Snow Leopard

Trish Meyer

Denhams Beach, Australia

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Photographed at Mogo Zoo on the south coast of New South Wales, Australia, where they have successful breeding programs for several endangered species.

In the wild, these beautiful gray leopards live in the mountains of Central Asia. They are insulated by thick hair, and their wide, fur-covered feet act as natural snowshoes. These cats have powerful legs and are tremendous leapers, able to jump as far as 50 feet (15 meters). Snow leopards use their long tails for balance and as blankets to cover sensitive body parts against the severe mountain chill.

Snow leopards prey upon the blue sheep (bharal) of Tibet and the Himalayas, and mountain ibex found over most of the rest of their range. Though these powerful predators can kill animals three times their weight, they also eat smaller fare, such as marmots, hares, and game birds.

One Indian snow leopard, protected and observed in a national park, is reported to have consumed five blue sheep, nine Tibetan woolly hares, twenty-five marmots, five domestic goats, one domestic sheep, and fifteen birds in a single year.

As these numbers indicate, snow leopards sometimes have a taste for domestic animals, which has led to many deaths of the big cats at the hands of herders.

These endangered cats appear to be in dramatic decline because of such killings, and due to poaching driven by illegal trades in pelts and in body parts used for traditional Chinese medicine. Vanishing habitat and the decline of the cats’ large mammal prey are also contributing factors.

Source : National Geographic.

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