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Snow Leopards - Living at the top of the world

 

The legendary snow leopard, located in Central Asia, is a rarely seen, moderately large cat, native to the some of the highest mountain ranges in the world. Because of their shy behavior and uncanny, almost mystical ability to disappear among the rocks, they have entered into the folklore of the locals many countries and have been described as shape-changing mountain spirits.

 

They are a pantherine cat, but is not considered one of the big cats as it cannot roar. Unique among wild cats, they are known and prized for their beautiful, smokey grey coloring, which in part, has been the cause of their near extinction by humans. Their thick, plush fur became popular world wide, and in spite of legal restrictions, their wild population plummeted.

 

With their thick coats, heavy fur-lined tails and paws covered with fur, they are perfectly adapted to the cold and dry habitats in which they live. They prefer to inhabit rugged and steep mountainous cliff areas, rocky outcrops and ravines, providing them with the camouflage needed to ambush unsuspecting prey. Mostly active at dawn and dusk, they are rarely seen in the wild.

 

In summer, it usually lives above the tree line on mountainous meadows and in rocky regions at an altitude of 8,900 ft to 20,000 ft. In winter, it comes down into the forests to an altitude of around 6,600 ft. It leads largely a solitary life, although mothers may rear cubs for extended periods of time in dens in the mountains.

 

Individuals live within a well defined home range but does not defend its territory aggressively when encroached upon by others of its kind. The total wild population of the is estimated at between 4,000 and 7,500 individuals. There are around 500 to 700 in zoos world-wide. Many zoos are involved in a species survival project, a coordinated breeding program among zoos.

 

Wild sheep and goats are the mainstay of their diets but also known to eat Smaller animals like rodents, hares and game birds. They are carnivores and actively hunt their prey, but like all cats are opportunistic feeders, eating whatever meat it can  find including  carrion and  domestic  livestock. They are capable of killing animals three times their size but will readily take much smaller prey such as hares and birds.

 

In 1972 the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, (IUCN) placed the them on its red list of threatened species as endangered. Fortunately, it has allot of help for its survival, from the Snow Leopard Trust, the Snow Leopard Conservancy and the Snow Leopard Network. These groups along with national governments from the snow leopard's range, non-profits and donors from around the world are working together. Their focus on research, community programs in this cats regions and education programs are aimed at understanding the cat's needs as well as the needs of the villagers and herder communities impacting their lives and habitat.