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The Snow Leopard (Uncia uncia) is a feline, living in central Asia. It used to be thought not closely related to the smaller leopard, which is why they are put in different genera. However, recent research has discovered this is not correct. The cat is closely related to the big four in the genus Panthera.
Snow Leopards are about 1.3 meters long in the body, and have a 90-100 centimeter long tail. They weigh up to 75 kilograms. They have gray and white fur with dark rosettes and spots, and their tails have stripes. Its fur is very long and thick to protect it against the cold. Their feet are also big and furry, which helps them to walk on snow easier. They use their long tails for balance and as blankets to cover sensitive body parts against the severe mountain chill.
They are one of the only cats which cannot roar or purr.
Snow Leopards are well camouflaged, and are crepuscular (most active at dawn and dusk). They stalk and eat medium-sized prey like Ibex, bharal (mountain sheep) and wild goats. It can survive on a single sheep for two weeks.
Snow leopards prefer to ambush prey from above, using broken terrain to conceal their approach. They try and land on the sheep, and kill it directly. If the sheep runs, they pursue it down steep mountainsides, using the momentum of their initial leap to chase prey for up to 300 m (980 ft).
They kill with a bite to the neck, and may drag the prey to a safe location before feeding. They consume all edible parts of the carcass, and can survive on a single bharal for two weeks before hunting again. Annual prey needs appears to be 20–30 adult blue sheep (bharal).
In summer, snow leopards usually live above the tree line on mountainous meadows and in rocky regions at altitudes from 2,700 to 6,000 m (8,900 to 19,700 ft). In winter, they come down into the forests to altitudes around 1,200 to 2,000 m (3,900 to 6,600 ft). Snow leopards prefer broken terrain, and can travel without difficulty in snow up to 85 cm (33 in) deep, although they prefer to use existing trails made by other animals.
They live alone. After a pregnancy of about a hundred days the female gives birth to 2 or 3 kittens. They are protected in most of the countries they live in. However, people do still kill them for their fur, or to protect their cattle.
The Snow leopard has a huge range in central Asia. It is in Afghanistan, Bhutan, China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kashmir, Kunlun, and the Himalaya to southern Siberia, Mongolia, and Tibet.
Its numbers are quite low, though difficult to estimate. Many estimates are rough and outdated. The total wild population of the Snow leopard was estimated in 2008 as 4,510 to 7,350 individuals.
Taxonomy and evolution
The Snow leopard was not thought closely related to the Panthera or other living big cats. However, recent molecular studies put the species firmly in the genus Panthera: its closest relative is the tiger (Panthera tigris). MSW3 still refers to the snow leopard as Uncia uncia, but the more recent IUCN classifies it as Panthera uncia.
|Wikispecies has information on: Uncia uncia.|
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