Brenda 2 is a female snow leopard (Panthera uncia) born in August 2015. Brenda was given to us as a gift to be part of our non-invasive research program comparing how snow leopards adapt to their environments versus other big cats. As an ambassador, she will help educate the public on preservation efforts for her species.
At one point, the differences between snow leopards and other large cats were thought to be significant enough to place them in their own genus Uncia. Besides major differences in ecology, morphology, and behavior, one notable difference is their inability to roar like other large cats. Although it shares its name with the common leopard and the clouded leopard, recent genetic studies have demonstrated that the snow leopard is actually most closely related to the tiger. Therefore, the species has been placed back into the genus Panthera. While it has similar rosettes and broken-spot markings, they appear less well defined and are spaced further apart than leopards. The snow leopard has superb camouflage for its mountain environment of bare rocks and snow, being whitish-gray tinged with brownish/yellow, and patterned with dark gray rosettes and spots. It has lighter fur on its belly, chest, and chin. The fur is long and woolly and helps protect the cat from the extreme cold of its generally mountainous habitat. Further adaptations for high altitude include an enlarged nasal cavity, shortened powerful limbs that allow them to jump up to 30 feet in a single bound, large paws for walking on the snow without sinking, well-developed chest muscles for climbing steep mountain slopes, and a tail up to three feet long. The long tail is thought to aid balance, and snow leopards will wrap their tails around themselves when lying or sitting for added warmth. The snow leopard can take down prey three times its own size. Its main prey species are bharal, or blue sheep, and Asiatic ibex, a large wild goat. They also hunt marmot, pika, hares, small rodents, and game birds. Unfortunately, a significant number of livestock is reportedly preyed upon by snow leopards making relationships between local farmers and snow leopards challenging.
The snow leopard is found in the mountainous regions of central Asia, ranging in the north from Russia and Mongolia through China and Tibet into the Himalayan regions of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. The snow leopard is rarely associated with dense forestation and is generally found at elevations between 10,000-15,000 feet.
As with the tiger, the snow leopard is hunted for its bones, which are used in many Chinese medicines. This, along with the enforced decline of many of this cat’s larger prey species, places pressure on the remaining numbers of snow leopards left in the wild. It is possible that snow leopards may become extinct in the wild without continuing action by conservationists.
Due to their elusive behavior, locals refer to snow leopards as “mountain ghosts”. A solitary animal, as most cats are, they travel alone over great distances. Their home range can be as small as 18 square miles but upwards of over 620 square miles. One snow leopard was documented traveling 27 miles across an open desert in one night. Being such a mysterious species makes it difficult to study and quantify exact numbers. Researchers suspect that anywhere from 3,500-7,000 are left in the wild and another 600-700 can be found in captivity. Their major threats include prey base depletion, poaching, illegal trade, conflict with local farmers which oftentimes results in retribution killings, and lack of conservation.
Snow Leopard Fast Facts:
|Body Size||3 – 4.75 ft (6 – 7.5 ft with tail), 2 ft tall|
|Weight||Males 99 – 121 lbs, Females 77 – 88 lbs|
|Gestation Period||93 – 110 days|
|Litter Size||2 – 3 cubs|
|Life Span||10 – 13 years in the wild, up to 22 years in captivity|