Snow Leopard (Panthera uncia)
In honor of Disney’s new Earth Day film, I decided to do the snow leopard (as it was one of the animals featured in the film).
Body and Skeletal Structure:
Snow leopards tend to be about 2.95 to 5 ft (~90-152 cm) long, and about 2 ft (~61 cm) tall at shoulder height. Their tails, which are longer than most other big cats, are about 2.6 to 3.3 ft (~80-100 cm) long. Their weight tends to range between 60 to 121 lbs (~27-55 kg). Much like most other animals, the males are somewhat bigger than the females.
Snow leopards typically have thick, pale-gray to cream-colored fur patterned with dark rosettes and spots (which get paler during the winter). Their underbellies are typically cream-colored as well, without rosettes or spots though. Their coats are also made up of long hairs with dense, woolly underfur to protect them against the cold. Their long, thick tails not only help with keeping balance but also provide additional protection against the cold since they can wrap them around themselves while resting. Meanwhile, their wide, fur-covered paws act as natural snowshoes.
Fun Fact: Each snow leopards’ pattern of spots and rosettes are unique to each individual.
These carnivorous felines tend to mainly prey on blue sheep, Argali sheep, and ibex. However, they also prey on other animals such as marmots, game birds, small rodents, and occasionally livestock (unfortunately bringing them into conflict with herders due to low prey populations).
Snow leopards tend to live to be about 10 to 18 years old in the wild.
Mating Season: Between January and mid-March
Gestation Period: About 98 to 104 days
Litter Size: 1-4 cubs (Average: 2 cubs)
Communication and Behavior:
Snow leopards are relatively solitary and elusive felines that are most active during dawn and dusk. Snow leopards are nearly almost impossible to locate and study in the wild because of their secretive and elusive behavior. Add the extreme conditions of cold and steep terrain, often beyond the limits of human endurance, and it is extremely difficult to radio tag snow leopards for research purposes. However, there is still some things known about this big cat. For one, it is known that these typically solitary and nomadic cats advertise their presence by leaving distinct signals along their travel routes. This can be done by scent marking and/or claw raking on boulders and tree trunks. Also, unlike other larger cats, snow leopards don’t roar. They do, however, hiss, growl, moan, yowl, and even chuff and purr too.
When breeding season arrives, snow leopards send vocal messages to pair up. After breeding, the male goes off, and the female is responsible for finding a safe place to have and rear her cubs, most likely a nest among the rocks. The cubs are much darker than their mother, and their eyes open when they are about seven days old. By two months old, they can run and eat solid food. At three months of age, the young cubs are ready to learn how to hunt for their own food. (These felines stalk their prey and usually spring from a distance of 20 – 50 feet, with the help of their long and powerful hind limbs.) These cubs usually leave their mother at about 18 to 22 months.
Fun Fact: Because of their shy behavior and uncanny, almost mystical ability to disappear among the rocks, snow leopards have entered the folklore of local people in many countries and have been described as shape-changing mountain spirits.
Habitat and Range:
These surefooted felines live at high altitudes (of 9,800-18,000 ft), typically among the cliffs and rocky slopes of the mountains in Central Asia.
As of now, snow leopards, a keystone species and indicator of their habitat’s health, are considered to be endangered, and they’re still in decline. This is due to poaching (driven by the illegal wildlife trade), habitat loss, declining prey populations, increasing conflict with the local communities, and climate change.