One of the 5 Big Cats, Snow Leopard is a native to South and Central Asian mountain ranges. Inhabiting Alpine and Subalpine zones of those mountain ranges, this wildcat is gradually declining in numbers. In this write-up on Snow Leopard facts, we are going to learn a few things about this magnificent predator that dwells in the mountains. We will learn about the threats it faces, its eating habits, its reproduction and much more. So, without further ado, let us begin…
Snow Leopard Facts: 1-5
1. Snow Leopard is also known as the Ounce. Its biological name is Panthera uncia. The Old French word “once” (originally used for European Lynx) is the root word for both English words “ounce” and Latin word “uncia”. Both ounce and once were used for lynx-related cats and eventually settled with the Snow Leopard.
2. Johann Christian Daniel von Schreber, a German naturalist, was the first person to describe the Snow Leopard in Die Säugethiere in Abbildungen nach der Natur mit Beschreibungen published in 1777. He named the Snow Leopard as Felis uncia and said that the locality of the Snow Leopards is in Persia, east side of India, China, Barbary etc.
3. Subspecies of Snow Leopard have been proposed based on the description of the Snow Leopard by Schreber. Those subspecies are – Uncia uncia uncia (Mongolia and Russia), Uncia uncia uncioides (Himalayas and western part of China) and Uncia uncia baikalensis-romanii (Transbaikal region).
4. As of now, the Snow Leopard falls under the Panthera genus and has three subspecies – Panthera uncia uncia (Palmir mountains), Panthera uncia uncioides (Himalayas, Qinghai) and Panthera uncia irbis (Mongolia).
5. Panthera genus has other wild cats apart from Snow Leopard. They are the Lion, Leopard, Tiger, and Jaguar. These five members are usually and casually known as Big Cats.
Snow Leopard Facts: 6-10
6. The Snow Leopards have white to gray fur (white fur on underbelly) and have spots all over their body (small spots on the face and neck and big rosettes on the rest of the body). The hair can grow as long as 2 to 4.7 inches or 5 to 12 centimeters.
7. It is slightly shorter than the other big cats. It has a height of 22 inches or 56 centimeters. Head to tail tip length is 61 to 100 inches or 155 to 255 centimeters long. The color of its eyes is green or grey.
8. It is characterized by the dome-shaped head, short muzzle, and large nasal cavities. On an average, the Snow Leopard weighs between 49 lbs. and 121 lbs. or 22 kilograms to 55 kilograms. Sometimes, males can weigh as much as 165 lbs. or 75 kilograms. Female can be occasionally too small with a weight of 55 lbs. or 25 kilograms.
9. It has thick fur, small ears and a stocky body to adapt to the cold and mountainous habitat that it lives in. Its tail is thick and helps in balancing. It also helps in covering the Snow Leopard’s face while sleeping. It has short forelimbs and long hind limbs. Its paws have fur on the bottom so that it can easily walk in the snow.
10. Despite being counted as one of the Big Cats, the Snow Leopard can’t roar. Earlier it was believed that partial ossification of the hyoid bone is required to roar (which the Snow Leopard has). But recent studies proved that other features (especially related to larynx) are responsible for roaring (which are absent in Snow Leopard). Hissing, mewing, chuffing, growling, wailing etc. are the other sounds that the Snow Leopard makes.
Snow Leopard Facts: 11-15
11. It is present in Russia, China, India, Mongolia, Tibet, Nepal, Afghanistan, Bhutan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan. It is seen in the cold and mountainous regions of these countries like Himalayas, Hindu Kush, Siberia, Tian Shan, Altai Mountains, Khangai Mountains etc.
12. In India, the Snow Leopard is seen in the states of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh etc. It is spread out over a total area of 35,000 square miles or 90,000 square kilometers.
13. During the summers, the Snow Leopards move up the mountains to a height of 8,900 to 19,700 feet or 2,700 to 6000 meters. During winters, they stay at a height of 3,900 to 6,600 feet or 1,200 to 2,000 meters.
14. China tops the list of highest number of Snow Leopards (2,00 to 2,500). Next comes Mongolia (500 to 1,000). India, with 200 to 600 Snow Leopards, stands in the third position.
15. Some of the National Parks which are inhabited by the Snow Leopards are Nanda Devi National Park, Valley of Flowers National Park (both in Uttarakhand, India – declared as a Natural World Heritage Site by UNESCO), Annapurna Conservation Area (Nepal), Qomolangma National Nature Preserve (China), Sagarmatha National Park (Nepal – a Natural World Heritage Site declared by UNESCO).
Snow Leopard Facts: 16-20
16. Snow Leopards are solitary animals. The only exception to this is when the females raise the cubs. It is territorial but doesn’t protect its territory aggressively. Recent studies prove that a single male Snow Leopard requires an area of a minimum of 80 square miles just for himself and a single female requires 48 square miles.
17. Snow Leopards use urine or feces to mark their territories. They are crepuscular cats (active during twilight hours).
18. Just like other cats, the Snow Leopard is a carnivore. They are apex predators. They are ambush hunters (hunt with strength and strategy). They not only hunt big animals like horse, argali, camel etc. and but also hunt small animals like species of marmot, vole, pika etc. They are extremely good at camouflaging.
19. Snow leopard diet includes dead animals, which makes them opportunistic hunters. In snow leopard habitat, snow leopard hunts almost every animal except grown up male yak. They also eat twigs, grass etc. The snow leopard diet varies with the availability of the prey and time of the year. They hunt in pairs as well (usually mating pairs).
20. Snow Leopards usually mate in late winters and the females have an estrous cycle of about 5 to 8 days. The gestation period (duration of pregnancy) is around 3 months. They mate nearly 12 to 36 times in a day.
Snow Leopard Facts: 21-25
21. Size of the litter is mostly two but the number may range from 1 to 5. Cubs have thick fur and are born blind. They are weaned by 10 weeks. The cubs have spots all over the body but as they grow, the spots (except for face and neck) change to rosettes. Cubs can walk when they are 5 weeks old. It takes them 7 days to open their eyes after birth.
22. The cubs leave their mother when they turn nearly two years old. They attain sexual maturity when they are around 2 to 3 years old. In wild, their lifespan is 15 to 18 years which gets increased to 25 years when they are put in captivity.
23. Poaching remains the major problem for Snow Leopards. Nearly 103 to 236 Snow Leopards are killed every year, in Mongolia, the number is 34 to 53 and in India, 21 to 45 Snow Leopards are killed annually.
24. The population of Snow Leopards is gradually declining. There are multiple reasons for this. First is their direct contact with humans who kill them. Overgrazing by domestic livestock has significantly reduced the prey availability for Snow Leopards. That’s why they come to prey on domestic animals and often get killed. The second reason for their declining population is poaching.
25. Not only this, Snow Leopards are considered to be the least aggressive of all the wild cats. Snow Leopards leave their prey when they are threatened and usually don’t defend themselves even when they are attacked. These things together are going against the Snow Leopard and the numbers are steadily dwindling day by day.
Snow Leopard Facts: 26-30
26. The number of Snow Leopards today in the world are below 10,000 and IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, previously known as World Conservation Union) declared the Snow Leopard as vulnerable.
27. To save the Snow Leopards and snow leopard habitat, many agencies like Snow Leopard Trust, Cat Specialist Group, Panthera Corporation etc. are coming forward.
28. In 2017, 10th International Snow Leopard Conference was held in Beijing. It focused on the research and community programs. In 2013, governments of all the countries (where Snow Leopard lives) attended the Global Snow Leopard Forum (GSLF) held at Bishkek (capital city of Kyrgyz Republic) and agreed that the snow leopard habitat (mountainous) requires trans-boundary help for a better future for Snow Leopard.
29. The aim of Global Snow Leopard and Eco-system Protection Program (GSLEP) is to see that there is long-term survival of Snow Leopards. 2015 was declared as the International Year of the Snow Leopard (a part of GSLEP).
30. In Russia, there is a Snow Leopard Award for the mountaineers who scale all the 5 mountains with peaks at 7,000 meters. Snow Leopard is the state animal of the Indian state Himachal Pradesh.
Image credits: All images taken from Public Domain.