Snow leopards

Snow leopards (Panthera uncia syn. Uncia uncia) are large cats native to the mountain ranges of Central and South Asia. 

They are listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species because, as of 2003, the size of the global population was estimated at 4,080–6,590 adults, of which fewer than 2,500 individuals may reproduce in the wild. 

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Pair of Snow leopards at Mogo Zoo, Australia. image: R.Conan-Davies

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.

Snow leopard range

image: wikipedia

Taxonomically, snow leopards were classified as Uncia uncia since the early 1930s. Based on genotyping studies, they have  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.

The snow leopard is the National Heritage Animal of Afghanistan and Pakistan.



What they look like

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, with an occasional large male reaching 75 kg and small female of under 25 kg  .

They have a relatively short body, measuring in length from the head to the base of the tail 75 to 150 cm but to balance this, the tail is quite long, at 80 to 100 cm, with only the domestic-cat-sized marbled cat being relatively longer-tailed.  They are stocky and short-legged big cats, standing about 60 cm  at the shoulder. 

Their fur

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 colour.

How they are adapted to the cold and altitude

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. 

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Snow leopards are adapted to cold climates. image: Snow Leopard Conservancy/Jammu & Kashmir Wildlife Protection Department, wiki

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, in the rocky terrain they inhabit. Their tails are also very thick due to storage of fat and are very thickly covered with fur which allows them to be used like a blanket to protect their faces when asleep.

They have a short muzzle and domed forehead, containing unusually large nasal cavities that help the animal breathe the thin, cold air of their mountainous environment.

They don’t roar but do growl

Snow leopards 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 the ability to roar is due to other morphological features, especially of the larynx, which are absent in the snow leopard.  Snow leopard vocalizations include hisses, chuffing, mews, growls, and wailing.


Text adapted from: Snow leopard. (2016, May 1). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 10:15, May 4, 2016, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Snow_leopard&oldid=718114926