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The Snow Leopard occupies a precarious spot on the endangered species list. This powerful creature’s numbers are dwindling, and here are several reasons why.
1: The snow leopard is a large, carnivorous cat native to mountain ranges in Central Asia. Their mountain habit ranges from India and China to Afghanistan and Russia. There are so few numbers of this large cat left that their historic range in Mongolia is nearly barren.
2: This cat is known for its gorgeous soft grey (or white) fur with ringed dark rosettes. The lush coat allows it to blend in with snowy forests and camouflage itself from prospective prey. The snow leopard’s eyes are light green or gray, which is atypical for large cats. These physical attributes make the cats attractive to poachers.
3: Most snow leopards live in alpine and subalpine zones with elevations from 9,800 to 14,800 feet above sea level. They also reside in Northern range countries at lower elevations of around 10,000 feet.
4: As an endangered species, there are only about 6000 snow leopards left in the wild. Another 600 snow leopards can be found in zoos and national parks worldwide.
5. The snow leopard’s numbers fall each year due to habitat degradation. Humans have pushed livestock into mountain grasslands, where they overgraze, much to the detriment of the snow leopard’s primary prey.
6: Snow leopards primarily feed upon goats, blue sheep, and mountain ibex. They are able to kill animals up to three times their own weight. In desperate measures, they will also hunt birds, rabbits, and various rodents. Rare instances will see snow leopards seek out domestic animals, only to be shot by angry herders.
7. Snow leopards have an enormous appetite. One snow leopard (housed in an Indian national park) reportedly hunted and killed five goats, six sheep, nine hares, fifteen birds, and twenty-five marmots in one year.
8: Hunting is another major reason for the snow leopard’s endangered status. The animals’ gorgeous pelts are in high demand. Traditional Asian medicine values large cats’ bones and skin, and poachers can sell these the cats’ bodies for thousands of dollars.
9: Snow leopards’ oversized, fur-covered paws act as natural snowshoes to help them navigate the snow. Their fur-lined tails are not only used as balance, but as a makeshift blanket to help guard them from mountain temperatures as they sleep.
10: Snow leopards grow to weigh 60 to 120 pounds as full-grown adults. They also grow up to 5 feet in length with a 3-foot-long tail.
11: The snow leopard’s powerful body lends it enormous strength. It effortlessly scales mountains, and their long hind legs provide the ability to leap a distance equal to 6 times the length of its body.
12: Snow leopards are most active at dawn and dusk. They are very solitary animals and do not reside in packs.
13: Mating season for the snow leopard occurs between January and March. This is the only time you’ll ever see 2 adult snow leopards together.
14: The gestation period of a snow leopard is only about 3 months. The litter size is small and usually only 2 or 3 cubs in size.
15: Female snow leopards line their dens with fur before giving birth. Cubs accompany mothers on hunts starting at 3 months. After their first winter, young snow leopards strike out on their own.
16: The snow leopard is Pakistan’s National Heritage Animal. It is also the state animal of the western Himalayan state Himachal Pradesh. Sadly, few of the animals remain in these regions.
17: Snow leopards rarely attack humans, but it does happen. The only two documented instances occurred near Alma-Ata. In both cases, the animals were emaciated and desperate for food. Nonetheless, the reputation remains.