Snow Leopards Bounding Back on Population Lists

Snow Leopards Bounding Back on Population Lists

These Elusive Cats are Gaining Ground

Not too many years ago, not much was known about snow leopards. That was mainly due to their location and their solitary habits. Sightings were rare due to the dangerous heights and mountainous regions of their native Tibetan habitat. With recent sightings in Afghanistan, population estimates range up to 7,500, although these are guesses that include a widespread area of Central Asia. That’s not much considering those numbers appear to be going down.

Many think they’re the most beautiful of the big cats with their black rosette patterns and whitish fur. They certainly receive their share of attention in zoos. Amazingly, they cannot roar, but purr instead due to a lack of bone structure in their throats. They’re built for extreme temperatures and can leap with secure footing from one snow ledge to another - as far as 50 feet away. At night, their extra-long thick tails are used as a body wrap for added warmth. Their rosette markings, by the way, act as perfect camouflage in rocky areas, creating a pattern that mimics shady and bright spots.

Since 1972, these animals have been on the endangered species list. Body parts, including internal organs and bones, are valued for medicinal purposes while their pelts are a great commodity in many regions. Additionally, they’re considered nuisances in some areas and are shot on sight for preying on domestic stock.

Zoos are actively participating in breeding programs and births are an exciting event for staff and the public. At my own zoo, it was a thrill to photograph triplets up close. Without bars as a divider, the cubs were even more amazing. It’s easy to understand why they need to be protected.

Photo courtesy Ltshears, Wikipedia CC license