Panthera uncia

snow leopard

Panthera uncia

snow leopard

Also known by more mysterious name: ghost of the mountains.

Description

Thick fur which even covers the paws of this beautiful cat protects it from cold and mountainous ground. The colour of fur varies between white-grey and brown-grey. Snow leopards have well visible grey or black dots and rosettes. In winter, their fur grows longer, reaching up to 12 centimetres (5 inches).

The snow leopard has round, widely spaced ears. Its eyes are green or grey, with round pupils. It has visibly longer hind legs, thanks to which it obtained the title of the best long jumper among cats, being able to jump as far as 15 meters (49 feet). Wide front legs allow it to gently land on steep slopes and easily move on thick snow.

A very long tail, constituting 75-90% of the length of body, is useful for the cat to correct the flight trajectory, during long jumps. The snow leopard also uses its fluff to cover itself in the freezing wind.

Behaviour

Snow leopards are most active at dawn and dusk. Their territories vary greatly in size, depending on the density of prey. They mainly hunt for wild sheep, goats and deer, but won’t say no to smaller animals like a marmot or a hare.

Despite their solitary lifestyle, they are friendly towards other representatives of their genre. For people, they are also gentle and do not show aggression. Females raise their own cubs alone. They are born in sheltered caves, on a bed of mother’s fur and moss. Kittens have a darker fur than their parents, because in their youth they do not lean out of the shady hideout.

Snow leopards are closest relatives with tigers, despite significant differences in appearance, because they have a common ancestor. One of the similarities between these two species is the same, unique, friendly sound, called chuffing. Cats of this two species make the sound while greeting.

Threats

Snow leopards can be found in the mountains of Central Asia and the Himalayas. They range approximately in the territory of 1,208,257 km2 (466,510/sq mi) so the population density can be estimated at 0.002/km2 (0.005/sq mi). High-altitude terrains, which they like, are very poorly accessible to humans and therefore cats are very little known. Snow leopards like a very cold and dry climate with rare vegetation.

Snow leopards are under protection, but their population is decreasing. The biggest threat to their survival is pouching for illegal trade. Poachers hunt for these cats, but also for their prey, making it difficult for them to survive. The mining industry destroys the mountains they inhabit, and the remaining areas are taken away by livestock farmers. The warming climate, too, affects the surroundings of snow leopards. These animals are at the top of the food chain in their environment, so their survival is very important to the health of this ecosystem.

Author: Małgorzata Banaszkiewicz

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