|Population||4,080-6,590 (2006 est.)|
The snow leopard (Panthera uncia) is the large cat of central Asia.
Many authorities believe the snow leopard should be placed within a separate genus, referring to the species as Uncia uncia; to this end they cite physical differences between this cat and the remainder of Panthera, such as the short, "bulldog" face and stocky build. Additionally, the genus Uncia was first proposed by Schreber in 1775. However, genetic analysis (Johnson et al. 2006, Eizirik et al. submitted) indicates their closest living relative is the tiger (Panthera tigris).
The snow leopard is from three to nearly five feet long from their head to rump; the long, thick tail adds an additional 40 inches. They stand two feet at the shoulder, and weigh in at up to 175 pounds; females are slightly smaller than males.
The base color of the fur is light grey, turning to white underneath. Dark grey-to-black spots and rosettes cover the coat, giving the cat a camouflage against the rocky, snow-covered areas in which it lives. The fur itself is thick and up to five inches in length.
Range and habitat
Snow leopards are found the mountainous areas of central Asia, generally between 9,000 and 13,000 feet elevation, with the majority within Tibet. Snow leopards inhabit alpine and sub-alpine zones consisting mainly of conifers as tree cover; within these zones they favor gullies, cliffs, outcroppings, and other areas of steep terrain. In their northern range limit in Russia they are found at lower elevations, at no higher than 7,800 elevation. They will exist within non-forested areas, such as the flat or rolling terrain of Mongolia, as long as cover is present to enable them to hunt successfully.
Prey species include bharal (Pseudois nayaur), ibex (Capra sibirica), as well as smaller fare such as rodents, pikas, hares, and birds. In areas where natural prey was pushed out in favor of human agriculture snow leopards will feed on domestic livestock, with some areas reporting the cats have domestic sources as 53% of their diet.
Snow leopards may be killed by tigers or brown bears in areas where these species overlap; however, their chief threat is man, resulting in a decline of some 20% over the past 16 years. Habitat disruption for logging and farming has pushed these cats deeper into the mountainous areas. Persecution of the cats for attacks on domestic animals, as well as the spurious traditional medicine trade (where it is a substitute for tigers) have further reduced their numbers.
Military conflict in the Hindu-Kush region of Afghanistan has also been cited for the reduction of snow leopards with this area. As of 2006, the overall population of these cats is a high of 6,590, broken down as follows:
- Afghanistan: 100-200
- Bhutan: 100-200
- China: 2,000-2,500
- India: 200-600
- Kazakhstan: 180-200
- Kyrgyzstan: 150-500
- Mongolia: 500-1,000
- Nepal: 300-500
- Pakistan: 200-420
- Russia: 150-200
- Tajikistan: 180-220
- Uzbekistan: 20-50