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The Endangered Snow Leopard—Habitat, Feeding Habits and More
What is the Snow Leopard?
Scientific Name: Uncia uncia
The endangered snow Leopard is a large cat of the species Uncia Uncia, descending from the wild cat and panther families. The endangered snow leopard is identified by its beautiful black spotted smoky-gray coat and snow-white colored belly. Said to be relatively smaller than most big cats, the endangered snow leopard weighs only about 30-55 kg. Lengthwise, the endangered snow leopard is about 80-135 cm long and at its shoulder, it stands at almost 2 meters.
The endangered snow leopard possesses a thick dense body and a furry tail, which both shield it from the extremely cold climate experienced in its habitat. The fur on its belly is about 5 inches thick. Its long tail is nearly as long as its whole body and in exceedingly harsh frosty winds, it acts as a kind of muffler to protect the nose from the cold. The endangered snow leopard has well-adapted paws for walking on snow and even wading across when there is very deep snow cover. In summer, the endangered snow leopard may spot on a less-dense and thin layered coat of fur.
Where Do the Endangered Snow Leopards Live?
The endangered snow leopard is native to the rugged and snowy highlands of Central Asia particularly the Himalaya region. Although China is said to hold 60% of the endangered snow leopard population, endangered snow leopards are widely spread in many Asian countries like Pakistan, Nepal, Afghanistan, India, Mongolia, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Bhutan, Russia, and Kazakhstan. They prefer to live in rocky ridges, cliffs, and rock outcrops due to their convenient locations for camouflage when tracking and sneaking up on prey.
The endangered snow leopard may be found in altitudes as high as 3500 meters above sea level. In summer, endangered snow leopards can even be located in very high altitudes of 5000m. The endangered snow leopard may choose to live in different locations depending on various conditions, including an abundance of prey, temperature, altitude and competition for food. In Nepal, where prey is abundant, endangered snow leopards huddle within a close 30-65 km range. On the other hand, flat relief and terrain do not host a lot of prey but are convenient spots, because the ridges offer safe and comfortable traveling routes. In the flat landscape of the Tibetan Plateau and the Gobi Desert, endangered snow leopards are spread out over an area of about 1000 km. The reason for this is for an easy lookout for prey.
The Endangered Snow Leopard: Behavior
The behavior of the endangered snow leopard may resemble other wild cats. But unlike other big cats, snow leopards are often regarded as quiet and diffident creatures. It is very hard to stumble upon a snow leopard, even in a densely populated snow leopard habitat. They generally avoid humans, like most other wild cats. When they sense any human presence in their territories, they become nocturnally active so as to avoid unnecessary encounters and by so doing they may be able to escape the various dangers posed to them by man.
Due to their reserved and non-aggressive nature, there has been no report of snow leopards ever attacking man, in fact, if confronted; a snow leopard would most likely back away slowly, even if it means leaving its hard-earned kill for other predators. The times when snow leopards may tend to become aggressive and lunge in attack is when trying to defend themselves especially their cubs.
Like most other wild cats, the endangered snow leopard can make a variety of sounds like growling, meowing, yowling and hissing, but one fact remains—the endangered snow leopard cannot roar. Unlike the ferocious roars of other members from the cat family, like the African lion and the Tiger, the snow leopard, does not roar. Although most people may argue that it is not a disability for them not to be able to roar and that they are perfect just the way they are, scientists are yet to find out the actual reason for this inability. As not much is known about the endangered snow leopard, its inability to roar just contributes more to their mystery.
Being solitary animals, the endangered snow leopards only gather during the mating season, which begins early in the year and ends in mid-March. The endangered snow leopard uses scent markings to locate mates. The gestation period of the endangered snow leopard is about 90-110 days. The female snow leopard searches for hidden rock crevices when going to give birth as these locations provide safety, away from any threat or danger. An average female snow leopard gives birth to a litter of about one to five cubs. Cubs don't open their eyes until they are 7 days old. At 2 years, they are old enough to they feed on animal flesh. The cubs live with their mother for 2 years at most, after which they become independent and start living alone in the wild, with only the handy hunting skills taught by their mother for survival. Most cubs don't make it to adulthood because of various natural or artificial threats and dangers. At times, the mother may have to search high and low for food and the cubs may end up dying from starvation and malnourishment.
The endangered snow leopard, like most other big cats, spends part of its time moving around its territory, marking it with different signs to warn other cats of its presence. By spraying urine over prominent landmarks like huge rocks, clawing the ground with its hind legs and depositing feces around its claimed land, other snow leopards and cats have to be extremely desperate and brave enough to try to confront and kill off the territorial male in order to take over the land. But the markers clearly define the boundaries of one's territory and keep away other snow leopards that may be having any ideas.
The average snow leopard lives between 15-17 years of age but some have been known to live to twenty. Those that live in the wild are said to die off at a faster rate due to several natural and man-made causes.
Feeding Habits of the Endangered Snow Leopard
The endangered snow leopard is known to be an opportunistic predator as it may feed on any herbivore roaming in their habitats. They feed on a wide range of animals, for example, wild goats, sheep, gazelles, boars, and deer. They are known to kill many sheep and cattle and drag them into snow tunnels carved by ice for storage. A kill may last for 2 days- three at most.
The endangered snow leopard is known to bring down large prey of about 3 times its own size. It may hunt down large mammals on average twice a month and feed off the flesh for several days. Occasionally, the endangered snow leopard may feed on smaller prey for example rodents like rabbits, hares, marmots, pikas and snow cocks, especially during migrating seasons and in the summer.
Being an agile creature, the endangered snow leopard is a stealthy hunter that quietly prowls behind its prey and lunges for it in one go, tearing it to shreds. In some cases, especially in winter, when prey is not available in its wild mountain habitats, the endangered snow leopard may ravage farms, preying on domestic sheep and goat.
Why Are the Snow Leopards Endangered?
Like many other endangered animals, the endangered snow leopards are excessively hunted by man. The endangered snow leopards were principally killed for their attractively patterned pelt. In many Asian cultures especially in Chinese traditions, the fur, organs and claws of wild cats like tigers are very important in various medicinal and traditional practices. Since tigers are very rare and are only occasionally spotted in the wild woods and forests, many locals took to hunting down snow leopards, majorly contributing to their endangerment.
In winter, when herds of animals migrate and move away from the cold mountain regions, the snow leopard may be left with nothing to prey on. In such cases, the endangered snow leopard may enter the boundaries of farms and corrals and wreak havoc on the places, killing several domestic animals at once. It may be common for a farmer returning to his farm, only to find the whole place in ruins, everything desolated by a snow leopard. In this case, the farmer may either trace it back to its location or shoot it down or wait for it to show up again and take revenge.
Another reason for why the snow leopard might have become endangered may be due to land encroachment by man. The natural habitats of the endangered snow leopard have been put into jeopardy due to the different threats by man. Some of them might be the destruction of habitat due to the need for land for settlement, agriculture or industrialization. Eventually, due to habitat destruction, the snow leopards inevitably end up being killed.
Even now, with the support of many animal conservation organizations, numerous beautiful snow leopards are still being illegally shot down and their highly valued pelts and coats are still making their way into the black markets. Today, only about 6000 of the endangered snow leopards roam about freely in the wild. Besides that, a number of snow leopards are being captured and placed in cages in zoos. This just adds to their restriction of movement and inability to live a life that they desire, in their comfortable homes in the wild, where they belong.