Species: Snow leopard (Panthera uncia)
Status: Endangered (EN)
Interesting Fact: At almost a metre long, the thick tail of the snow leopard is used for balance and can be wrapped around the animal’s body for warmth.
The beautiful snow leopard has smoky-white fur with a yellow tinge, and is patterned with dark grey to black spots. The snow leopard has many adaptations for its cold habitat, such as long body hair, thick, woolly belly fur and large paws. It has unusually large nasal cavities to warm the cold, thin air as it is breathed in.
Snow leopards are solitary animals and are most active at dawn and dusk. They are opportunistic predators, capable of killing prey up to three times their own weight. Snow leopards usually have two or three cubs per litter, which become independent of their mother at around two years old.
The majority of snow leopards are located in the Tibetan region of China, although fragmented populations are also found in the harsh, mountainous areas of central Asia. They are generally found at elevations between 3,000 and 4,500 metres, in steep terrain broken by cliffs, ridges, gullies and rocky outcrops.
The natural prey of this majestic species has been hunted out of many areas of the high central Asian mountains, and the snow leopard turns to domestic stock as an alternative source of food. This can incite retaliation from local farmers. Snow leopard fur was once highly prized in the international fashion world, and around 1,000 pelts were traded per year in the 1920s. A further threat to this species is the increasing demand for its bones for traditional Oriental medicine.
The snow leopard is protected throughout most of its range, and international trade is banned by this species’ listing on Appendix I of CITES. The International Snow Leopard Trust and the Snow Leopard Conservancy are the world’s leading organisations dedicated to conserving this endangered cat. Local people are involved in various conservation initiatives and there are plans to link fragmented populations by habitat corridors.
Phoebe Shaw Stewart, ARKive Text Author