This fascinating large cat can only be found in mountainous regions in Asia.
In this post, you’ll discover some cool facts about snow leopards.
1. They live in Central and South Asia
Snow leopards (Panthera Uncia) are some of the most elusive cats in the world and inhabit an area that comprises 12 countries and stretches over an area of about 1.6 million square kilometers (617,000 square miles).
They inhabit high-altitude areas that aren’t easily reachable ranging from eastern Afghanistan and the Himalayas to southern Siberia, Mongolia, and western China.
2. They live in high areas
These animals prefer to live in the high alpine and subalpine areas, preferably at an altitude of between 3,000 and 4,500 meters (9,800 to 14,800 feet).
In the northern part of their range, it’s possible that they also live in slightly lower areas as well.
3. Snow Leopards are really big
Snow leopards are some of the biggest cats in the world. They aren’t as big as lions, jaguars, or leopards, but they are still positioned in number 6 on our list with the biggest cats.
These animals are on average about 2.5 meters (8.2 feet) long and stand about 75 centimeters (2.46 feet) tall. They can also weigh between 22 and 55 kilos (48.5 – 121.35 lbs), with a maximum recorded weight of 75 kilos (165.34 lbs)!
4. They are listed as an endangered species
Unfortunately, snow leopards are listed as an endangered species on the IUCN Red List. It’s estimated that less than 10,000 individuals are still roaming around in the wild which has them marked as “Vulnerable.”
To make things even worse, it’s estimated that their population will decline by another 10% by the year 2040 as well.
The most important threats to these animals are poaching and loss of habitat because of infrastructure development in the areas they live in.
5. They are part of the Panthera family
Even though the snow leopard is now considered to be part of the Panthera family, this wasn’t always the case. When the animal was first described in 1777, it was named “Felis uncia.”
This was later changed to just “Uncia” in 1854, quickly followed by a proposal of “Felis Uncioides” in 1855.
Studies have shown though that snow leopards are indeed part of the Panthera family and are now referred to as “Panthera Uncia.”
6. It’s possible that there are 3 subspecies of snow leopards
Until the year 2017, there weren’t any recognized snow leopard subspecies. A study in September 2017 has proposed 3 subspecies based on the results of phylogenetic studies. These include:
- P. u. uncia – Lives in the Pamir Mountains range countries.
- P. u. uncioides – Lives in the Himalayas and Qinghai.
- P. u. irbis – lives in Mongolia.
7. These big cats are their closest relatives
Of all the members of the Panthera family, a phylogenetic analysis of DNA has uncovered that snow leopards form a sister group with tigers, the biggest cats in the world!
The genetic divergence is believed to have occurred between 3.7 and 2.7 million years ago. it’s also believed that all members of the Panthera family originate from the northern part of Central Asia.
8. They are adapted to harsh conditions in the mountains
Snow leopards live in very harsh conditions at high altitudes. For this reason, they have a special feature that helps them a lot, large nasal cavities.
The large openings allow for more air to be inhaled with each breath, air which is sometimes scarce at high altitudes. It also helps in warming and humidifying cold dry air.
Apart from this large nasal cavity, they also have small, rounded ears that help to prevent heat loss. Their large paws help them to easily walk on snow, and their tail is very tick and covered with fur to both store fat and to be used as a blanket as well!
9. Snow leopards can’t roar
One of the most interesting facts about snow leopards is that, unlike most of all other cats in the Panthera family, they can’t roar.
Yes, you won’t hear them roar as the mighty lion does!
The reason for this is the absence of the larynx in the snow leopard, also referred to as a “voice box.” They do have the ability to meow, grunt, chuffle, purr, and moan.
10. These are mostly solitary animals
Once snow leopards reach adulthood, which is about 2 to 3 years after birth, they wander off alone and establish their territory. For most parts of the day outside of the mating period, they remain solitary.
This doesn’t mean, however, that their territory can’t overlap with other snow leopards as it’s very normal for them to share a common space, even though they would never meet each other.
11. Snow leopards are carnivores
Just as about all other every big cats, snow leopards are true carnivores. They actively hunt prey, but they can also eat carrion (decaying flesh of dead animals) if they are hungry enough.
Their most favorite prey are all sorts of ungulates that live in the mountainous regions of Central Asia such as mountain sheep, wild goats, and Himalayan tahr. they prefer prey that weighs anywhere between 36 and 76 kilos (79 to 168 lbs).
If the prey is scarce, they are also capable of hunting much smaller prey such as small rodents. They aren’t that picky and will hunt whatever is available at the moment.
12. They prefer to ambush their prey
Given the fact that they live in mountainous areas, they have adapted their techniques based on the terrain they are hunting in. Therefore, their favorite hunting method is to ambush prey from above.
They usually wait in an elevated area, which can be a rock or a tree, and attack the unsuspecting animal passing by. If needed, they will chase the animal up to 300 meters (980 feet) far as well.
They kill the prey with a bite in the neck before dragging it to a safe area to eat. If they manage to kill a large animal they can eat from it for up to 2 weeks before hunting again!
13. Females give birth the same period every year
Snow leopards become sexually mature about 2 to 3 years after birth, and the mating period of these animals always happens in the late winter. This is unusual among the big cats as this also means they have a birth peak between April and June.
The oestrus period of the females lasts about 5 to 8 days and the gestation period is about 90 to 100 days. The litter usually consists of 1 to 5 cubs with the average being about 2.2.
These cubs are born completely blind and only open their eyes for the first time after 7 days. They weigh 320 to 567 grams (11.3 to 20.0 oz) at birth and can walk after about 5 weeks.
14. Snow leopards usually don’t attack humans
Because they live in such remote areas and these animals prefer to be left alone, attacks on humans happen very rarely.
Only 2 attacks on humans have ever been recorded. Both these attacks happened near a city in Kazachstan named Almaty and only one of the attacks caused serious injuries.
Snow leopards have a symbolic meaning for many of the Turkic people living in Central Asia and are often depicted in emblems and seals, and were even depicted on Kazakhstani banknotes!
15. They can live really long in captivity
Snow leopards have an estimated lifespan of between 15 and 18 years in the wild, which is quite long for a type of cat. In captivity, they can easily live up to 25 years as well!
The oldest recorded snow leopard, named Shynghyz, lived over 26 years and was held at the Tama Zoo in Tokyo, Japan.