Snow leopard

Uncia (Panthera) uncia

SUBFAMILY

Pantherinae

TAXONOMY

Felis uncial (Schreber, 1775), Persia. OTHER COMMON NAMES

English: Ounce; French: Panthère des nieges, léopard des nieges, once; German: Schneeleopard, Irbis; Spanish: Leopardo nival, pantera de las nieves.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

Length up to 51 in (130 cm); tail 31-39 in (80-100 cm); weight 77-120 lb (350-55 kg). Highly adapted to extreme conditions. Well-developed chest muscles, short forelimbs, thick tail to keep balance. Enlarged nasal cavity warms air passing into body. Thick coat up to 5 in (12 cm) long, with dense, woolly underfur. Coat color smoky gray, tinged yellow, with dark gray rosettes and black spots. Molts twice a year.

DISTRIBUTION

Central Asia, from Himalayas to Mongolia and south Russia. HABITAT

Alpine steppe, grassland, scrub, open conifer forest, from 3,000 to 18,000 ft (900-5,500 m). Steep, broken terrain preferred. Can endure temperatures of -40°F (-40°C) to 104°F (40°C).

BEHAVIOR

Solitary. Home ranges 12-25 mi2 (20-40 km2) in good habitat, up to 400 mi2 (1,000 km2) in Mongolia. Male and female ranges overlap, but animals avoid one another except when female in estrous. Paths marked with scrapes, feces and scent-sprays.

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

Ibex and blue sheep are main prey. Also goats, deer, livestock, including young yak, sheep and horses. Marmots and hares in summer. Stalks to within 40 yd (36 m) before rushing.

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY

Polygamous. Mating season January-March. Females scent mark and make long wailing calls to advertise estrous. Gestation 98-104 days. Litter one to five (usually two to three), born in spring or early summer in a rocky den. Cubs dependent until 18-22 months.

CONSERVATION STATUS

Classified as Endangered by the IUCN. Population estimated at below 2,500 breeding adults. Extremely rare in much of range and many reserves have unviably small populations. Prey population hunted out in many areas.

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS

Hunted for fur and for bones and body parts, used as substitutes for tiger bones in traditional medicine. International trade in pelts now virtually ceased, but domestic trade may still be a problem. Predation on livestock locally significant. ♦

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