WHERE DO SNOW LEOPARDS LIVE?
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The snow leopard is surely one of the most beautiful and exotic of all the worlds big cats. Unfortunately, their exquisite beauty has also put them at risk from extinction due to loss of habitat and being hunted for their highly prized, long, thick fur.
In fact, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has placed the snow leopard on its Red List of Threatened Species as globally endangered with only 4,000-6,000 individuals believed to be left in the wild.
Luckily, there are today numerous agencies 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, and the Panthera Corporation.
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 range covers 2 million square kilometers, about the size of Greenland or Mexico. China contains as much as 60% of snow leopard habitat. Sadly, the snow leopard has already disappeared from some areas where they formerly lived, such as certain parts of Mongolia.
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 all public access, making them almost 'accidental' protected areas. But this also adds to the difficulty of studying snow leopards 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 this can be harsh and forbidding, this type of habitat provides good cover and clear views to help 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 kilometers. 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 kilometers in area.
As they move about their home ranges, the cats often travel along ridgelines and cliff bases, and choose bedding sites near cliffs or ridges with good views over the surrounding terrain.
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 likelyhood of more prey is hopefilly 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 awearness of the snow leopards plight increases, their stunning natural beauty will be appreciated by generations to come.
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Based on an article by http://www.snowleopard.org/catfactsclassroom/catfacts/habitatandrange
Photos by http://www.pluspets.net/snow-leopard-perfect-snow/