The snow leopard (Panthera uncia) is a large cat species inhabiting the Himalayas. It is rated as "Endangered" by the IUCN.
For longtime, the classification of the snow leopard was a dispute. In the past it was placed under its own genus Uncia. Many scientists were against that and thought that it should be placed under the the genus of Panthera, which contained the big cats (tiger, lion, leopard and jaguar). However, a scientist named Pocock (he described the genus Panthera) said that the snow leopard has certain morphological differences and hence cannot be placed in the genus of Panthera. However, in 2008, through genotyping, it was proved that the snow leopard in fact does belong to the Panthera genus. As a result, its scientific name was changed from Uncia uncia to Panthera uncia.
The snow leopard is relatively smaller when compared to other members of the Panthera genus. Their body (including head) length can range from 80 cm to 130 cm. Their tails can grow up to lengths of 100 cm. Adult snow leopards generally weigh anywhere between 30 kg-55 kg. However, there are records of males weighing 75 kg. Snow leopards have a coat perfectly adapted for cold regions. It has thick fur which can range from a smoky grey to a creamy white and has dark rosettes all over its body except for the ventral portion. This combination allows it a perfect camouflage. Each individual rosette differs from another. The fur on the belly of the snow leopard can be about 10 cm long which helps keep itself warm and live in areas where the temperatures can sink below -40 degrees Celsius. The snow leopard has an enlarged nasal cavity which warms the air it breaths and allows it to inhale the thin air of high altitudes. It has relatively larger paws which allows it to easily walk on snow and its long, thick tail provides it balance in rocky terrain. It also uses its tail as a blanket while sleeping. Due to its imperfectly ossified hyoid bone, it cant roar like its Panthera counterparts but can growl and snarl.
Distribution and Habitat
Snow leopards live in mountainous terrains. A large percent of the snow leopard population is confined to the Himalayan range. They inhabit mountainside grasslands as well as lightly forested areas at altitudes between 2,300-6,000 meters high. Their range includes the northern parts of India, Nepal, Himalayan border of China, Russia, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan.
Due to the harsh climatic conditions, snow leopards are forced to have a wide dietary range. The snow leopards feed on any mountains animals like goats, deer, pikas and marmots. Domestic animals also constitute their diet. They also hunt down large prey such as Ibex.
The snow leopard is rated as 'Endangered' by the IUCN. It has been subjected to poaching, habitat loss and prey loss. Most of the population has been wiped out from Russia due to poaching for their fur. The current population is estimated to be about 6000 individuals. It is a highly protected species and its hunting has been banned in most of the countries. It is the national animal of Afghanistan and the National Heritage animal of Pakistan.