazing practices that reduce impacts on native wildlife, especially large ungulates; promote husbandry practices which reduce livestock vulnerability to snow leopard predation and improve efficiency and yield;
- Financial incentives for communities to conserve snow leopards (Mishra et al. 2003): including wildlife-based ecotourism (e.g., snow leopard treks: Snow Leopard Conservancy 2008), cottage industry (e.g., village-made handicrafts: Snow Leopard Trust 2008), and well-structured ungulate trophy hunting programs;
- Improve conservation education and awareness among a variety of stakeholders, from local communities to national governments to an international audience.
Theile (2003) recommends the following measures to reduce the threats of poaching and illegal trade:
- Strengthen national legislation and conservation policies by filling gaps in range state legislation to prohibit the hunting, killing, possession, sale and trade of Snow Leopards, including all body parts and derivatives, at local regional and national levels; offering legal assistance and advice to governments; mete out sufficient deterrent penalties to law-breakers, and consider "whistle-blower" policies to provide incentives to report illegal activities;
- Strengthen law enforcement capacity by tightening controls along known trade routes, and at markets and border crossings; improve inter-agency cooperation and intelligence sharing; establish anti-poaching teams to detect and deter illegal killing; carry out regular monitoring of major markets and trade centres; and improve technical capacity through training;
- Strengthen international cooperation to enforce trade bans through adherence to CITES resolutions (e.g., Res. Conf. 12.5) (Nowell 2007).
The Snow Leopard Network (SLN 2008) unites individuals and organizations (including the International Snow Leopard Trust, the Snow Leopard Conservancy, and others) for coordination, cooperation and information sharing. An International Conference on Range-wide Conservation Planning for Snow Leopards held in Beijing, China in March 2008 identified important areas for Snow Leopard conservation (Snow Leopard Conservation Units) and provided a framework for the development of national action plans. Four countries have existing national action plans (Mongolia, Pakistan, Nepal and Russia: McCarthy et al. 2003), and India has developed Project Snow Leopard, a national governmental program for Snow Leopard conservation, although it has not been adequately funded (Anonymous 2007).
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Snow leopards occasionally kill domestic animals.
Snow leopards are important members of healthy, Himalayan ecosystems. Their presence indicates healthy wild ecosystems that are valuable for ecotourism and many other ecosystem services.
Positive Impacts: body parts are source of valuable material; ecotourism
The snow leopard (Panthera uncia syn. Uncia uncia) is a large cat native to the mountain ranges of Central and South Asia. It is listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species because as of 2003, the size of the global population was estimated at 4,080-6,590 adults, of which fewer than 2,500 individuals may reproduce in the wild.
Taxonomically, the snow leopard was classified as Uncia uncia since the early 1930s. Based on genotyping studies, the cat has been considered a member of the genus Panthera since 2008. Two subspecies have been attributed, but genetic differences between the two have not been settled.
- 1 Description
- 2 Naming and etymology
- 3 Distribution and habitat
- 4 Taxonomy and evolution
- 5 Subspecies
- 6 Ecology and behavior
- 7 Conservation status
- 8 Relationships with humans
- 9 References
- 10 External links
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 (60 and 121 lb), with an occasional large male reaching 75 kg (165 lb) and small female of under 25 kg (55 lb). They have a relatively short body, measuring in length from the head to the base of the tail 75 to 130 cm (30 to 50 in). However, the tail is quite long, at 80 to 100 cm (31 to 39 in), with only the domestic-cat-sized marbled cat being relatively longer-tailed. They are stocky and short-legged big cats, standing about 60 cm (24 in) at the shoulder.
Snow leopards have long, thick fur, and their base color varies from smoky gray to yellowish tan, with whitish underparts. They have dark grey to black open rosettes on their bodies, with small spots of the same color on their heads and larger spots on their legs and tails. Unusually among cats, their eyes are pale green or grey in color.
Snow leopards show several adaptations for living in a cold, mountainous environment. Their bodies are stocky, their fur is thick, and their ears are small and rounded, all of which help to minimize heat loss. Their paws are wide, which distributes their weight better for walking on snow, and have fur on their undersides to increase their grip on steep and unstable surfaces; it also helps to minimize heat loss. Snow leopards' tails are long and flexible, helping them to maintain their balance, which is very important in the rocky terrain they inhabit. Their tails are also very thick due to storage of fat and are very thickly covered with fur which allows them to be used like a blanket to protect their faces when asleep.
The snow leopard cannot roar, despite possessing partial ossification of the hyoid bone. This partial ossification was previously thought to be essential for allowing the big cats to roar, but new studies show the ability to roar is due to other morphological features, especially of the larynx, which are absent in the snow leopard. Snow leopard vocalizations include hisses, chuffing, mews, growls, and wailing.
Snow leopards were only reclassified as a member of the Panthera genus (big cats) following a genetic study by Mr Brian Davis, Dr Gang Li and Professor William Murphy in 2009. This study showed that Snow leopards actually evolved alongside tigers and not leopards as previously thought.
Naming and etymology
Both the Latinised genus name, Uncia, and the occasional English name "ounce" are derived from the Old French once, originally used for the European lynx. "Once" itself is believed to have arisen by back-formation from an earlier word "lonce" – the "l" of "lonce" was construed as an abbreviated "la" ("the"), leaving "once" to be perceived as the animal's name. This, like the English version "ounce", became used for other lynx-sized cats, and eventually for the snow leopard.
The snow leopard is also known in its native lands as "wāwrīn pṛāng" (Pashto: واورين پړانګ), "shan" (Ladakhi), "irves" (Mongolian: ирвэс), "bars" or "barys" (Kazakh: барыс [ˈbɑrəs]), "ilbirs" (Kyrgyz: Илбирс), "barfānī chītā" (Hindi, Urdu: برفانی چیتا) and "him tendua" (Sanskrit, Hindi: हिम तेन्दुआ).
According to the American Heritage Dictionary, the origin of the word panthera is unknown. A folk etymology derives the word from the Greek πάν pan ("all") and thēr (beast of prey) because they can hunt and kill almost anything. It was proposed to have come ultimately into Greek from a Sanskrit word meaning "the yellowish animal" or "whitish-yellow". The Greek word πάνθηρ, pánthēr, referred to all spotted Felidae generically.
Distribution and habitat
The snow leopard is distributed from the west of Lake Baikal through southern Siberia, in the Kunlun Mountains, in the Russian Altai mountains, Sayan and Tannu-Ola Mountains, in the Tian Shan, across Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan to the Hindu Kush in eastern Afghanistan, Karakoram in northern Pakistan, in the Pamir Mountains, and in the high altitudes of the Himalayas in India, Nepal, and Bhutan, and the Tibetan Plateau. In Mongolia, it is found in the Mongolian and Gobi Altai and the Khangai Mountains. In Tibet, it is found up to the Altyn-Tagh in the north.
Potential snow leopard habitat in the Indian Himalayas is estimated at less than 90,000 km2 (35,000 sq mi) in the states of Jammu and Kashmir, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim, and Arunachal Pradesh, of which about 34,000 km2 (13,000 sq mi) is considered good habitat, and 14.4% is protected. In the beginning of the 1990s, the Indian snow leopard population was estimated at roughly 200-600 individuals living across about 25 protected areas.
In summer, snow leopards usually live above the tree line on mountainous meadows and in rocky regions at altitudes from 2,700 to 6,000 m (8,900 to 19,700 ft). In winter, they come down into the forests to altitudes around 1,200 to 2,000 m (3,900 to 6,600 ft). Snow leopards prefer rocky, broken terrain, and can travel without difficulty in snow up to 85 cm (33 in) deep, although they prefer to use existing trails made by other animals.
Taxonomy and evolution
In 1854, Gray proposed the genus Uncia, to which he subordinated the snow leopard under the name Uncia irbis. Pocock corroborated this classification, but attributed the scientific name Uncia uncia. He also described morphological differences to the Panthera cats.
Based on genotyping studies, the snow leopard has been considered a member of the genus Panthera since 2008. Despite the common name given to the snow leopards, the tiger is considered its sister species, with the leopard being a more distant relative.
The snow leopard subspecies U. u. baikalensis-romanii was proposed for a population living in the southern Transbaikal region, which requires further evaluation. Authors of the Handbook of the Mammals of the World recognize two subspecies, namely U. u. uncia occurring in Mongolia and Russia; and U. u. uncioides living in western China and the Himalayas.
Ecology and behavior
The snow leopard is solitary, except for females with cubs. They rear them in dens in the mountains for extended periods.
An individual snow leopard lives within a well-defined home range, but does not defend its territory aggressively when encroached upon by other snow leopards. Home ranges vary greatly in size. In Nepal, where prey is abundant, a home range may be as small as 12 km2 (5 sq mi) to 40 km2 (15 sq mi) and up to five to 10 animals are found here per 100 km2 (39 sq mi); in habitats with sparse prey, though, an area of 1,000 km2 (386 sq mi) supports only five of these cats.
Like other cats, snow leopards use scent marks to indicate their territories and common travel routes. These are most commonly produced by scraping the ground with the hind feet before depositing urine or scat, but they also spray urine onto sheltered patches of rock.
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. They can kill animals more than three to four times their own weight, such as the bharal, Himalayan tahr, markhor and argali, but will readily take much smaller prey, such as hares and birds. They are capable of killing most animals in their range with the probable exception of the adult male yak. Unusually among cats, snow leopards also eat a significant amount of vegetation, including grass and twigs. Snow leopards will also hunt in pairs successfully, especially mating pairs.
The diet of the snow leopard varies across its range and with the time of year, and depends on prey availability. In the Himalayas, it preys mostly on bharals (Himalayan blue sheep), but in other mountain ranges, such as the Karakoram, Tian Shan, Altai and Tost Mountains of Mongolia, its main prey consists of Siberian ibex and argali, a type of wild sheep, although this has become rarer in some parts of the snow leopard's range. Other large animals eaten when available can include various types of wild goats and sheep (such as markhors and urials), other goat-like ruminants such as Himalayan tahr and gorals, plus deer, red panda, wild boars, and langur monkeys. Smaller prey consists of marmots, woolly hares, pikas, various rodents, and birds such as the snow cock and chukar.
Considerable predation of domestic livestock occurs, which brings it into direct conflict with humans. However, even in Mongolia, where wild prey have been reduced and interactions with humans are common, domestic stock (mainly domestic sheep) comprise less than 20% of the diet of species, with wild prey being taken whenever possible. Herders will kill snow leopards to prevent them from taking their animals. The loss of prey animals due to overgrazing by domestic livestock, poaching, and defense of livestock are the major drivers for the decreasing population of the snow leopard. The snow leopard has not been reported to attack humans, and appears to be the least aggressive to humans of all big cats. As a result, they are easily driven away from livestock; they readily abandon their kills when threatened, and may not even defend themselves when attacked.
Snow leopards prefer to ambush prey from above, using broken terrain to conceal their approach. They will actively pursue prey down steep mountainsides, using the momentum of their initial leap to chase animals for up to 300 m (980 ft). They kill with a bite to the neck, and may drag the prey to a safe location before feeding. They consume all edible parts of the carcass, and can survive on a single bharal for two weeks before hunting again. Annual prey needs appears to be 20–30 adult blue sheep.
Reproduction and life cycle
Snow leopards are unusual among large cats in that they have a well-defined birth peak. They usually mate in late winter, marked by a noticeable increase in marking and calling. Snow leopards have a gestation period of 90–100 days, so the cubs are born between April and June. Oestrus typically lasts from five to eight days, and males tend not to seek out another partner after mating, probably because the short mating season does not allow sufficient time. Paired snow leopards mate in the usual felid posture, from 12 to 36 times a day.
The mother gives birth in a rocky den or crevice lined with fur shed from her underside. Litter sizes vary from one to five cubs, but the average is 2.2. The cubs are blind and helpless at birth, although already with a thick coat of fur, and weigh from 320 to 567 g (11.3 to 20.0 oz). Their eyes open at around seven days, and the cubs can walk at five weeks and are fully weaned by 10 weeks. Also when they are born, they have full black spots which turn into rosettes as they grow to adolescence.
The cubs leave the den when they are around two to four months of age, but remain with their mother until they become independent after around 18–22 months. Once independent, they may disperse over considerable distances, even crossing wide expanses of flat terrain to seek out new hunting grounds. This likely helps reduce the inbreeding that would otherwise be common in their relatively isolated environments. 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.
Numerous agencies are working to conserve the snow leopard and its threatened mountain ecosystems. These include the Snow Leopard Trust, the Snow Leopard Conservancy, the Snow Leopard Network, the Cat Specialist Group and the Panthera Corporation. These groups and numerous national governments from the snow leopard’s range, nonprofits and donors from around the world recently worked together at the 10th International Snow Leopard Conference in Beijing. Their focus on research, community programs in snow leopard regions, and education programs are aimed at understanding the cat's needs, as well as the needs of the villagers and herder communities affecting snow leopards' lives and habitat.
Population and protected areas
In 1972, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) placed the snow leopard on its Red List of Threatened Species as globally "Endangered"; the same threat category was applied in the assessment conducted in 2008.
There are also approximately 600 snow leopards in zoos around the world.
|Range Country||Habitat Area|
- Chitral National Park, in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan
- Hemis National Park, in Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir, India
- Khunjerab National Park, Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan
- Nanda Devi National Park, in state of Uttarakhand, India, a UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site
- Qomolangma National Nature Preserve, Tibet, China
- Sagarmatha National Park, Nepal, a UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site.
- Tumor Feng Nature Reserve, western Tianshan Mountains, Xinjiang, China.
- Valley of Flowers National Park, Uttarakhand, India, a UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site
- Shey-Phoksundo National Park, Dolpa, Nepal
- Dhorpatan Hunting Reserve, Baglung, Nepal
- Annapurna Conservation Area, Western Nepal
- Api Nampa Conservation Area, Western Nepal
- Jigme Dorji National Park, Bhutan
- Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park, Mongolia
- Ubsunur Hollow, on the territorial border of Mongolia and the Republic of Tuva, Russia
- Dibang Wildlife Sanctuary, near Anini, India
- Aksu-Djabagly Nature Reserve, Kazakhstan
- Sarychat-Ertash State Nature Reserve, Kyrgyzstan
- Katun Nature Reserve, Russia
- Kibber Wildlife Sanctuary, Lahaul Spiti, Himachal Pradesh, India
- Pin Valley National Park, Lahaul Spiti, Himachal Pradesh, India
- Great Himalayan National Park, Kullu, Himachal Pradesh, India
- Sacred Himalayan Landscape, Nepal, India, Bhutan
Much progress has been made in securing the survival of the snow leopard, with them being successfully bred in captivity. The animals usually give birth to two to three cubs in a litter, but can give birth to up to seven in some cases.
A "surprisingly healthy" population of snow leopards has been found living at 16 locations in the isolated Wakhan Corridor in northeastern Afghanistan, giving rise to hopes for survival of wild snow leopards in that region.
Relationships with humans
Snow leopard in the media
Nisar Malik, a Pakistani journalist, and cameraman Mark Smith (who had worked on the Planet Earth segment) spent a further 18 months filming snow leopards in the Hindu Kush for the BBC film Snow Leopard – Beyond the Myth.
In the 2013 film The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, photojournalist Sean O'Connell (played by Sean Penn) is shown photographing snow leopards in Afghanistan.
In Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials, published in 1995, Lord Asriel's dæmon is a snow leopard named Stelmaria.
Tai Lung, the main antagonist of the 2008 film Kung Fu Panda is a snow leopard.
Snow leopard in heraldry
Snow leopards have symbolic meaning for Turkic people of Central Asia, where the animal is known as irbis or bars, so it is widely used in heraldry and as an emblem.
The snow leopard (in heraldry known as the ounce) (Aq Bars) is a national symbol for Tatars and Kazakhs: a snow leopard is found on the official seal of the city of Almaty, and a winged snow leopard is found on Tatarstan's coat of arms. A similar leopard is featured on the coat of arms of North Ossetia-Alania. The Snow Leopard award was given to Soviet mountaineers who scaled all five of the Soviet Union's 7000-meter peaks. In addition, the snow leopard is the symbol of the Girl Scout Association of Kyrgyzstan.
Membership badge of the Girl Scout Association of Kyrgyzstan
As a national emblem
- Snow Leopard is the National Heritage Animal of Pakistan.
- The snow leopard is the state animal of Himachal Pradesh, a north Indian state in the western Himalayas.
Attacks on humans
Snow leopard attacks are rare. Only two instances are known of snow leopard attacks on humans. On July 12, 1940, in Maloalmaatinsk gorge near Alma-Ata (Almaty), a rabid snow leopard attacked two men during the day and inflicted serious injuries on both. In the second case, not far from Alma-Ata, an old, toothless, highly emaciated snow leopard unsuccessfully attacked a passerby in winter; it was captured and carried to a local village. There are no other records of any snow leopard attacking a human being.
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