Friday, February 17, 2012

Interesting Animals: Snow Leopard

A snow leopard (Uncia uncia) in the wild.
The snow leopard's range
This species is one of what are commonly known as the "big cats." The common name comes from the snowy, mountainous habitat and the spotted coat of the species. They are native to mainly central Asia and are normally found at elevations of two thousand to six thousand meters, only occasionally venturing below these altitudes. The native range includes such countries as China and Afghanistan. Though they do somewhat resemble the better-known non-snow leopard, there are a number of differences. The snow leopard's tail is quite a bit thicker and longer, it is gray in color, and its rosettes are larger, just to name a few. Classification-wise, the two species aren't even in the same genus, with leopards being in the genus Panthera along with the lion, jaguar, and tiger and the snow leopard being in its own genus: Uncia. However, some authorities disagree on this point, with other groups place snow leopards in Panthera as well.

A captive snow leopard
These animals are very well adapted for their native habitat, with thick fur for warmth and a body built for the difficult terrain. That amazingly large tail is used for both balance and warm, protecting sensitive areas like the nose and mouth in extremely cold temperatures. They are at least a meter long in the body with up to an additional meter of tail. They are incredibly athletic creatures, capable of leaping amazing distances, an advantage when living in mountainous terrain. Prey are varied and include large animals like deer, wild sheep and wild boar, along with smaller animals such as mice, hare, and marmots. Occasionally, these predators are known to kill domestic animals. Though they are in with the big cats, snow leopards don't roar. They are currently Endangered and, unfortunately, one of their biggest threats is poachers looking to sell their beautiful coat. However, there are quite a number of other threats as well. There is currently a large captive breeding program going on in an attempt to help preserve the species. In the wild, there may be fewer than five thousand individuals left.

Sources are the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology's Animal Diversity Web and the IUCN Red List of Threatened species. Images are from Wikimedia Commons and are under a Creative Commons license or are copyright free: one, two, three.

No comments:

Post a Comment