Declining natural prey has forced Snow Leopards to catch domestic animals, bringing them into conflict with people. Conservation efforts are also hampered by people hunting these cats. Although trade in Snow Leopard skins is illegal, the beautiful, thick fur is still highly prized.
Amazing Snow Leopards
These large cats are perfectly adapted to life in cold, mountainous regions. They have large nasal cavities to aid breathing in the thin air of high altitudes, and their short, stocky legs give them great agility. Their patterned white-grey fur is excellent camouflage against rocky, snow-covered terrain and their thick coats protect against extremely cold weather. The fur on their bellies can be up to 12 cm long.
Snow Leopards are solitary, opportunistic hunters that prey on wild sheep and goats, and smaller animals such as rodents and birds. In some Tibetan villages they cause over 9% of the domestic animal losses each year. This puts them in danger of being killed by people trying to protect their stock. They hunt by stalking their prey then attacking in a final, brief rush.
The range of Snow Leopards varies between 20 and 1000 square kilometres, depending on the quality of the habitat. Mating occurs in winter, and young are born in spring or early summer. Young cubs remain with their mother for 18 to 22 months.
Snow Leopards are rare and secretive thus little was known about their biology until modern tracking techniques became available. Only about 4000–6000 individuals remain in the wild, and their numbers have dropped dramatically in recent decades.