Angela, an animal lover, has a passion for learning and understanding God's creatures. As a born teacher, she enjoys sharing her knowledge.
Snow leopards are one of the most beautiful of the big cats. They are known for their endurance in the cold, great hunting prowess, and nervous mannerisms. Unfortunately, due to the loss of habitat, hunting, or these animals and increased farming, their numbers have slowly dwindled, causing them to become vulnerable to endangerment. We, as a community, need to join together to help protect these magnificent cats, the first step to helping an animal is learning about them. Here are ten incredible facts about these wild beasts.
1. They Can Live in Some of the Harshest Conditions on Earth
Snow leopards are most well known for their beautiful white-spotted coats, ideal for hiding in the snow. They roam in high elevations, where temperatures are extreme and the terrain is rough. They are created to endure these harsh elements due to the thick fur covering their bodies. The hair can be up to five inches long, with the thickest part being on its underbelly. Even at birth, their coat is unusually thick compared to cubs of other cats.
They also have large padded paws compared to their bodies that help them trek on top of the snow as if they were wearing snowshoes. Its short round ears even protect them from getting frostbite. Their long tail that can wrap around much of their body is another adaptation that helps them stay warm in these extreme conditions.
2. It Can Jump Six Times Its Length
Their bodies are made for harsh conditions, but they are also very agile and can jump far distances. These sturdy cats have very short front legs with longer hind legs, giving them a mighty push when they leap. This allows them to jump up to 30 feet or 10 meters in one leap. When catching prey, they often only need to bounce once before attacking.
3. Its Survival Indicates the Ecosystem Health in Its Environment
Although their bodies were designed to protect them from the elements, they are not flourishing in number. Yet, where snow leopards roam, they are often used to indicate how well the environment is doing in that area. Since these big cats are at the top of the food chain, their survival affects all organisms below it. If they were to decrease in number, ibex, deer, sheep, and other animals that they prey on would temporarily increase until the vegetation decreased enough that the wildlife they prey on would soon have trouble surviving. The loss of snow leopards has a detrimental effect on all creatures in their habitat. When scientists discover that the population of snow leopards is stable, they feel assured that the ecosystem is healthy.
4. They Are Considered Vulnerable
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Snow leopards are considered vulnerable, which means that they are in danger of being considered endangered. Due to hunting by farmers whose livestock are threatened by these large predators and the continuing loss of their habitat, the population has decreased by twenty percent in the past sixteen years. WWF estimates that between 4,080-6,590 snow leopards still live in the wild. Some lists will say that the classification of vulnerable is inaccurate and that they should be considered endangered due to these dwindling numbers. China could have the most impact on the survival of this species since 60-65% of the population lives there. Many believe that efforts need to be focused there to help this wildlife to flourish.
5. They Call 12 Different Countries Home
Many different countries are home to these cats, including:
6. They Are Solitary Creatures
These large cats rarely are seen with others of their kind. The one exception is during mating and while a mother raises its cubs. Since snow leopards are seldom together, there is not a name for a group of them.
January to mid-March is when the mating season usually begins. The females will then separate from the males and give birth between June and July. They will have 1-5 cubs, although usually only two or three. These cubs will begin to eat solid foods after a few months and will find their territory by the time they are two. Females will begin to mate shortly after, but males usually do not breed until four years of age.
7. Gentle and Shy Cats
Although they do have separate territories, seldom will two snow leopards fight for land. It is more likely they will run from one another. They are also skittish around humans, and there has never been a recorded incident of a snow leopard attack against a human.
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Due to their gentle, shy nature, they have even been given the name "ghost of the mountains" because spotting one is difficult because it blends in with the snow and because they often will hide from peering eyes.
8. It Takes 3-4 Days to Finish a Meal
Since they live alone, they also hunt alone. These large cats will hunt every 8-10 days and eat their meals slowly. A massive kill may take three to four days to finish. Their favorite meal is usually ibex, but they will make opportunistic kills such as an animal on a farm, which has caused retaliative kills, endangering this species further. The most common animals they will eat are ibex, argali, horse, camel, sheep, goat, and young yaks.
9. They Are Nomadic
Since they need to hunt their food, their territory is dependent on where their prey is. Although snow leopards do have specific areas that they consider their land, they do not always have the same region throughout their life. When they find a spot they like, they mark their territory by spraying their scent glands, signaling other snow leopards to stay away. Male areas never overlap, but males will sometimes overlap their region with a neighboring female.
They choose their territory based on what prey is available there. Although snow leopard's favorite prey is ibex, they will eat most large game. Unlike other cats, their territory varies in size, dependent on what prey is available. The fewer wildlife available, the larger their area. Some will call 30 square kilometers home, but others may have 1,000 square kilometers of territory due to the sparse possible food.
56 cm (22 in)
22 and 55 kg (49 and 121 lb)
75 to 150 cm (30 to 59 in)
80 to 105 cm (31 to 41 in)
How Many in Wild
4,678 to 8,745
Lives Above Sea Level
3,000 to 4,500 m (9,800 to 14,800 ft)
Most Closely Related To
Length of Fur
5 and 12 cm (2.0 and 4.7 in)
10. In China Their Fur and Claws Are Used in Medications
Although many things are causing the decline of this beautiful animal, such as loss of habitat due to farming and building of housing and retaliating kills due to them farmers protecting their cattle, the most preventable is the hunting of them to use their body parts for Chinese medicine. Their claws and fur have been used in medications, despite there not being any proof that these properties assist in healing the maladies they are used to help, such as an arthritis medicine that has been found to contain snow leopard DNA.
Although these vulnerable creatures have a lot of endurance for their habitats, we must do our part and try to help protect these beautiful cats. We can do so by adopting an animal through World Wild Life (WWF) or by taking care of the environment in our neighborhood. The better we are educated and the better we educate others, the better chance all endangered species have for survival.
- "Endangered Species Conservation." WWF. Accessed August 26, 2018. https://www.worldwildlife.org/.
- "Save the Snow Leopard!" Snow Leopard Trust. Accessed August 26, 2018. https://www.snowleopard.org/.
- "Snow Leopard | Panthera." Panthera.org. Accessed August 26, 2018. https://www.panthera.org/cat/snow-leopard.
Questions & Answers
Question: Is the snow leopard a vertebrate?
Answer: Yes! A vertebrate is any animal with a backbone. You are a vertebrate along with all cat species, dog species, many fish, many lizards, bears, and birds.
© 2018 Angela Michelle Schultz
Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on August 28, 2018:
I totally agree. I have always dreamed of having one. That and a chimpanzee.
SophiaFarrow from Australia on August 28, 2018:
What could be more beautiful than wild cats? Beautiful, proud creatures! It makes you want to dream that you have one)