Snow leopards have an extra long, dense fur and with small ears, stocky build and a long tail that doubles up as a scarf when sleeping, Snow leopards are experts at retaining body heat, they also have large wide paws for walking steadily in snow. Dappled shades of grey, yellow and creamish white colours gives them the perfect disguise for the natural habitat’s rocky terrain. As they move across the mountainous peaks and valleys of the Himalayas and surrounding foothills they are almost invisible to the human eye — the ghost of the mountains.
With a global population estimated at less than 2,500 mature breeding individuals, Snow leopards are listed as Endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species.
The Snow leopard typically lives at elevations of around 3,000-4,500m in arid and semi-arid shrub land and grassland. In Russia and parts of the Tian Shan in China it lives in open coniferous forest. Generally, however, it avoids dense forest, preferring steep terrain broken by cliffs, ridges, gullies and rocky outcrops.
Snow leopards can kill prey up to three times their own weight, and must kill a large animal about once every fortnight to survive. They hunt ibex, deer, boars, marmots and other small rodents, sometimes turning to domestic livestock when wild prey is scarce.
Across its range, the Snow leopard is hunted for its highly-prized pelt and bones. Despite its protection under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which makes the international trade of snow leopards in any form illegal in all signatory countries, poaching to trade bones and body parts for use in traditional Asian medicine is lucrative.
Source: big cat sanctuary
Location: Big Cat Sanctuary Ashford Kent
Photographer: Paul Russell