The vicious mamals of the snow
What They Look Like
What they eat
What they eat:
The snow leopard is capable of killing prey three times its weight. Snow leopards help to keep the ecosystem in balance by preying on Himalayan marmot populations which are over populated. Snow Leopards eat slow, usually taking 3 or 4 days to consume a sheep or goat. Snow leopards usually kill a large animal twice a month on average. During the summer time they like to feed on small rodents, and during mating season they like to eat plant materials.
Snow leopards are shy, elusive cats known for their solitary nature. Because of this, it can be challenging for scientists to identify patterns of snow leopard behavior. But with cutting edge technology and focused research efforts, we can begin to paint a clearer picture of just what it means to be a wild snow leopard.
Snow leopards are most active at dawn and dusk, which is called a “crepuscular activity pattern” by scientists.
However, this behavior can change depending on human presence. In areas where there are very few people, snow leopards may be active throughout the day. If humans are living nearby a snow leopard’s home range, they may become primarily nocturnal (active at night).
Snow leopards regularly patrol home ranges that can cover hundreds of square kilometers, and like most species of cats, they tend to travel alone.
Sometimes a male and female might be seen together during mating season, or we might see a mother with her young cubs. Once the cubs are about 2 years old, they begin to disperse from their mother and set out on their own.
In order to communicate across such distances, these cats leave markings on the landscape that other snow leopards will find. They scrape the ground with their hind legs and spray urine against rocks. Called snow leopard ‘sign’, even feces can act as a signal to other cats.
Snow leopards tend to mark along topographic features such as ridgelines or the base of cliffs. These markings enable snow leopards to locate each other and identify the boundaries between home ranges. Scent marking in particular may also help the cats locate mates during the breeding season.
Snow leopards make sounds similar to those made by other large cats, including a purr, mew, hiss, growl, moan, and yowl. However, snow leopards cannot roar due to the physiology of their throat, and instead make a non-aggressive puffing sound called a ‘chuff’.
Snow leopards are not aggressive towards humans. There has never been a verified snow leopard attack on a human being. Even if disturbed while feeding, a snow leopard is more likely to run away than try to defend the site. Snow leopards might become aggressive during an encounter between two males or if a female’s cubs are being threatened.
Threats to Snow Leopards
Snow leopards are facing a distinct threat from climate change. Their typical habitat range is between where the tree line stops and the snow line begins on the mountains. As climate change causes temperatures to ruse, snow lines are receding, which means that snow leopards must move further up the mountain slopes as well. As snow leopards get to higher elevations, the vegetation becomes more scarce, which means that the herbivores that they prey on are in limited supply as well, and the leopards are having trouble finding enough food.
Due to the high demand for their coats, snow leopards are also illegally hunted for the fur trade. The pelts are a sought-after commodity in places like Central Asia, Eastern Europe and Russia where they are turned into coats and other garments. Snow leopard bones and body parts are also used for traditional Asian medicine. As humans expand their farm and grazing areas for livestock herds they are encroaching more into the snow leopards territories resulting in increased conflict with humans when snow leopards attack livestock during times when their natural prey is scarce.
Reasons For Hope
The snow leopard was placed on the endangered species list in 1972 to help protect its dwindling numbers. Similar to Defenders work with predator species in the United States, conservation groups near snow leopard habitats are working with local farmers and herders to help foster a better understanding of how to co-exist with these animals and minimize conflicts between them.
The farmers are taught how to secure their barns and livestock holding areas against snow leopards and reimbursement programs have been set up to give the farmer fair market value for animals they have lost in return for allowing the snow leopards to live.
by Sibylle Noras on October 27, 2008
There is a lot of conservation work being done by these wildlife protection groups in the battle to help the snow leopard survive in the wild. The main groups are listed below. Contact them to give your support.
Snow Leopard Trust, Seattle, Washington.
The Trust is the largest and oldest organization working solely to protect the endangered Snow Leopard. It was founded in 1981 by Helen Freeman 1932-2007) who worked as a volunteer with snow leopards at Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo. She became fascinated with the cats and was motivated to set up the Trust to protect the snow leopard in the wild and its habitat. The SLT is partnering with communities in snow leopard habitat and developing supportive programs for both the cats and the local communities through science and research. The Trust works to determine key snow leopard habitat, assess wildlife-human conflict levels, and identify potential resources for conservation programs.
The SLT (partnered by Panthera) is currently running a ground breaking 10 year snow leopard research and conservation project in Mongolia, which has radio collared 15 cats and is collecting some of the most significant field data on snow leopards ever collected.
Snow Leopard Conservancy, California. Founded by Dr Rodney Jackson and Darla Hillard who have been working with snow leopards since the early 1980’s . The aim of the Conservancy is “Promoting community-based stewardship of the endangered snow leopard, its prey and habitat.” The SLC trains local teachers, teacher trainers, school children and NGO’s using simple but powerful tools to help understand the impact of losing the snow leopards and the prey in their habitat areas.
Rodney Jackson is the leading snow leopard expert who has been working with the cats for over 35 years. His experience with local communities of herders and villagers in snow leopard habitat informs SLC conservation projects. SLC works with communities and researchers in many countries – China, Bhutan, India, Pakistan, Nepal, Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan.
You can read the book about their early ground breaking snow leopard tracking and radio collaring work in Nepal. “Vanishing Tracks” by Darla Hillard.
top ten snow leopard facts
We think snow leopards are pretty amazing!
Living in the steep and rocky alpine regions of Central Asia, the snow leopard is recognisable by its long tail and almost-white coat, spotted with large black rosettes.
There are up to 6,000 snow leopards in the wild, but numbers are gradually declining, with hunting and habitat loss just some of the reasons that it is endangered. Snow leopard numbers have declined by at least 20% over the past 20 years.
That's why we're working to save this brilliant cat. Find out more about how you can help protect snow leopards.
Snow leopards are between 86-125cm long - and that's not including the tail! They weigh between 22-52kg, but males will be around a third larger than females.
Snow leopards have wide, fur-covered feet that act as natural snowshoes. These help to distribute their weight over soft snow and protect the soles from the freezing cold.
Snow leopard's tails are thought to help them balance, but they also wrap them around themselves to keep warm. Handy!
Unlike other big cats - like lions and tigers - snow leopards can't roar.
Some snow leopards have been known to leap up to nine metres - that's six times their body length.
Snow leopards first reproduce at around two and a half years old. Usually two or three cubs are born in spring or early summer in a well-concealed den lined with the mother's fur.
Cubs are born blind and don't gain their sight until they're nine days old. They are fully active by two months old and stay with their mother until they're two years old. By this time they're fully independent.
Snow leopards are sparsely distributed across 12 countries from southern Siberia to the Tibetan Plateau.
Snow leopards live at high altitudes, usually at elevations of 3,000 to 4,500 metres - but they've been seen above 5,500 metres in the Himalayas!
Snow leopards can kill prey weighing as much as three times their own body weight. Snow leopards' main prey are the ibex, blue sheep and Himalayan tahr. One blue sheep will provide a snow leopard with food for one week.
Snow leopard tails are between 80 to 105 centimetres long.