We have often spoken of our obsession with the magnificent creature that is the Snow Leopard. Spread out across Central and South Asia, this elusive wild cat is nearly impossible to get a hold of. Spotting one is extremely rare and the conditions one must be put in are challenging…
Which is why we won’t quit till we spot it.
But how much do we really know about the Snow Leopard? What makes it so special? And how can YOU get an opportunity to see the ‘Grey Ghost’ yourself?
Snow Leopard: Diet
Snow Leopards are exclusively carnivorous and are not picky eaters. True opportunists, the feed on whatever meat they can get their paws on. Snow leopards are strong and flexible. It is not unheard of for them to take down a prey three times their own size. They’re able to chase their prey easily, leaping over wide ravines and canyons.
As per the location of the snow leopards, they feast on different types of wildlife. Alpine ibex, local goat, deer, bharal, boar, horses and small rodents are some who fall prey to the attacking snow leopard. Being slow eaters, they typically take 3-4 days to consume a single prey.
Snow Leopard Habitat
As mentioned before, the Snow Leopard lives in the mountains of Central Asia. They primarily reside in: Afghanistan, Bhutan, China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Though the range of their habitat is a few million km², there are less than 6,950 snow leopards left.
In the Himalayas, they reside between 3,000 to 5,400 meters above sea level. Whereas they are found in lower altitudes in Russia and Mongolia, at around 1,000 meters. Snow leopards exhibit nomadic behavior, often moving around to hunt and using markings to communicate with other cats and warn them of their territory. As the Snow Leopard finds it incredibly easy to move around and stay camouflaged in rugged terrain, they prefer to stay in rocky areas and ravines – which also makes it easier for them to hunt. Their fur allows them to stay in climate which is cold and dry.
Snow Leopard: Characteristics
With pale yellow or grey eyes and dense, white fur which can be up to 5 inches thick with inky spots in the shape of rosettes, these creatures are beautiful and striking. With a lengthy tail and large paws, Snow Leopards find it easy to balance and walk around in the snow, as the paws act like natural snow boots.
The Snow Leopard is generally smaller than most other wild cats, weighing about 30 – 65kg. In length, they can be as long as 1.35 meters.
Behavior-wise, these cats are extremely shy and mysterious. Snow leopards are solitary and independent, only socializing during mating season. Although they are non- aggressive with humans, they might attack if they feel their cubs are in danger. They are also non-confrontational with other animals; if a snow leopard is threatened by another predator, it would choose to walk away, letting the other animal devour the prey that the snow leopard itself had caught.
The ‘grey ghost’ is most active at dawn and dusk, which is when it usually prefers to hunt. Not much is known about how long wild Snow Leopards sleep. However, in captivity, they sleep an average of 18 hours.
The Snow Leopard does not roar. This is due to the physiology of their throat, which does not allow them to make a roaring sound. Instead they make a non-threatening sound, a ‘chuff’, which is a puffing sound. Although, they purr, hiss, growl and moan much like other large cats.
Snow Leopard: Endangered?
Due to a high demand of the snow leopard’s fur coat, they were illegally hunted for trade. Their fur was a rare and high paying commodity in countries belonging to Central Asia, Russia and Eastern Europe. Their body parts and bones were also used in traditional Asian medicine. There is also a loss of living space for snow leopards due to livestock grazing and expanding civilization.
Constant efforts are being made to save this magnificent species from going extinct. A few agencies are working towards conservation of the Snow Leopard, like: WWF, Snow Leopard Trust, Snow Leopard Conservancy, Panthera etc.