Snow leopards - Panthera uncia syn. Uncia uncia, are without doubt one of the most beautiful species of large cat in existence. Unfortunately their beauty has become their curse as their global existence is now under threat. They live in the high rhododendron forests of the Himalayas and have been relentlessly pursued by man because of their remarkable coat. While it is now protected by laws banning the sale of its fur, the high prices that such furs command means that illegal hunting still goes on.
|Snow leopard pelt - http://tolweb.org/treehouses/|
The snow leopard is smaller than most big cats and breeds less prolifically in captivity than lions or tigers. They become sexually mature at two to three years, and normally live for 15–18 years, although they have been known to live in captivity for up to 21 years. With that in mind, emergency action must be taken to protect the snow leopard if it is to survive in the wild.
Snow leopard habitat
Snow leopards live in the high, rugged mountains of Central Asia, extending through twelve countries: Afghanistan, Bhutan, China, India, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. The snow leopards range is roughly indicated on the map below by the red shading.
|Snow leopard distribution|
Much of the snow leopard's habitat is located along international borders, some of them disputed between two countries. To some degree, this situation protects the cats because sensitive border areas are often closed to public access, making them almost 'accidental' protected areas. This also adds to the difficulty of studying snow leopards in their native habitat and establishing their current status and distribution.
Snow leopards prefer steep, broken terrain of cliffs, rocky outcrops, and ravines. These specialist environments are usually found between 3,000 and 5,400 meters above sea level. While it can be harsh and forbidding, this type of habitat provides good cover and clear views which helps them sneak up on their prey unseen.
Each individual snow leopard inhabits a defined home range. However, these home ranges overlap and snow leopards do not defend them the way more aggressively territorial species do. Home range sizes vary greatly. It is thought that in Nepal and other areas where prey is abundant, cats inhabit home ranges as small as 30-65 square kilometres. In areas where there is less prey, such as Mongolia, snow leopards need more land in order to survive and their home ranges may be over 1,000 square kilometres in area.
|Snow leopard and cub|
Radio collar studies of snow leopards in the wild have indicated that they usually stay in one area for several days before moving on to another part of their home range.
This is usually to another valley, where the likelihood of more prey is hopefully increased.
Surprisingly, they are quite capable of covering long distances in a single night, and in Mongolia they have even been documented to cross over 25 miles of open desert between mountain slopes.
Hopefully, as awareness of the snow leopards plight increases, their stunning natural beauty will be appreciated by generations to come.
|Snow leopard cubs|
The female snow leopard will make her nest among the rocks, using her own fur as bedding. About 14 weeks after mating, she will give birth to a litter containing anything between two to five cubs.
When born, the cubs are much darker than their mother. They are blind for their first week and can crawl after ten days. By the time they are two months old they have learned how to run, are eating solid food as well as still suckling milk. By mid-summer they will follow their mother when she goes out to hunt, and will remain with her until they are about a year old.
For related articles click onto the following links:
SNOW LEOPARD FACTS
THE BENGAL TIGER
THE SNOW LEOPARD
WHY DID THE SABER-TOOTHED TIGER BECOME EXTINCT?