Big Cat Week: Day #2

Greetings everyone, the next segment on our NatGeoWild big cat week features the magnificent and rare snow leopard.

Snow leopards (panthera uncia) are also known as the “Ghosts of the Mountain” because of their solitary and mysterious nature. These cats are rarely seen by humans.

Habitat: mountains, mountain grasslands, broadleaf forests, coniferous forests and tropical coniferous forests of Afghanistan, Bhutan, China, Nepal, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. 
Conservation Status: EN (Endangered) 

Population in the wild: 4080 - 6590 (snow leopards normally live for 15-18 years, however in captivity they can live for up to 21 years) 

Population Trend: Decreasing! 

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Weight: 27-55kg (with an occasional large male reaching 75kg and small female of under 25kg)

Length: 2-5ft 

Characteristics: Long thick fur with the base colour varying from smoky grey to creamy tan with light complexioned under parts. Dark grey to black open rosettes present on their bodies, with solid spots of the same colour on their head, neck and lower limbs and large rings enclosing smaller spots covering the rest of their body. This coat blends in perfectly with the steep, rocky mountains of Central Asia. Additionally the snow leopard normally has pale green or grey eyes. 

Due to their habitat, many adaptations have evolved to ensure survival for the cold mountain life. Snow leopards have a well developed chest; short forelimbs with large paws for navigating on snow; long and powerful hind legs which provide the ability to leap six times the length of their bodies; long fur with woolly undergrowth and most importantly their tail. A snow leopard's tail is incredibly long and can be up to 90% the length of the cat's body! No wonder they are able to use their tails as blankets, covering their faces and protecting them from the cold. Lastly, their tail also helps them balance as they guide along rocky mountainsides.

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Snow leopards are carnivores and are powerful enough to bring down a creature three or four times their size! The diet of the snow leopards varies due to its bearing and is heavily dependent on the availability of prey around at the time of year. Animals eaten are Himalayan Blue Sheep, Siberian Ibex, Himalayan Tahr, Gorals, Deer, Wild Boars, Langur monkeys, Marmots, Woolly Hares, Pikas and birds e.g. Snow Cock and Chukar. 

Snow leopards are sexually mature at two or three years. Mating season is in late winter and is very brief as the oestrus cycle (a state where physiologic changes are amplified by reproductive hormones) typically lasts from five to eight days. For snow leopards the gestation period is 90-100 days long. The cubs usually become independent when they are 18-22 months old and that is when they disperse away from their mother over ample distances to seek out new hunting grounds.

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However, little is known about these magnificent creatures like territorial boundaries, and interactions between them. Hopefully this has given you an insight into the information we do know about the elusive snow leopard. To study the snow leopard further Boone Smith (a cat wrangler) was assigned to track down the elusive snow leopard which was documented by NatGeoWild. In the documentary 'Snow Leopard of Afghanistan', it was devastating to watch that a snow leopard coat among many other wild cats' coats could be found on a high street shop in Afghanistan. However the remainder of the documentary is filled with the informative procedure of trapping, capturing and collaring a snow leopard and the agility of the snow leopard which will leave you in awe. Biobunch approves and recommends "Snow Leopard of Afghanistan".

We'll leave you with an adorable video of two snow leopard cubs and their mother at Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo. Leave a comment below to ensure a big cat of your choice is featured in one of our articles this week. Come back for Big Cat Week: Day #3 tomorrow!!

Over and out.

For all the information used in this text and more visit theses websites:
National Geographic
BBC Nature
IUCN Redlist 

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