The SNOW LEOPARD or OUNCE (
Panthera uncia syn. Uncia uncia) is a
large cat native to the mountain ranges of Central and
Snow leopards inhabit alpine and subalpine zones at elevations from 3,000 to 4,500 m (9,800 to 14,800 ft). In the northern range countries, they also occur at lower elevations.
Taxonomically , the snow leopard has been classified as Uncia uncia since the early 1930s. Based on genotyping studies, the cat has been considered a member of the genus Panthera since 2008. Two subspecies have been attributed, but genetic differences between the two have not been settled.
* 1 Naming and etymology * 2 Taxonomy and evolution * 3 Subspecies * 4 Description * 5 Distribution and habitat
* 6 Ecology and behavior
* 7 Conservation efforts
* 7.1 Global Snow
* 7.2 2015 designated International Year of the Snow
* 8 Relationships with humans
* 8.1 Attacks on humans and livestock * 8.2 Emblematic use
* 8.3 In the media
* 8.3.1 Documentary * 8.3.2 Non-Fiction * 8.3.3 Fictional
* 9 References * 10 Further reading * 11 External links
NAMING AND ETYMOLOGY
Both the latinized genus name, Uncia, and the occasional English name ounce are derived from the Old French once, originally used for the European lynx . Once itself is believed to have arisen by back-formation from an earlier variant of lynx, lonce – the "l" of lonce was construed as an abbreviated la ('the'), leaving once to be perceived as the animal's name. This, like the English version ounce, came to be used for other lynx-sized cats, and eventually for the snow leopard.
According to the American Heritage Dictionary, the origin of the word panthera is unknown. A folk etymology derives the word from the Greek πάν pan ("all") and thēr (beast of prey) because they can hunt and kill almost anything. It was proposed to have come ultimately into Greek from a Sanskrit word meaning "the yellowish animal" or "whitish-yellow". The Greek word πάνθηρ, pánthēr, referred to all spotted felines generically.
TAXONOMY AND EVOLUTION
Closeup of a male snow leopard. Two cladograms proposed for Panthera . The upper cladogram is based on the 2006 and 2009 studies, while the other is based on the 2010 and 2011 studies.
The species was first described by the German naturalist Johann
Christian Daniel von Schreber on the basis of an illustration in his
1777 publication Die Säugethiere in Abbildungen nach der Natur mit
Beschreibungen. Schreber named the cat
The snow leopard is part of the
Panthera lineage, one of the eight
lineages of Felidae. This lineage comprises the species of Panthera
and Neofelis. The
Neofelis lineage diverged first remainder of the
Felinae (see figure). Subsequent branching between the snow leopard
and clouded leopard began two to three million years ago, but the
details of this are disputed. A 2006 phylogenetic study by Warren E.
Johnson (of the
National Cancer Institute ) and colleagues, based on
nDNA and mtDNA analysis, showed that the leopard is sister to two
Panthera – one consisting of the tiger and the snow
leopard, and the other of the lion and the jaguar. This was seconded
by a 2009 study by
Lars Werdelin and colleagues. However, the results
obtained in a 2010 study by Brian W. Davis (of the Texas A this
requires further evaluation. Authors of the Handbook of the Mammals
of the World recognize two subspecies, namely U. u. uncia occurring in
Snow leopards are slightly smaller than the other big cats but, like them, exhibit a range of sizes, generally weighing between 27 and 55 kg (60 and 121 lb), with an occasional large male reaching 75 kg (165 lb) and small female of under 25 kg (55 lb). They have a relatively short body, measuring in length from the head to the base of the tail 75 to 150 cm (30 to 60 in). However, the tail is quite long, at 80 to 100 cm (31 to 39 in), with only the domestic-cat -sized marbled cat being relatively longer-tailed. They are stocky and short-legged big cats, standing about 60 cm (24 in) at the shoulder.
Snow leopards have long, thick fur, and their base color varies from smoky gray to yellowish tan, with whitish underparts. They have dark grey to black open rosettes on their bodies, with small spots of the same color on their heads and larger spots on their legs and tails. Unusually among cats, their eyes are pale green or grey in color. Large paw with thick fur on underside
Snow leopards show several adaptations for living in a cold, mountainous environment. Their bodies are stocky, their fur is thick, and their ears are small and rounded, all of which help to minimize heat loss. Their paws are wide, which distributes their weight better for walking on snow, and have fur on their undersides to increase their grip on steep and unstable surfaces; it also helps to minimize heat loss. Snow leopards' tails are long and flexible, helping them to maintain their balance, which is very important in the rocky terrain they inhabit. Their tails are also very thick due to fat storage and are very thickly covered with fur, which allows them to be used like a blanket to protect their faces when asleep.
The snow leopard has a short muzzle and domed forehead, containing unusually large nasal cavities that help the animal breathe the thin, cold air of their mountainous environment.
The snow leopard cannot roar , despite possessing partial
ossification of the hyoid bone . This partial ossification was
previously thought to be essential for allowing the big cats to roar,
but new studies show that the ability to roar is due to other
morphological features, especially of the larynx , which are absent in
the snow leopard.
Snow leopards were only reclassified as a member of the Panthera genus (big cats) following a genetic study by Mr Brian Davis, Dr Gang Li and Professor William Murphy in 2009. This study showed that snow leopards actually evolved alongside tigers and not leopards as previously thought.
DISTRIBUTION AND HABITAT
The snow leopard is distributed from the west of
Lake Baikal through
Potential snow leopard habitat in the Indian
In summer, snow leopards usually live above the tree line on
mountainous meadows and in rocky regions at altitudes from 2,700 to
6,000 m (8,900 to 19,700 ft). In winter, they come down into the
forests to altitudes around 1,200 to 2,000 m (3,900 to 6,600 ft). Snow
leopards prefer rocky, broken terrain, and can travel without
difficulty in snow up to 85 cm (33 in) deep, although they prefer to
use existing trails made by other animals.
ECOLOGY AND BEHAVIOR
The snow leopard is solitary, except for females with cubs. They rear them in dens in the mountains for extended periods.
An individual snow leopard lives within a well-defined home range, but does not defend its territory aggressively when encroached upon by other snow leopards. Home ranges vary greatly in size. In Nepal, where prey is abundant, a home range may be as small as 12 km2 (5 sq mi) to 40 km2 (15 sq mi) and up to five to 10 animals are found here per 100 km2 (39 sq mi); in habitats with sparse prey, though, an area of 1,000 km2 (386 sq mi) supports only five of these cats. However, a new study lasting from 2008 to 2014 indicates their ranges are much greater than believed; a male snow leopard requires a territory of around 80 square miles, while females require up to 48 square miles of territory. Taking this data into account, it is estimated that 40 percent of the 170 protected areas in place are smaller than the space required to support a single male snow leopard.
Like other cats, snow leopards use scent marks to indicate their territories and common travel routes. These are most commonly produced by scraping the ground with the hind feet before depositing urine or scat , but they also spray urine onto sheltered patches of rock.
Snow leopards are crepuscular , being most active at dawn and dusk. They are known for being extremely secretive and well camouflaged.
HUNTING AND DIET
Snow leopards are carnivores and actively hunt their prey. Like many cats, they are also opportunistic feeders, eating whatever meat they can find, including carrion and domestic livestock. They can kill animals two to four times their own weight, such as the bharal , Himalayan tahr , markhor , argali , horse , and camel , but will readily take much smaller prey, such as hares and birds . They are capable of killing most animals in their range with the probable exception of the adult male yak . Unusually among cats, snow leopards also eat a significant amount of vegetation, including grass and twigs. Snow leopards will also hunt in pairs successfully, especially mating pairs. A snow leopard eating at Ménagerie du Jardin des plantes , Paris.
The diet of the snow leopard varies across its range and with the
time of year, and depends on prey availability. In the
Considerable predation of domestic livestock occurs, which brings it into direct conflict with humans. However, even in Mongolia, where wild prey have been reduced and interactions with humans are common, domestic livestock (mainly domestic sheep ) comprises less than 20% of the diet of species, with wild prey being taken whenever possible. Herders will kill snow leopards to prevent them from taking their animals. The loss of prey animals due to overgrazing by domestic livestock, poaching, and defense of livestock are the major drivers for the decreasing population of the snow leopard. The snow leopard has not been reported to attack humans, and appears to be the least aggressive to humans of all big cats. As a result, they are easily driven away from livestock; they readily abandon their kills when threatened, and may not even defend themselves when attacked.
Snow leopards prefer to ambush prey from above, using broken terrain to conceal their approach. They will actively pursue prey down steep mountainsides, using the momentum of their initial leap to chase animals for up to 300 m (980 ft). They kill with a bite to the neck, and may drag the prey to a safe location before feeding. They consume all edible parts of the carcass, and can survive on a single bharal for two weeks before hunting again. Annual prey needs appears to be 20–30 adult blue sheep.
REPRODUCTION AND LIFE CYCLE
Snow leopards are unusual among large cats in that they have a well-defined birth peak. They usually mate in late winter, marked by a noticeable increase in marking and calling. Snow leopards have a gestation period of 90–100 days, so the cubs are born between April and June. Oestrus typically lasts from five to eight days, and males tend not to seek out another partner after mating, probably because the short mating season does not allow sufficient time. Paired snow leopards mate in the usual felid posture , from 12 to 36 times a day.
The mother gives birth in a rocky den or crevice lined with fur shed from her underside. Litter sizes vary from one to five cubs , but the average is 2.2. The cubs are blind and helpless at birth, although already with a thick coat of fur, and weigh from 320 to 567 g (11.3 to 20.0 oz). Their eyes open at around seven days, and the cubs can walk at five weeks and are fully weaned by 10 weeks. Also when they are born, they have full black spots which turn into rosettes as they grow to adolescence.
The cubs leave the den when they are around two to four months of age, but remain with their mother until they become independent after around 18–22 months. Once independent, they may disperse over considerable distances, even crossing wide expanses of flat terrain to seek out new hunting grounds. This likely helps reduce the inbreeding that would otherwise be common in their relatively isolated environments. Snow leopards become sexually mature at two to three years, and normally live for 15–18 years, although in captivity they can live for up to 25 years.
Numerous agencies are working to conserve the snow leopard and its
threatened mountain ecosystems. These include the
Snow Leopard Trust ,
Snow Leopard Conservancy , the Snow
These groups and various national governments from the snow
leopard’s range, nonprofits, and donors from around the world worked
together at the 10th International Snow
GLOBAL SNOW LEOPARD FORUM
In 2013, government leaders and officials from all 12 countries
encompassing the snow leopard's range (Afghanistan, Bhutan, China,
India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Mongolia, Pakistan, Russia,
Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan) came together at the GLOBAL SNOW LEOPARD
FORUM (GSLF) initiated by the President Almazbek Atambayev of the
Kyrgyz Republic, and the State Agency on Environmental Protection and
Forestry under the government of the Kyrgyz Republic. The meeting was
held in Bishkek, the capital of the Kyrgyz Republic, and all countries
agreed that the snow leopard and the high mountain habitat it lives in
need trans-boundary support to ensure a viable future for snow leopard
populations, as well as to safeguard their fragile environment. The
event brought together many partners, including NGOs like the Snow
At the GSLF meeting, the 12 range countries signed the BISHKEK DECLARATION to "acknowledge that the snow leopard is an irreplaceable symbol of our nations' natural and cultural heritage and an indicator of the health and sustainability of mountain ecosystems; and we recognize that mountain ecosystems inhabited by snow leopards provide essential ecosystem services, including storing and releasing water from the origins of river systems benefitting one-third of the world’s human population; sustaining the pastoral and agricultural livelihoods of local communities which depend on biodiversity for food, fuel, fodder, and medicine; and offering inspiration, recreation, and economic opportunities."
Out of these efforts was formed a cooperative support effort, the
The goal of the GSLEP is for the 12 snow leopard range countries, with support from conservation agencies, NGO’s and others to work together to identify and secure at least 20 healthy populations of snow leopards across the cat’s range by 2020, or "20 by 2020". Many of these populations will cross international boundaries.
The three criteria that will secure healthy populations of snow leopards are populations that represent at least 100 breeding age snow leopards, contain adequate and secure prey populations and have connectivity to other snow leopard populations.
This is an interim goal for the years through to 2020. During the coming years, agreement will be reached on the steps needed to achieve the ultimate goal of ensuring that healthy snow leopard populations remain the icon of the mountains of Asia for generations to come.
2015 DESIGNATED INTERNATIONAL YEAR OF THE SNOW LEOPARD
To help spread the word amongst the people, government authorities,
and conservation groups in each range country, 2015 was designated the
International Year of the Snow
POPULATION AND PROTECTED AREAS
The total wild population of the snow leopard was estimated at 4,510 to 7,350 individuals. Many of these estimates are rough and outdated. An estimate from 2016, using data from a number of studies, proposed a population of 4,700 to 8,700 individuals across only 32 percent of the species' range, suggesting that the total number of snow leopards was larger than previously thought. This estimate has been disputed by other conservationists, including Gustaf Samelius and Som Ale, who have raised concerns about the scientific validity of the data used in that estimate.
In 1972, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) placed the snow leopard on its Red List of Threatened Species as endangered until downgraded to vulnerable in 2017 following the most recent assessment in 2016.
There are also approximately 600 snow leopards in zoos around the world. The Richmond Metropolitan Zoo in Virginia, in the United States of America, has snow leopard cubs born in 2016.
RANGE COUNTRY Habitat Area (km2) Estimated Population
Afghanistan 50,000 100–200?
Bhutan 15,000 100–200?
China 1,100,000 2,000–2,500
India 75,000 200–600
Kazakhstan 50,000 180–200
Kyrgyzstan 105,000 150–500
Mongolia 101,000 500–1,000
Nepal 30,000 300–500
Pakistan 80,000 200–420
Tajikistan 100,000 180–220
Uzbekistan 10,000 20–50
Chitral National Park , in the
Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa , Pakistan
Hemis National Park , in
Pin Valley National Park , Lahaul Spiti , Himachal Pradesh, India
Great Himalayan National Park
Much progress has been made in securing the survival of the snow leopard, with them being successfully bred in captivity. The animals usually give birth to two to three cubs in a litter, but can give birth to up to seven in some cases.
A "surprisingly healthy" population of snow leopards has been found
living at 16 locations in the isolated
RELATIONSHIPS WITH HUMANS
ATTACKS ON HUMANS AND LIVESTOCK
Natural World episode, "Snow
Snow leopards have symbolic meaning for Turkic peoples of Central Asia, where the animal is known as irbis or bars, so it is widely used in heraldry and as an emblem.
The snow leopard in heraldry is sometimes known in English as the
ounce. The cat has long been used as a political symbol, the Aq Bars
('White Leopard'), by
Kazakhs , and
Symbol of Almaty,
The coat of arms of Tatarstan *
Seal of Samarqand,
Old coat of arms of Astana,
Symbol of Bishkek,
Membership badge of the Girl Scout Association of
IN THE MEDIA
Documentary footage of the snow leopard is scarce. While such coverage would not be remarkable with regard to common species, wildlife video of the snow leopard is difficult to obtain due to the animal's rarity and the human inaccessibility of much of its natural habitat.
The BBC One TV series Planet Earth had a segment on snow leopards. The series took some of the first video of snow leopards in the wild, and also featured a snow leopard hunting a markhor . The episode Mountains of Planet Earth II , aired in November 2016, featured the rather violent mating fights of snow leopards, as well as a snow leopard's chuffing and wailing.
Nisar Malik, a Pakistani journalist, and Mark Smith, a cameraman who
had worked on the Planet Earth segment, spent a further 18 months
filming snow leopards in the
Hindu Kush for the
The PBS / WNET series Nature focused on the species in its episode "Silent Roar: Searching for the Snow Leopard".
In Philip Pullman's 1995–2000 fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials , Lord Asriel's dæmon is a snow leopard named Stelmaria.
Tai Lung, the main antagonist of the 2008 film
Kung Fu Panda
In the 2013 film The Secret Life of Walter Mitty , photojournalist
Sean O'Connell (played by
* ^ McCarthy, T., Mallon, D., Jackson, R., Zahler, P. & McCarthy,
K. (2016). "
IUCN Red List
* Jackson, Rodney; Hillard, Darla (June 1986). "Tracking the Elusive Snow Leopard". National Geographic . Vol. 169 no. 6. pp. 793–809. ISSN 0027-9358 . OCLC 643483454 .
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