This leopard has a white furry coat with yellow/brownish tinges and 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. 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. It 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. They hunt by stalking and ambushing their prey from above, concealing themselves in shrubby vegetation and rocky terrain.
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. Lactation lasts for five months, though the young can start to eat solid food when they are 2 months old. During its first year a baby snow leopard is dependent upon its mother. Females are sexually mature when they are 2 to 3 years old and males at about 4 years old.
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 leoprad population size is around 4,080-6,590 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 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.