Snow leopards inhabit the mountain ranges of Central Asia stretching from northwestern China to Tibet and the Himalayas.
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.
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.
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.
Socially, snow leopards are thought to be much like the tiger, essentially solitary but not totally asocial. They pair only during the mating season, when couples may inhabit a range together. Unlike many other cats, snow leopards do not roar. However, they let out a slight moan when trying to attract a mate, and individuals greet each other with quiet "chuffing" sounds. Snow leopards are primarily nocturnal but are most active in the early morning and late afternoon. Snow leopards are well known for their muscularity and agility with the ability to leap up to fifty feet horizontally and twenty feet vertically.
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.
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.
Snow leopards occasionally kill domestic animals.
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.
Krista Toriello (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.
living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.
young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.
having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.
an animal that mainly eats meat
uses smells or other chemicals to communicate
humans benefit economically by promoting tourism that focuses on the appreciation of natural areas or animals. Ecotourism implies that there are existing programs that profit from the appreciation of natural areas or animals.
animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.
forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.
having the capacity to move from one place to another.
This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.
the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.
active during the night
found in the oriental region of the world. In other words, India and southeast Asia.
reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female
uses touch to communicate
Kitchener, Andrew, 1991. Natural History of the Wild Cats. Comstock Publishing Associates, Ithaca, New York.
Woodland Park Zoo. 2001. http://www.zoo.org/educate/fact_sheets/snow_leopard/sleopard.htm
Nowak, R.M. 1983. Walker's Mammals of the World. Fourth Edition. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.
IUCN - The World Conservation Union, 1996. "Species Survival Commission: IUCN Cat Specialist Group: Species Accounts: Uncia uncia" (On-line). Accessed Feburary 2, 2001 at http://lynx.uio.no/catfolk/sp-accts.htm.