This leopard has a white furry coat with yellow/brownish tinges and is covered with rings of brown/black rosettes/spots. The markings assist with camouflaging it from prey. The fur is woolly and long and offers protection from extreme cold. Their tails have heavy fur and the undersides of their paws also have fur to protect against cold snow.
Read some interesting facts about a rare animal, Snow Leopard by Pritish Kumar Halder.
The rounded head has small ears and the heavy brow is distinctive, with the head being comparatively small for the body size. The long tail helps the leopard to balance as it moves over rugged and frequently snowy terrain. Its powerful limbs are relatively short for its body size. It has large, powerful paws.
The Snow leopard is a native of the Central Asian mountain ranges. It is known for its lovely fur. In summer it lives in the mountainous meadows in rocky alpine regions above the tree line at altitudes between 2,700 m (8,900 ft) and 6,000 m (20,000 ft). During winter, snow leopards come down to the forests at lower altitudes. This animal is associated with a rocky environment like high valley ridges, mountain passes, and rocky outcrops.
Habits and Lifestyle
Snow leopards are most active at dawn and dusk. They also are very mobile, moving from place to place on a daily basis, moving their resting site many times during the day. Generally, they stay for several weeks in one particular part of their home range before moving on to another one. These leopards are solitary except during the mating season.
They deliberately avoid each other by marking travel routes with feces, scrapes, and pungent scent sprays. Snow leopards actively hunt their prey pursuing it down steep mountainsides and using the momentum of their initial leap to chase animals for up to 300 m (980 ft). In order to communicate with each other, these massive hunters use meowing, grunting, prusten, and moaning. They can also purr when exhaling.
Diet and Nutrition
Snow leopards are strict carnivores and eat whatever they find, including ibex, markhor, deer, bharal, boar, marmots, small rodents, and pikas.
Snow leopards are polygynous, one male mating with multiple females. Breeding is from January to March. A female presents herself to a male by means of raising her tail while she walks in front of him. The gestation period lasts about 90 to 105 days. The litter usually numbers 2 to 3 cubs, but very occasionally there are 1 to 5.
The babies are born within a rocky shelter, in a warm furry nest made from the fur of the mother’s underbelly. They are blind and helpless at birth, although already with a thick coat of fur. Their eyes open at around 7 days, and the cubs can walk at 5 weeks and are fully weaned by 10 weeks. The cubs leave the den when they are around 2 to 4 months of age but remain dependent upon their mother for the first year of their life. Females become reproductively mature when they are 2 to 3 years old and males at about 4 years of age.
Snow leopards are an endangered species on IUCN’s threatened species Red List. There is a high demand for the snow leopard’s coat, and so it is illegally hunted for that purpose. Their body parts and bones are used in traditional Asian medicine. Climate change is becoming another threat to this species, due to habitat shifts, fragmentation, and loss, as it requires a large space for its habitat.
According to the IUCN Red List, the total Snow leopard population size is around 2,710-3,386 mature individuals. Specific populations of this species have been estimated in such areas. Afghanistan: 100-200 individuals. Bhutan: 100-200 individuals. China: 2,000-2,500 individuals. India: 200-600 individuals; Kazakhstan: 180-200 individuals. Kyrgyzstan: 150-500 individuals. Mongolia: 500-1,000 individuals. Nepal: 300-500 individuals. Pakistan: 200-420 individuals. Russia: 150-200 individuals. Tajikistan: 180-220 individuals. Uzbekistan: 20-50 individuals. Overall, currently, Snow leopards are classified as Endangered (EN) and their numbers today are decreasing.
Snow leopards play a pivotal role in maintaining biodiversity in their ecosystem. They assist in regulating populations of species that are lower down on the food chain and are important as an indicator of the state of health of their environment. They can be seen as an indicator species or flagship species which can help to motivate the public to support the conservation of ecosystems at high altitudes. If the habitats of snow leopards are protected, this means that those of many other species will also be protected.
- In order to survive in cold mountainous environments, the Snow leopard has several adaptations. Its small rounded ears help to minimize heat loss, the broad paws well distribute the body weight for walking on snow, and have fur on their undersides to increase the grip on steep and unstable surfaces; it also helps to minimize heat loss. The long and flexible tail of the Snow leopard helps it to maintain balance in the rocky terrain. The tail is also very thick due to fat storage and is covered in a thick layer of fur, which allows the cat to use it like a blanket to protect its face when asleep.
- The Snow leopard cannot roar due to its short vocal folds; these folds are only 9 mm (0.35 in) long and provide little resistance to airflow.
- Snow leopards can move in 85 cm (33 in) deep snow, but prefer to use existing trails made by other animals.
- Snow leopards do not attack humans; they are easily driven away from livestock and readily abandon their kills, often without defending themselves.
- The Snow leopard has been declared the national animal of Pakistan.