Canon EOS 30D DSLR; 70-200 mm f/2.8; iso rating 100; Focal Length 200 mm; f/2.8, 1/60 sec.; tripod used
The Snow Leopard (Uncia uncia),sometimes known as the ounce, is a large cat native to the mountain ranges of Central Asia from Afghanistan to Lake Baikal and eastern Tibet. The taxonomic position of this species has been subject to change. In the past, many taxonomists included the Snow Leopard in the genus Panthera, with several of the other largest felids, but later it was placed in its own genus, Uncia. However, a recent molecular study places the species firmly within the genus Panthera, although the exact position remains unclear.3 Along with the Clouded Leopard, it represents an intermediate between so-called big cats and smaller species, as it cannot roar, despite possessing an incomplete ossification of the hyoid bone, which was thought to be essential in allowing the big cats to roar. However, new studies show that the ability to roar is due to other morphological features, especially of the larynx, which are absent in the Snow Leopard.4 Well known for its beautiful fur, the Snow Leopard has a whitish-tan coat with ringed spots of dark, ashy-brown and rosettes of black. Its tail is heavy with fur and the bottom of its paws are covered with fur for protection against snow and cold.
The life span of a Snow Leopard is normally 15–18 years, but in captivity they can live up to 20 years.
Although the Snow Leopard is internationally regarded and legally protected as an endangered species, currently there exist no effective measures to stop poaching and loss of habitat in Jammu & Kashmir. The Snow Leopard population of Jammu & Kashmir has increasingly come under pressure as a result of poaching for furs, loss of habitat caused by deforestation and dam projects, and loss of food sources caused by similar environmental pressures. In both Pakistan and India-administered Jammu & Kashmir, this threat to the Snow Leopard has developed.
The armed conflict of the last 8 years in Jammu & Kashmir has further exacerbated this problem as the soldiers and armed resistance groups have shown little regard for species preservation. The instability has also allowed for an illegal trade of furs. A 1994 raid on a group of traders in Srinagar that hauled more than $1 million worth of furs and garments made from 1,366 of the world’s most endangered wild cats, tigers, snow and clouded leopards and Bengal tigers indicated that the lack of effective measures to preserve endangered species has deteriorated further as a result of the 8 year old conflict. Cases like these reveal that the poaching of wildlife in Jammu & Kashmir’s forests and in other Himalayan regions has returned with a vengeance that threatens some of the world’s most beautiful and exotic animals after a period of curtailment of such poaching in recent decades. Under this situation, the Snow Leopard is directly threatened.
K.E.W.A. advocates that strict conservation measures be put in place in Pakistan and India-administered Jammu & Kashmir. Habitat protection, captive breeding, stiff penalties for poachers and international buyers of illegal furs, and public education must all be a part of such an undertaking to save the Snow Leopard. But such an effort would require major involvement of international organizations.
The rarest and most beautiful of the great cats, the snow leopard…is wary and elusive to a magical degree, and so well camouflaged in the places it chooses to lie that one can stare straight at it from yards away and fail to see it. Yet the snow leopard’s talent for invisibility has not kept it safely out of the sights of hunters, who continue to kill the cat for its “coat of pale misty gray, with black rosettes that are clouded by the depth of the rich fur”. Elusiveness also has done little to help the snow leopard cope successfully with an ever-increasing influx of tourists, sheep herders, dam-builders, and other humans eager to make use of the spectacular landscape. The result is that the snow leopard, despite its remote home high in the Himalayas, has become one of the most endangered of the large cats.