Denver Zoo Map

Panthera uncia

SNOW LEOPARD


Classification

Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Felidae
Genus: Panther
Species: uncia

Exhibits

Fun Facts

  • Snow leopards cannot roar like other big cats because they have an underdeveloped vocal apparatus.
  • Snow leopards can leap 30 feet due to their long powerful limbs.
  • Snow leopards have a large chest capacity and powerful lungs to help them get enough oxygen from the thin mountain air in their habitat.

SNOW LEOPARD


Distribution

Snow leopards are found in many areas in central Asia including eastern Russia, Mongolia, China, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyz Republic and in the Himalayas in Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan and India. The actual areas are small and greatly fragmented from each other.

Habitat

Snow leopards live in rocky mountainous areas with shrubs, grasslands, steppe or coniferous forests abovethe tree line. They can live at elevations up to 16,000 feet.

Physical Description

  • Snow leopards have a head-body length of up to five feet (1.5 m) with a thick, bushy tail adding another three feet (1.0 m).
  • Males weigh 100-120 pounds (45-54 kg) and are 30% larger than females. Females weigh 60-88 pounds (27-40 kg).
  • Their fur is a smoky gray with a tinge of yellow on the edges with dark gray rosettes on the upper body in an indistinct pattern. They have white fur on the belly, chest and chin areas.
  • They have a small head, heavy brow and short ears.

Diet

What Does It Eat?

In the wild: Sheep, ibex, musk deer as well as marmots, hares, birds, rodents and sometimes domestic livestock.
At the zoo: Special feline diet and meat with bones to help keep their teeth clean.

What Eats It?

Snow leopards are one of the top predators in Central Asia. Few, if any, natural predators exist, except for the young or infirm.

Social Organization

Snow leopards are solitary except during mating and females with cubs. Snow leopard territories overlap without conflict.

Life Cycle

Snow leopards reach sexual maturity at two to three years. Breeding season is from January to April. The female gives birth to a litter of one to four cubs after a gestation of 97-103 days. The cubs are born blind, about a foot long weighing a little more than a pound (450 g). They have darker fur than adults. At five to six weeks they come out of the den but stay with their mother until they are 18-22 months old. Snow leopards live 15-18 years in the wild and up to 21 years in captivity.

Adaptations

Fur Muffler

Snow leopards have a bushy tail up to three feet long that can be wrapped around their body and head to protect them from the cold. They have long thick hair that covers a dense woolly under fur. Belly fur can be three to five inches long. Like snowshoes, their large paws are fully furred to provide warmth and good traction on snow.

Mountain Living

The snow leopard is uniquely adapted to survive the harsh conditions at high altitudes in the remote mountains of central Asia. They have well-developed chest muscles and powerful, short limbs that help them climb and leap in the rocky terrain, while their long tails help them balance on small mountain ridges. The snow leopards’ gray fur provides camouflage that enables them to blend into their rocky, snowy habitat. They are more terrestrial than other cats and migrate with the seasons, changing elevations with the climate and availability of food.

Night Sight

The tapetum lucidum, a mirror-like layer in the back of the eye, reflects light back through the eye to help produce a brighter image in low light. This is an adaptation for their nocturnal lifestyle enabling them to see six times better than humans in low light. Cats have the most highly developed binocular vision of all carnivores resulting in extremely accurate 3-D vision which helps them gauge the distance to prey animals.

Conservation Connection

IUCN Status: Endangered.
Snow leopards are endangered and their numbers are decreasing at a fast pace. They are poached for their pelts which are the most highly valued of the wild cats because of their rarity. Snow leopards are also valued for their bones and other body parts. Loss of habitat and decreasing availability of prey animals also affect their survival. There may only be 2000 to 7000 snow leopards remaining.

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