About Snow Leopards
- Due to the secretive nature of the snow leopard, exact numbers are not known.
- It is estimated that around 3,500 to 7,000 wild snow leopards exist in the mountains regions of central Asia.
- This ranges from approximately 2,500 in China to 30 in Uzbekistan.
- In addition, there are between 600 and 700 snow leopards in zoos around the world.
- Snow leopards are solitary and elusive by nature and, therefore, scarcely seen in the wild.
- Their fur is very thick to help them preserve heat as they live in extremely cold conditions.
- The colour and design of their fur (grey or black uneven spots against an off-white or yellowish background) provides excellent camouflage against the rocky slopes.
- As you would expect, given the snowy conditions in which they live, snow leopards have very large paws. Their long tails, measuring almost the length of the rest of their whole body, are used to help them balance.
- Snow leopards do not roar as you would expect from wild cats. They do, however, mew, hiss, growl, moan, yowl, and puff through their nostrils.
- Snow leopards weigh about seven or eight times more than a domestic cat.
- Snow leopards live at high altitude (usually between 3,000 and 5,500 metres above sea level), in the rocky mountain ranges of Central Asia, extending across twelve countries: Afghanistan, Bhutan, China, India, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.
- Steep cliffs and rocky outcrops are their preferred terrain as this type of habitat is good for hunting in terms of providing cover and enabling them to stalk their prey.
- Snow leopards have defined territories although these can overlap as they are not as territorially defensive as other species.
- The most common prey for a snow leopard is wild sheep and goats, however, this varies dependent on its specific home territory.
- The illegal fur trade is the greatest threat to the snow leopards. Pelts are especially sought after in Central Asia, Eastern Europe and Russia. A snow leopard skeleton can be sold for £120 on the black market and six to twelve skins are needed to make just one coat – for under £1,500 twelve of these amazing cats will have been killed and someone will have fetched up to £30,000 for the coat. Their bones and body parts are used in traditional Asian medicine. They can also be captured live and brought to private collectors in Central Asia.
- Loss of habitat is now at a critical stage. As the human population rises, so the snow leopard ranges decrease.
- The decrease of natural prey due to overgrazing (which leaves less food for the wild sheep and goats) leads snow leopards to take advantage of local herders’ livestock and this in turn leads to retribution killings.
- Although all of the snow leopard range countries have laws to protect the cat, a lack of policy implementation in some countries hinders conservation efforts.