Snow Leopard

Snow Leopard

Snow Leopard has a luxuriant pale Smokey-grey coat with dark grey rosettes and black spots on limbs and face.

Common Names Snow Leopard (English); Hiun Chituwa (Nepali) and Synonyms Uncia uncia.

The snow leopard (Panthera uncia), also known as the ounce, is a felid in the genus Panthera native to the mountain ranges of Central and South Asia. It is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List because the global population is estimated to number fewer than 10,000 mature individuals and is expected to decline by about 10% by 2040.


Species Ecology

 

Snow Leopards occur in cold, arid, and semi-arid shrubland, alpine and subalpine areas, grasslands, and open forests, favoring steep terrain characterized by cliffs, ridges, gullies, and rocky outcrops at elevations of between 3,000 m and 5,500 m. The main prey species of Snow Leopards are Ibex, Blue Sheep, and the Himalayan Tahr, although smaller species including Marmot, Pika, Hares, small rodents, and game birds such as the Snowcock and Chukar Partridge also supplement the Snow Leopard diet. Considerable predation is reported on domestic livestock, usually goats and sheep.

Age at first reproduction is estimated at 30 months and females produce litters of between two to three cubs after a gestation period of 90 to 103 days. Captive females have been known to breed to up to 15 years of age; however, the longevity of Snow Leopards in the wild is about 10-12 years.


National Distribution

 

Protected Areas of Nepal

Snow Leopards are distributed along the northern border with China (Tibet) and occur within seven mountain protected areas: Annapurna Conservation Area, Kanchenjunga Conservation Area, Langtang National Park, Makalu Barun National Park, Manaslu Conservation Area, Sagarmatha National Park, and Shey Phoksundo National Park. The largest populations are in the districts of Dolpo, Humla, Mugu, Manang, Mustang, and Myagdi.


Distribution outside Nepal

 

Afghanistan, Bhutan, China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Pakistan, Russian Federation, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan.

The snow leopard is distributed from the west of Lake Baikal through southern Siberia, in the Kunlun Mountains, Altai Mountains, Sayan, and Tannu-Ola Mountains, in the Tian Shan, through Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan to the Hindu Kush in eastern Afghanistan, Karakoram in northern Pakistan, in the Pamir Mountains, the Tibetan Plateau and in the high elevations of the Himalayas in India, Nepal, and Bhutan. In Mongolia, it inhabits the Mongolian and Gobi Altai Mountains and the Khangai Mountains. In Tibet, it occurs up to the Altyn-Tagh in the north.


Global Snow Leopard Population

 

Global Snow Leopard population


Main Threats

 

  • Human-Snow Leopard conflict.
  • Reduction of natural prey base.
  • Habitat loss and fragmentation due to deforestation, human settlements, and livestock grazing.
  • None or weak trans-boundary cooperation.
  • Poaching and illegal trade.

Greenhouse gas emissions will likely cause a shift of the tree line in the Himalayas and a shrinking of the alpine zone, which may reduce snow leopard habitat by 30%. Where snow leopards prey on domestic livestock, they are subject to conflict with humans. The loss of natural prey due to overgrazing by livestock, poaching, and defense of livestock are the major drivers for the decreasing population of the snow leopard


Conservation Recommendations

 

  1. Establish Snow Leopard population status and distribution.
  2. Obtain baseline information on the ecology, behavior, and ranging patterns of the species through the use of camera traps and GPS satellite collars.
  3. Obtain baseline information on the food habits; Establish the status and distribution of the major prey species.
  4. Improve management of prey species through establishing optimal mixed grazing systems.
  5. Create livestock-free zones in species priority areas to improve habitats (removing grazing competition for prey species and human-carnivore conflict).
  6. Conduct awareness programs among the communities residing in the species range.
  7. Support livestock herders in making livestock pen/corrals predator-proof.
  8. Develop livestock compensation schemes to mitigate human-Snow Leopard conflict.
  9. Train and mobilize local community members to control carcass poisoning.
  10. Incorporate species range outside protected areas in management plans.
  11. Establish trans-boundary protected areas

 

snow leopard encounter in Manang


Reproduction and Lifecycle

 

Snow leopards reach their sexual maturity at the age of two to three. They normally live for 15-18 years in the wild and up to 25 years in captivity. They usually mate in a mate in late winters; the mating seasons are short so, the male does not seek out another partner. They mate 12 to 36 times a day. The gestation period is 90-100 days and the litter size varies from one to five cubs. These younger snow leopards open their eyes after almost 7 days of birth and can walk when they are five. They are born with a thick coat of fur and have full black spots that turn into rosettes as they grow.

The cubs remain with their mother for almost 18-22 months. After being independent they distance themselves to seek out new hunting grounds. The gestation period is 90-100 days and the litter size varies from one to five cubs. These younger snow leopards open their eyes after almost 7 days of birth and can walk when they are five. They are born with a thick coat of fur and have full black spots that turn into rosettes as they grow. The cubs remain with their mother for almost 18-22 months. After being independent they distance themselves to seek out new hunting grounds.


Diet and Hunting

 

The snow leopards are an opportunist and feed on carrion as well. However, these carnivorous cats actively hunt their prey. They are capable of killing most of the animals in their range. They pursue the prey down the steep mountainsides. Using the momentum of their leap they kill with a bite on the neck and drag the prey to a safer location to eat.

Blue Sheep at Manang

Their natural prey is Himalayan Tahr, Himalayan blue sheep, wild goats, etc. They usually prefer prey weighing 36 to 76 kg but also hunt smaller mammals. Other species such as wild boar, red panda, and snowcock also become their prey sometimes. They eat all the edible parts of their prey and can survive on one Himalayan Tahr for two weeks. Due to the loss of prey animals in their natural habitat, they also feed on domestic livestock resulting in conflict with the herders. They hunt in pairs, especially during mating season.


Characteristics

 

The snow leopards have thick light grey fur with a black spot on the head and neck. Their tails are bushy and long while the legs are short, making them slightly smaller than other wild cats. The short legs are powerful enough to leap and jump as far as 50 feet. Likewise, the long bushy tails are useful for balancing and covering sensitive parts against severe mountain chills. They are about 22 inches tall and 30 – 59 inches long weighing between 22 – 55 kg however some large males have been recorded weighing up to 75 kg. They have 1.13 inches long pointed teeth.

Snow leopard tracking


Snow Leopard tour in Manang, Nepal

Itinerary:

Day 01: Drive from Kathmandu to Besi Sahar – 830 m
Day 02: Drive from Besi Sahar to Chame – 2,725 m
Day 03: Drive from Chame to Manang – 3,500 m (Rest Day)
Day 04 – 09: Trek and track Snow Leopard in different locations
Day 10: Drive back to Besi Sahar
Day 11: Drive to Kathmandu

For a details tour plan follow the given link, Snow Leopard Tour in Manang


 

Similor information about Big Cat

Protected Areas of Nepal

Annapurna Conservation Areas

Snow Leopard Basic Facts

 

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