Snow Leopards — King of the Mountain

Habitat

Snow Leopards (also called the Ounce) are native to the mountains of central and southern Asia. 

Their home range extends into 12 countries: Uzbekistan, Russia, Tajikistan, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Kyrgyz Republic, India, Kazakhstan, Bhutan, Afghanistan, and Tibet.  Snow Leopards live within a well-defined home range, though they do not aggressively defend their home turf when individuals enter their range.  

Population

The total wild population of Snow Leopards is between 3,500 and 7,000.  The amount of Snow Leopards living in zoos around the globe ranges between 600 and 700.  The country with the most Snow Leopards is also the country with the largest habit area per square kilometer: China.  China is home to between 2,000 and 5,000 Snow Leopards, and its square kilometer habitat area is 1,100,000.  The country with the fewest Snow Leopards is Uzbekistan with 20-50 cats, though their habitat area is significantly smaller at 10,000 square kilometers.  The correlation between population and habitat area is no coincidence.  If given a safe, large preserve, Snow Leopard populations thrive, which is why the work of environmental conservationists, who devote their life to protecting the habitat of Snow Leopards, is so important.

Appearance

They are medium-sized cats and do not roar like their other feline brethren. 

Snow Leopards are most famous for their beautiful fur, which has spots of black on brown atop a soft grey coat.  Their overall patterning resembles that of the Jaguar.  During the winter, the fur turns white to help camouflage them against snow.  Snow Leopards’ tails and paws are both heavy with fur to protect it from the cold, snowy regions of the mountains. 

They weigh anywhere between 77 and 121 lbs, and are distinguishable from other cats, not only from their markings, but by their longer tails that help them to balance on the sheer mountainous cliffs of their habitat.  When it is very cold on the mountains, Snow Leopards have been known to use their long tails to cover their mouth and nose from the frigid wind.  The male’s head is much wider and squarer than the female Snow Leopard’s head.  Their furry, large feel come in hand as snowshoes as they ascend mountains. 

During the summer, Snow Leopards live above the mountain’s tree-line at about 6000 m altitude, but in the winter, they descend into the forest at about 2000 m. 

Family

Snow Leopards live largely solitary lives, though the mothers sometimes keep their cubs for a long period of time in their mountain dens.  Mother Snow Leopards usually give birth to 2 to 3 cubs in their litters, but they have been known to birth as many as 7 cubs.

Eating habits

Snow Leopards are opportunistic feeders meaning they eat whatever they can find.  Oftentimes, they kill animals up to three times their size, which sometimes entails the domestic livestock of nearby farmers.  Whenever possible, Snow Leopards attack their prey from behind.  They have been known to jump as far as 14 meters, and that kind of agility is important when they ambush prey walking through the mountains such as boars and small rodents.

Lifespan

Snow Leopards usually live anywhere between 15 and 18 years, but have been known to live as long as 20 years.

Conservation

The Snow Leopard is an endangered species because poachers have long desired their pelts, which command high prices on the fur market.  The Snow Leopard population dwindled to 1,000 in 1960s.  Recognizing the crisis and impending extinction of the species, conservationists worked diligently to restore the Snow Leopard population, which has recovered slightly because of their efforts.

The most famous and consistently protected Snow Leopard areas are: Khunjerab National Park in Pakistan, Nanda Devi National Park in India, Hemis National Park in India, Chitral Gol National Park in Pakistan, Sagarmatha National Park in Nepal, Qomolangma National Nature Preserve in Tibet, Valley of Flowers National Park in India, Tumor Feng Nature Reserve in China, Annapurna Conservation Area in Nepal, Dhorpatan Hunting Reserve in Nepal, Shey-Phoksundo National Park in Nepal, and the Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park in Mongolia.

Snow Leopards as mascots

Naturally, these beautiful, strong, agile cats are admired and act as mascots for several countries and organizations.  The Snow Leopard is the national symbol for Kazakhs and Tatars.  An image of the Snow Leopard can be found on Tatarstan’s coat of arms, and the Snow Leopard is the official seal of the city of Almaty.  Similarly, the arms of North Ossetia-Alania also contain the image of a winged Snow Leopard.  The brave Soviet mountaineers, who managed to scale all five of the Soviet Union’s 7000m mountain peaks were awarded the Snow Leopard aware for their fearlessness and dexterity, which mirrored the ability of the cats’.  The Snow Leopard is also the symbol of the Girl Scout Association of Kyrgystan.

Beautiful, strong, and endangered, these wonderful creatures need all of our help to preserve their habitats so they can thrive for generations to come!