- Status: Endangered
- Known as: Snow Leopard, Ounce, Mountain Ghost.
- Estimated numbers left in the wild: 3,500 to 7,000 (estimates are difficult).
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Snow leopards are medium-sized great cats, weighing 27 to 54 kilograms and measuring 1.2 to 1.5 meters, whose thick, luxurious coat of pearly grey fur bears black rosettes. Males are roughly 30% larger than females of the species.
These leopards live high in the Himalayas and other mountains of Central Asia, hunting mountain animals like blue sheep, Asiatic ibex, hares and marmots, game birds, and occasionally domestic animals such as goats.
The snow leopard has many adaptations to its lofty habitat, including its thick, soft, warm fur and specially enlarged paws. The animal’s paws are large enough relative to its weight to serve as snowshoes, keeping it from sinking too deeply into heavy snow.
The paws are also completely fur-covered for better insulation. The snow leopard’s nasal cavities are enlarged to process thin, cold air better, giving its forehead a distinctive domed look.
Snow leopards are not only beautiful but are well adapted to their high mountain environment. Their strong legs can propel them in leaps of up 10 meters, six times their own body length. They prefer to attack from ambush, charging their prey at close range and bringing it down quickly rather than after a chase.
The thickly furred tail of a snow leopard gives additional balance while running and leaping and can also be wrapped over the animal for additional warmth during sleep.
These solitary animals have small litters of 2 to 3 cubs.
See Related: Amur Leopard
These great cats are found throughout the main Central Asian mountain ranges. China’s Tibet region holds a relatively high population, and animals are also found in India, Nepal, Russia, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Myanmar, Kazakhstan, Bhutan, and Afghanistan.
Snow leopards are mountain creatures found high in the cold, dry, snowy environs of the highest mountains at typical altitudes from 3,000 meters to 6,700 meters.
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Snow leopards are threatened indirectly by habitat loss, as humans slowly encroach on their mountain fastnesses with herding activities and the like.
The loss of prey animals to human activity is another problem facing these great cats. Direct threats to the species’ survival are caused by conflicts between herders and snow leopards – since some herders will attempt to shoot snow leopards as a threat to their flocks – and particularly by poachers.
The splendid pelts of these animals are one of the chief lures that cause the massive, dangerous poaching that put them on the endangered list. The Chinese also use snow leopard body parts in their traditional medicine, another source of danger to the species’ continuance.
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Many protected areas now exist in snow leopard habitat, giving cause for cautious optimism regarding the species’ future. Captive breeding has also proven successful and could be used to replenish wild stocks.
Many well-organized conservation societies are dedicated to aiding the species, including educating local children in the urgent need for conservation.
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David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation
David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation sells artwork to fund breeding programs, anti-poaching projects, fieldwork, and education programs to protect different species worldwide, including snow leopards.
Panthera is an American-based organization. Their main focus is to conserve the world’s largest wild cats, including Snow Leopards, by supporting research and education programs in different countries.