Snow leopard is one of the endangered species found in the Himalayan range of Nepal. They are very shy, elusive and solitary by nature and survive in harsh fragmented mountain regions. Apart from Nepal, these animals are found in the mountains of central Asia, Afghanistan, Bhutan, China, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Though this region is a quite large, only 6% of it is occupied by snow leopards. At present the number of these graceful himalayan predators in the world is somewhere between 4910 to 7290.
They are different from other large to medium size cats. Measuring 3.25 - 4.25 in length, these felines weigh between 25-75kgs. Their color is grey with brown/black marking spots around the neck and lower limbs; rosettes on other part of the body. These markings are not similar in comparison to one another. They camouflage themselves with the help of these markings on the rocky slopes to sneak onto their preys. Snow leopards generally prey on sheep and goats which are easier to hunt. But they can also devour tougher catches like yak, asses, pikas, marmots, hares, musk deer, birds and other domestic livestock. They are opportunistic predators and a vigorous short distance runners. Snow leopards live in cagy mountainous areas where the preys have to be chased only for a short distance. They have adopted this ability and are known to leap as much as 30 feet. They have large puffy paws like snow shoes, short fore limbs and long hind limbs. The tail is exceptionally long (80-100 cm) and aids in balancing the body. These bodily features help to keep themselves warm.
There are two species of snow leopard. i.e Unica Unica and Unica Uniclodies. This animal cannot roar. Male leopards are larger than female but apart from that they are not visually different to distinguish. The male & female leopards do not have a long association. Once the mating period is over, they split off. The females become sexually mature at 2-3 yrs of age and usually follow the gestation period of 98-104 days. Normally, 2-3 cubs are born from a female. They are born helpless with their eyes closed which gradually open within 7 days. Cubs begin to follow their mother around. Cubs stay in the company of their mother until they are 20-22 months of age. The mother has a sole role in parenting her cubs. Snow leopards mate every other year.
Life Span of snow leopard is 21 years. These animals are brutally hunted for their valuable bones, skin and organs which are illegitimately sold in high prices to be ultimately used in asian medicine. A study of the UN shows that snow leopards habitat is being affected by overgrazing of the fragile mountain grassland leaving less food for wild vegetarians on whom they prey. This unfortuntely has ignited the encroachment of these cats on the human settlement areas in order to hunt the livestock. To futher aggravate the situation, the outraged livestock owners kill the snow leopards as a retaliation to the menace they endured.
Despite all these oddities, there have been efforts to conserve this troubled feline and protect its habitat and food source. Truly, the snow leopards are a treat to the eyes of any animal lover and one would always want to see them on the prawl every time s/he trudges along the himalayan terrrain.