Snow Leopard

Solitary by nature, the snow leopard is an elusive species, occurring in inaccessible habitats and catching whatever prey it can.

In summer, the snow leopard, which is also know as the ounce in some areas has a soft gray coat and a black streak along the back. It inhabits the alpine meadows above the tree-line in mountain areas, amid snow and glaciers. In the winter months it follows the migrations of its prey animals down to the level of forest and scrub at about 6,500 ft (1,980 m). They are well-protected against the cold, with fur covering their paws.

The snow leopard is found on upland steppe and forest in central Asia. It can take prey as large as a yak, but tends to feed on smaller creatures, such as sheep, goats, hares and birds. In winter this leopard will also sometimes take domestic livestock. It is very secretive, hiding away in caves and crevices for much of the day. The snow leopard's luxuriantly thick coat keeps it warm and enables it to live at very high altitudes without suffering from the cold. However, this coat now carries a price: snow leopards are often hunted for their skins, which can be sold for very high prices in Asian countries.

Females may sometimes be accompanied by young, but otherwise snow leopards are solitary animals, constantly roaming around their enormous territories. They are active mainly in the early morning. The female gives birth to 2 or 3 cubs (but there may occasionally be 4 or 5), after a gestation period of between 95 and 103 days. The young start to accompany their mother on hunting trips when they are about 2 months old.

They sleep curled up in a ball, with their long tail protecting their exposed nose and mouth from the bitter cold.

Distribution: Ranges across the mountainous areas of central Asia, typically between 2000 – 6000 m (6500 – 20,000 ft), through the Himalayas and Tibet into northwestern China.

Habitat: Mountain slopes, forest.

Weight: Females 4.4 kg (10 lb); males 5.9 kg (13 lb).

Length: 180 – 230 cm (71 – 91 in), including tail; up to 61cm (24 in) tall.

Maturity: 24 months.

Gestation Period: 95 – 100 days.

Breeding: Average 2 – 3, but can be 5; weaning occurs at around 180 days.

Food: Carnivorous, hunting wild sheep, deer and boar, plus rodents and livestock.

Lifespan: 15 years; up to 20 in captivity.

Eyes

Very keen eyesight helps pick out the movement of potential prey.

Colouration

A whitish-tan base colour is covered with dark brown spots and black rosettes.

Tail

Long and strong, the tail acts as a counter-balance when jumping.

GETTING AROUND

Snow leopards are incredibly agile animals in spite of their size – they can leap easily on to rocky outcrops.

Gallery of Snow Leopard