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Snow leopards are carnivores and will mostly hunt mountain dwelling sheep and goats including markhor, Siberian ibex and Urial sheep.
These large cats are also known to target large prey (up to 3 times their own weight!) such as wild asses, musk deer, wild boar and gazelles, but will also catch smaller animals (especially during summer months) such as hares, rabbits, pheasants, marmots and voles.
Snow leopards are usually active during dawn and dusk (crepuscular) and generally hunt alone or as a mother and cub(s).
Snow leopards live in rugged and remote mountainous areas that have ridges, ravines and steep cliffs in regions of central Asia and the Tibetan region of China.
Snow leopards are solitary, and will spend most of their lives alone except during mating season or when a female has cubs.
Unlike other large cats snow leopards have a defined period when births are most common, as mating in the wild often occurs during January and in to March. Females will give birth to her cubs inside a cave or rock crevice. The cubs are born blind and helpless and during their first week of life, the female will stay close to the den caring for her cubs from feeding to grooming and resting. The cubs are weaned from their mother by 10 weeks old, and will start to follow her around outside of the den site from 2-4 months old.
Snow leopard cubs rely on their mother for up to around 18 months. They are mature from 2-3 years old, but rarely breed until they are around 4 years old.
Snow leopards have no natural predators, as they are one of the main predators within their range.
They will use the patterns on their fur as camouflage, to blend in to their environment to help sneak up on their prey stay or to stay hidden.
Threats to snow leopards include hunting for their pelt, and also for their bones for the use of traditional medicines, habitat destruction and conflicts with humans.
With continued loss of suitable habitat for the prey of snow leopards to thrive, snow leopards are known to target livestock animals that are within its range. Due to this snow leopards have been hunted as a way to protect livestock.
Snow leopards are protected by law and international trade in this species is banned. These animals are linked with different organisations that have programmes to protect them in the wild, which involve community-based conservation programmes, incentives for people to protect the local wildlife and helping people to find better ways of managing and protecting their livestock. There have even been compensation schemes for people who have had their livestock targeted by snow leopards.
In captivity snow leopards can be found in many collections worldwide and are linked with various captive breeding programmes.
Size Head and body length: 86-125cm. Tail length: 80-105cm
Weight 22-52kg, males tend to be larger than females
Gestation 3-3 ½ months
Young 1-5 cubs (usually 1-3)
Life span 15 years in the wild, up to 20 years in captivity
Unlike most big cats, snow leopards cannot roar. They are able to make other sounds including purring, hissing, growls, moans and yowls.
Snow leopard fur was once so sought after for the fashion industry, around 1,000 pelts were traded a year in the 1920’s.
As snow leopards spend most of their lives alone, there is no group name given for snow leopards.
These animals were once in their own genus called "Uncia", but recent genetic analysis suggests that they are closely related to tigers (Panthera tigris) but diverged from this group over 2 million years ago.
Due to this recent finding their scientific name was changed from Uncia uncia to Panthera uncia.
The markings of snow leopards are unique to each individual.