Snow Leopards or the Ghost of the Mountains are endemic to the Himalaya and rocky terrains of Asia. A symbol of high-mountains, the sightings of the snow leopards are very rare.
Their numbers have tumbled by over 20 percent in less than 20 years. With as few as 4,000 left in the wild, this magnificent big cat could soon vanish for good.
Snow Leopards (Uncia uncia) are one of the big-cats founds in the Central and south Asian regions. A high-altitude predator, they inhabit alpine and sub-alpine zones at the elevation of 3,000 to 4,500 m (9,800 to 14,800 ft). In the northern range countries, they also occur at lower elevations.
They are also known as the ghost of the mountains for their discreet habitat, elusiveness and rare sightings. It’s also a national-heritage animal of the both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
It weighs around 27 – 55 kg. Despite it smaller size, its tail tends to be longer, reaching up to 80-100 cm. With thick and long fur and dark shades, it can easily camouflage itself from its prey and predators.
Snow Leopards are known to have acute sense of vision, 4x better than humans, therefore, they can easily hunt in the dark.
Snow Leopards are already categorized as the Endangered Species by IUCN Red List. There are total of only 4,000 snow leopards left in the wild, and are found in 11 different countries, namely; Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Tazikistan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Uzbekistan, China, India, Pakistan, Mongolia, Bhutan and Nepal. A high-altitude predators, they are scattered throughout the vast mountain ranges of the Pamir, Tien Shan, Altai, Karakoram and Himalaya.
The major reasons for their declination;
- Poaching: They are mainly poached for hides, skin, bones to make medicinal products.
- Conflict with Communities: There has been many instances of the leopards killing cattle due to declination of their natural prey.
- Shrinking Homes: The encroachment of humans in the wild territory has caused the loss of their habitat.
- Changing Climates: The climate change has hampered the mountainous landscapes causing the leopards to move elsewhere or dwindle in numbers.
Most nations lack resources or planning to initiate a proper conservation program for the dwindling numbers of snow leopards. Nepal, on the other hand, has initiated a well-planned project of geo-tagging the leopards and tracking their movement to prevent poaching.