Snow leopard

The snow leopard is an amazing inhabitant of the highlands, a predatory, agile, and very graceful animal. The animal is not called snowy for nothing. This is the only representative of the cat family that lives in the mountains, where snow lies all year round. The predator is also called the irbis, the lord of the mountains or the snow leopard.

In ancient times, due to the similarity in appearance, they were called snow leopards, and were even considered representatives of the same species. However, snow leopards are not related to leopards. They are much stronger and faster, although inferior to them in size. Unfortunately, today this incredibly beautiful predator is on the verge of extinction.

View origin and description

Photo: Snow Leopard

Photo: Snow Leopard

Irbis are representatives of predatory mammals. They belong to the cat family, are allocated to the genus and species of snow leopards. The theory of the origin of this amazing and very graceful predator has not yet been formed.

At the end of the 16th century, Russian fur traders and artisans heard from Turkic hunters about a mysterious handsome man, whom they called “Irbiz”. For the first time, Europeans were able to see an outlandish cat in 1761. The researcher Georges Buffon showed the European nobility pictures that depicted a very beautiful wild cat. He supplemented his pictures with information that they are trained and brought up to participate in hunting in Persia.

Video: Irbis

Since then, many scientific researchers and zoologists have been interested in this amazing beast. In 1775, the German naturalist zoologist Johann Schreber wrote a whole scientific work that was devoted to the origin and evolution of animals, as well as a description of their appearance and lifestyle. Subsequently, the Russian scientist Nikolai Przhevalsky also studied the life of the snow leopard. A number of scientific, including genetic, examinations were carried out, according to which it was possible to establish that the approximate existence of a predator of the cat family is about one and a half million years.

The first remains of the animal, which by all indications belonged to the snow leopard, were discovered on the western border of Mongolia, in Altai. They are dated to the late Pleistocene period. The next significant find is the remains of an animal in the northern region of Pakistan. Their approximate age is one and a half million years. Initially, snow leopards were classified as panthers. A little later, studies showed that the snow leopard and the panther have no direct common features.

This representative of the cat family has distinctive features that are not inherent in other representatives of this family. This gives grounds for isolating them into a separate genus and species. Although today there is no exact information about the origin of the genus of snow leopards, scientists are inclined to believe that the snow leopard and panther did not have common ancestors. The results of genetic examination suggest that they separated into a separate branch a little over a million years ago.

Appearance and features

Photo : Animal Snow Leopard

Photo: Animal snow leopard

The snow leopard is an animal of incredible beauty and grace. The body length of one adult is 1-1.4 meters. Animals have a very long tail, the length of which is equal to the length of the body. Tail length – 0.8-1 meter. The tail plays a very important role. Animals use it to maintain balance in mountainous areas and to warm their front and hind legs in snow and frost. The mass of one adult is 30-50 kilograms.

Sexual dimorphism is not pronounced, but males are somewhat larger than females. Predators have large front paws with round pads measuring 1 * 1 cm. Long hind feet provide fast movement among mountain peaks and dexterous, graceful jumps. The limbs are not very long, but thick and powerful paws. The paws have retractable claws. Thanks to this, there are no traces of claws on the snow where a graceful predator has passed.

The predator of the cat family has a round-shaped head, but which has small, triangular-shaped ears. In winter, in thick, long fur, they are practically invisible. Animals have very expressive, round-shaped eyes. The snow leopard has long, thin whiskers. Their length reaches a little over ten centimeters.

An interesting fact. The snow leopard has very long and thick fur, which keeps it warm in harsh climates. The length of the coat reaches 50-60 centimeters.

The region of the spinal column and the lateral surface of the body are gray, close to white. The abdomen area, the inner surface of the limbs and the lower abdomen has a lighter tone. A unique color is provided by ring-shaped dark, almost black rings. Inside these rings are smaller rings. Circles of the smallest size are located in the head area. Gradually, from the head, along the neck and torso to the tail, the size increases.

The largest size rings are located in the neck and limbs. On the back and tail, the rings merge, forming transverse stripes. The tip of the tail is always black. The color of the winter fur is smoky gray with an orange tint. This color allows them to go unnoticed by steep rocks and snowdrifts. By summer, the coat becomes light, almost white.

Where does the snow leopard live?

Photo: Snow leopard in Russia

Photo: Snow leopard in Russia

Animals live only in mountainous areas. The average height of its permanent habitat is 3000 meters above sea level. However, in search of food, they can easily climb to a height twice this figure. In general, the habitat of the snow leopard is very diverse. The largest number of animals is concentrated in the countries of Central Asia.

Geographic regions of the snow leopard:

  • Mongolia;
  • Afghanistan;
  • Kyrgyzstan;
  • Uzbekistan;
  • Tajikistan;
  • China;
  • India;
  • Kazakhstan;
  • Russia.

In our country, the population of the feline predator is not numerous. They are located mainly in Khakassia, Altai Territory, Tyva, Krasnoyarsk Territory. The animal lives in such mountains as the Himalayas, Pamirs, Kun-Lun, Sayan Mountains, Hindu Kush, in the mountains of Tibet, and many others. Also, animals live in the territory of protected and protected areas. These include the territory of the national park Altushinsky, Sayano-Shushensky.

Most often, the predator chooses the territory of steep stone cliffs, deep gorges and thickets of bushes as a habitat. Irbis prefer regions with low snow cover. In search of food, it can descend to forests, but spends most of its time in mountainous areas. In some regions, snow leopards live at an altitude not exceeding a thousand kilometers above sea level. In regions such as the Turkestan Range, it mainly lives at an altitude of 2.5 thousand meters, and in the Himalayas it climbs to a height of six and a half thousand meters. In winter, they can change their location depending on the regions where ungulates live.

The territory of Russia accounts for no more than 2% of the total habitat of predators. Each adult occupies a special territory that is forbidden to others.

What does a snow leopard eat?

Photo : Snow Leopard Cat

Photo: Snow Leopard Cat

By nature, the snow leopard is a predator. It feeds exclusively on food of meat origin. It can hunt both birds and large ungulates.

What is the food base:

  • Yaks;
  • Sheep;
  • Roe deer;
  • Argali;
  • Tapirs;
  • Serow;
  • Boars;
  • Musk deer;
  • Marmots;
  • Gophers;
  • Hares;
  • Kekliks;
  • Feathers;
  • Rodents;
  • Mountain goats.

At one meal, an animal needs 3-4 kilograms of meat to be completely satiated.

Interesting fact. The snow leopard takes food only at home. After a successful hunt, the leopard carries its prey to the lair and eats it only there.

Irbis is a unique hunter, and in one hunt it can get several victims at once. In summer, it can eat berries or various types of vegetation, young shoots. For a successful hunt, the leopard chooses the most convenient position for an ambush. It mainly chooses places near waterfalls where animals come to drink, as well as near paths. Attacks with a sharp, lightning-fast ambush jump. A taken aback animal does not have time to react and becomes the prey of a predator. The leopard usually attacks from a distance of several tens of meters.

An animal of especially large size attacks with a jump on its back and immediately bites into the throat, tries to bite or break its neck. Irbis, as a rule, has no competitors. He eats fresh meat, and leaves everything that is not eaten to other predators or birds.

During the period of famine, it can descend from the mountains and hunt livestock – sheep, shelter, pigs, etc. Feathers, rodents and smaller animals are a source of food only when there is an acute shortage of larger animals in the region where predators live.

Peculiarities of character and lifestyle

Photo: Snow Leopard Red Book

Photo: Snow Leopard Red Book

Irbis prefer a solitary lifestyle. Each adult individual chooses a specific habitat, which is prohibited for other representatives of the species. If other individuals of this family enter the habitat, regardless of gender, they do not show pronounced aggression. The habitat of one individual is from 20 to 150 square kilometers.

Each individual marks its territory with marks with a specific smell, as well as marks of claws on trees. In the conditions of existence in national parks, or reserves, where animals are limited in territory, they try to stay at a distance of at least two kilometers from each other. In rare exceptions, snow leopards exist in pairs.

It is most active at night. They go hunting at dawn or after dark. Most often, he develops a certain route and, in search of food, moves only along it. The route consists of places of watering and pastures of ungulates. In the process of overcoming its route, it does not miss the opportunity to catch smaller food.

In each route, the snow leopard has landmarks. As such, there may be waterfalls, rivers, streams, high mountain peaks or rocks. The passage of the chosen route takes from one to several days. During this period of time, the predator overcomes from ten to thirty kilometers.

In winter, when the thickness of the snow cover increases, the predator is forced to first tread its own paths in order to be able to hunt. This can play a cruel joke on him, since the paths visible in the snow and the habit of not changing their route make them easy prey for poachers. Animals are able to develop great speed and, thanks to their long feet, jump 10-15 meters in length.

An interesting fact: Irbis is the only representative of the cat family, which is unusual for growling. They often make long sounds. This is especially true for females during the period of marriage. With such a sound, which is formed by the passage of air masses through the nostrils, females notify males of their location.

This sound is also used as a greeting by individuals to each other. Facial expressions and direct contact are also used as communication. In order to demonstrate strength, animals open their mouths wide, exposing their long fangs. If predators are in a good mood and peaceful, they slightly open their mouths without showing fangs, and also wrinkle their nose.

Social structure and reproduction

Photo: Snow Leopard Cub

Photo: Snow Leopard Cub

Animals tend to lead a solitary lifestyle. Individuals of the opposite sex communicate with each other only during the period of marriage. Mating of females occurs every two years. By nature, animals are monogamous. When existing in captivity or in the conditions of national parks and protected areas, they can be monogamous.

The period of marriage is highly dependent on the time of year. It starts with the onset of winter and lasts until mid-spring. Females attract males by making a long, creaking sound. The males respond to the call. When individuals of different sexes are found in the same territory, she behaves more actively. She raises her tail with a pipe and walks around the male. In the process of mating, the male holds the female in one position, grabbing the hair in the withers area with his teeth. Pregnancy of the female lasts 95-115 days. In the period from mid-spring to mid-summer, small kittens appear. Most often, one female is able to reproduce no more than three kittens. In exceptional cases, five kittens may be born. The female goes to give birth to her babies in stone gorges.

Interesting fact. The female makes a kind of hole in the gorge, lining its bottom with wool from her stomach.

The weight of each newborn kitten is 250-550 grams. Babies are born blind, after 7-10 days their eyes open. The lair is abandoned after two months. Upon reaching 4-5 months of age, they participate in hunting. Up to six months, the mother feeds her babies with mother's milk. Upon reaching the age of two months, kittens begin to gradually join the solid, meat food. Females reach sexual maturity at the age of three, males at the age of four. During the first year, they maintain the closest connection with their mother.

The average life expectancy of predators is 13-15 years in natural conditions. In captivity, life expectancy can increase up to 27 years.

Natural enemies of snow leopards

Photo: Great Snow Leopard

Photo: Great Snow Leopard

The snow leopard is considered an animal that stands at the very top of the food pyramid and has practically no competitors and enemies. In some cases, interspecific hostility occurs, during which adult, strong individuals die. Often there is hostility between snow leopards and leopards. Adult, strong individuals pose a threat to young and immature snow leopards.

The greatest threat is a person who kills animals in pursuit of valuable fur. In Asian countries, skeletal elements are often used in medicine as an alternative to tiger bones for the manufacture of medicines.

Population and species status

Photo: Snow leopard kitten

Photo: Snow leopard kitten

Today this amazing and a very graceful predator is on the verge of extinction. This status of this species of animals is caused by a number of specific reasons.

Reasons for the extinction of the species:

  • The habitat of individual groups of animals is very remote from each other;
  • Slow breeding rates;
  • Impoverishment of the food supply – a decrease in the number of artiodactyls;
  • Poaching;
  • Very late puberty.

According to the World Organization for the Protection of Animals in the world, there are from 3 to 7 thousand individuals. Another 1.5-2 thousand animals exist in zoos and national parks. According to approximate statistics, the number of individuals in Russia has decreased by a third over the past decade. The disappearance of the species was also facilitated by a sharp decrease in the number of mature females.

Snow leopard conservation

Photo: Snow leopard from the Red Book

Photo: Snow leopard from the Red Book

For protection purposes, this species of predatory animals is listed in the International Book, as well as in the Red Book of Russia, as an endangered species. It was listed in the Red Book of Mongolia in 1997 and given the status of “very rare species”. Today, in order to preserve and increase the number of these amazing predators, national parks and protected areas are created in which animals breed.

In 2000, the animal was listed on the IUCN Red List under the highest protection category. In addition, the snow leopard is listed in the first Appendix of the Convention on Interethnic Trade in Various Species of Animals and Plants. In all countries in whose territory the animal lives, hunting and destruction of the handsome man are officially, at the legislative level, prohibited. Violation of this requirement is a criminal offense.

The snow leopard is a mysterious and very graceful animal. It is a symbol of greatness, power and fearlessness of many countries. It is unusual for him to attack a person. This can only happen in rare exceptions.

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