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The Snow Leopard (Panther uncia) is a large wildcat that can be found in the mountains of Central and South Asia. Specifically, they live in Kunlun and Tannu-Ola Mountains (Siberia), Altai and Sayan Mountains (Russia), Tian Shan Mountains (Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan), the Hindu Kush Mountains (Afghanistan), Pamir and Karakoram Mountains (Pakistan), the Himalayas (Tibetan Plateau, India, Nepal, Bhotan) and the Khangai Mountains (Mongolia). Having a historical range in so many different countries, it also has a variety of common names:
him tendua (Hindu, Sanskrit)
bartani chita (Urdu)
wawrin pran (Pashto)
Snow Leopards are smaller than the four commonly agreed upon "Big Cats" (Leopards, Jaguars, Lions and Tigers), but they can still grow up to 50 inches (130 cm) in body length, with proportionally-long tails of 39 inches (100 cm). Large males have been recorded to weigh up to 165 pounds (75 kg), while females can be as small as 55 pounds (25 kg). Snow Leopards have a dense, compact build that helps to conserve body heat in their cold environment, as well as thick fur that grows between their toes to help insulate their paws against the cold. Their tails are extremely long, fluffy, and flexible, serving a variety of purposes - tails help the cats maintain balance as they scramble up and down rocky cliffs, and help keep them warm when they curl up to sleep.
Snow Leopards are solitary but not aggressively territorial. The size of the territory depends on the amount of available prey - in areas like Nepal, where prey is plenty, an individual Snow Leopard's territory may be as small as 7.5 square miles (12 square km). In more sparse areas, the same amount of territory that could support up to 10 cats would support only one. Snow Leopards are opportunistic eaters, which means they will feed on carrion if they can find it. They can hunt and kill animals up to four times their size, including domestic livestock. Their normal prey varies depending on the range, but in general are the mountain-dwelling ungulates (goats, sheep, deer, ibex, etc.). Snow Leopards appear to be the least aggressive toward humans than any big cat - there have been no recorded incidents of a Snow Leopard attacking a human. They are easily driven off from prey when threatened, which makes it easier for farmers to protect their livestock.
Snow Leopards have very regular mating cycles. They mate in late winter so that the cubs can be born in spring. After a gestation period of 90 to 100 days, female Snow Leopards will give birth to a litter of one to five cubs, but the usual litter size is two. The birthing dens are usually rocky crevices or hollows lined with the fur the female has shed from her belly. They start to leave the den with their mother at around two months, but they will stay with her until they are 1.5 to 2 years of age.
Snow Leopards are considered Endangered by the IUCN due to the small size of the global population. As of 2003, there was estimated to be no more than 6,590 adult cats left in the wild, only about half of which would successfully reproduce to maintain the species. Efforts to protect Snow Leopards include a variety of parties, including the governments of the countries in which they can be found, as well as specialized conservation groups. The Snow Leopard is considered to be the National Heritage Animal of Pakistan, and is the state animal of one of India's northern states, Himachal Pradesh.
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