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Cats: Felidae

Snow Leopard (uncia Uncia): Species Accounts

Physical characteristics: Snow leopards are light gray with black-brown rosettes and spots and sides tinged with yellow. This leopard measures 39 to 51 inches (99 to 130 centimeters). The furry tail, nearly as long as the body, acts as a warm wrap during sleep or rest and provides balance during leaps. An enlarged nasal cavity warms cold air entering the body. Long hind legs are adapted for jumping up to 45 feet (14 meters), while wide, furred paws are designed for walking on snow. Snow leopards weigh 77 to 120 pounds (35 to 55 kilograms).

Geographic range: Snow leopards occur in Afghanistan, Bhutan, China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

Snow leopards live in high mountain regions, preferring areas near cliffs and ridges. (Cincinnati Zoo. Reproduced by permission.)

Habitat: Snow leopards live in high mountain regions, preferring steep, broken areas near cliffs and ridges. They also inhabit arid or semi-arid shrubland.

Diet: Snow leopards feed mainly on blue sheep and ibex, a wild goat. They also eat small animals, including marmots, hares, and game birds. They may take livestock, including young yaks, sheep, goats, and horses. They occasionally eat plants.

Behavior and reproduction: Snow leopards are generally active at dawn and dusk. They are solitary but communicate by scent marking with urine, feces, and scratches on the ground and tree trunks. They cannot roar but make sounds, including screams, hisses, and mews. Leopards pair off only to mate, averaging two to three cubs. The cubs stay with their mother for about two years.

Snow leopards and people: Snow leopards' bones and body parts have replaced tiger parts in traditional Asian medicine. Illegal hunting for fur continues in some Asian countries. Snow leopards are also killed for preying on domestic livestock.

Conservation status: The IUCN lists the snow leopard as Endangered due to several factors: loss of prey, killing by herders, poaching, and habitat loss and fragmentation due to human activities, especially the raising of livestock. ∎

Additional topics

Animal Life ResourceMammalsCats: Felidae - Physical Characteristics, Behavior And Reproduction, Cats And People, Lion (panthera Leo:): Species Accounts - GEOGRAPHIC RANGE, HABITAT, DIET, CONSERVATION STATUS