If you are lucky enough to see this beautiful mountain cat, do not forget this moment until the end of life. It is about a miracle of nature called the irbis. Snow leopard, leopard - these are other names of this animal. Mountain and snow predators are called because of the fact that they live high in the snow-capped mountains.
Irbis: description of the animal
The snow leopard belongs to large predators. Its weight ranges from 40 to 60 kg, body length - about 130-145 cm, add to this also a meter tail. The shape of the animal the snow leopard resembles a leopard or an ordinary domestic cat. The paws of the leopard are armed with narrow, sharp, curved claws. The limbs are so powerful that with their help the beast is able to jump over the gorge at 9-10 m wide.
Wild cats the snow leopard are distinguished by a wonderful “fur coat”. Their wool is very long, fluffy, thick and soft to the touch. In such a dress, even on mountain frost peaks, animals are protected from the cold. Usually such fur can boast of predators from the cat family of smaller sizes, so that the leopard is to some extent the only one in the cat kingdom. The coat color is light gray with a beautiful “wild” pattern in the form of dark rosettes. The stomach and the inside of the limbs are white. In the natural habitat, such a “dress” helps the predator to mask at the right moments. It is interesting that, despite the loud title of "predator", this cat does not know how to growl at all, in moments of anger it hisses and hums, creating a semblance of growling. During the rut, the irbis makes sounds that resemble purring. Under the conditions of captivity, the leopard can live for 27-28 years, in the natural environment the life expectancy of these predators does not exceed 20 years.
Animal snow leopard: where it lives in the wild
Large wild cats usually do not live high in the mountains. The snow irbis is an exception to the rule, it lives in the environment of stony placers, steep gorges in the rocky highlands. Not only because of the beautiful appearance, but also because of the habitat is considered a unique irbis. The snow leopard is found in the mountains of Central Asia, its range covers more than 1230 thousand square meters. km In Russia, the leopard occupied about 3% of the total area.
The snow leopard is the owner and one-man. This beautiful predatory "cat" occupies a certain territory, marks it, carefully defends and protects from uninvited guests. A single way of life violates the animal only during the mating season.
When a wildcat checks the boundaries of its plot, it always follows one route. She, like other members of the cat family, is difficult to move through the loose snow. For this reason, predators make paths along a snowy nast, along which they freely and quickly move. Enemies among animals in such a powerful beast almost none. When the year is given to the hungry, the snow leopard can engage in fights with packs of wolves for the right to possess long-awaited prey, which is extremely dangerous. The main and, one may say, the only enemy of the leopards is man.
The favorite hunting time for the snow leopard is twilight. If there is enough prey in the territory belonging to the leopard, it feeds without violating borders. If there is little food, the predatory cat goes in search of her, while approaching human settlements and attacking livestock. Among the wild animals in the menu of the mountain handsome include: goats, moose, sheep, wild sheep, deer, marmots, hares, mice and other mammals. In addition to meat "dishes", leopards consume plant foods in the form of grass and other green parts of plants. If we talk about the strength of the snow leopard, it can easily cope with prey of equal size, and it can also hunt game that is superior in growth and strength.
The animal snow leopard is a rare predator due to the slow rate of reproduction. Kids in these wild cats are not born every year, unlike other relatives. Sexual maturity in snow leopards occurs at the age of three. Irbis arrange their weddings at the beginning of spring, the marriage period is held in March-April. After fertilization, the female leopard bears cubs for 100 days. In one litter can be from one to five kittens.
Toddlers are born completely helpless. Newborn leopardis are blind and deaf, their weight is about half a kilo. Mother predator feeds cubs with its milk up to 4 months. When they turn 50-60 days old, the female begins to feed the crumbs with meat. From the age of six months, the kittens are already accompanying the mother on the hunt and are learning this skill.
Interesting facts about the snow leopard
- Translated from the Turkic dialect, the name "snow leopard" means "snow cat".
- The leopard is able to easily jump up to 5-6 meters in length. According to the hunters, in critical situations the predator can “fly over” a gorge 10 m long.
- Wildcat loves to play, especially to frolic, to lie in the snow.
- When meeting with a person does not ignite aggression, trying to quickly leave and hide.
- About once every two weeks, a leopard kills one large animal and feeds on this carcass for about 3-4 days.
- May migrate after wild goats to 600 km.
On the verge of extinction
As mentioned earlier, the animal snow leopard, unfortunately, does not apply to numerous species. The following reasons led to the fact that the snow leopard was on the verge of extinction:
- Late puberty.
- Low breeding rates.
- Decrease in the number of the main food of the snow leopards - wild cloven-hoofed animals.
- The dispersion of habitats in the wild.
- Mass extermination of snow leopards due to their valuable fur.
It's good that now people have thought better of it and started restoring and preserving this type of wild cats. Irbis is listed in the Red Book as a predator on the verge of extinction. In almost all countries of the world leopard hunting is prohibited. Let's hope that the fauna of the planet Earth will not lose such an excellent representative as the snow irbis.
The appearance of the snow leopard
- The coat color of the leopard has a grayish-smoky hue, but the contrast with black spots gives the impression of white wool. For black spots rosette shape is typical. Sometimes in the center of the spot you can see another one, darker, but smaller. According to the features of the spots, the snow leopard resembles something of a jaguar. In certain places (neck, limbs) the spots look more like smears. The color of the beast plays an important role, it helps it to mask in its natural habitat, while hunting. After all, often the predator is looking for a victim in the midst of white snow or ice. On the lower part of the body, the coat is mostly spotless, white, slightly with a yellowish tinge.
- The leopard has a beautiful, thick coat, rather long (it can even reach a length of 12 cm). There is also a thick undercoat that warms a graceful animal during the coldest season. Wool, which grows even between fingers, saves from cold stones in winter and from hot in the summer heated by the sun. As you can see, there is nothing accidental in the details of the snow leopard's wool cover, everything has its purpose.
Leopard population problems
Unfortunately, the snow leopard is a rare species. It requires attention, additional measures to protect the population. The hunt for this beast, primarily due to its beautiful valuable fur. The fur, light with beautiful spots, costs a lot of money, it is sold mainly on the black market. The countries where the habitat of the snow leopard is located, protect the animal, issue bans on shooting. But, despite such measures, the killing of a rare representative of the cat breed continues.
The attention of nature conservationists to the leopard population is gradually yielding, the number of snow leopards is increasing slightly. Zoos also play a large positive role in the conservation of the snow leopard, in which specialists succeed in breeding animals.
The snow leopard for preservation of the population is listed in the International Red Book.
- Beautiful, graceful and strong snow leopard is a solitary lifestyle animal. For its habitat, it occupies a certain area (150-160 square kilometers). His personal territory may intersect with the territory of several females. Most of all leopards like to settle on rocky areas of the mountains, where there is less snow and where you can hide from the cold wind. The animal is organizing a den in one of the caves or even in the nest of a large bird.
- In his house, the snow leopard spends almost all hours of daylight, and only at nightfall does he prefer to leave the shelter and go hunting. Interestingly, leopards become attached to their home, but if necessary for hunting, they can also go on long-distance raids, moving away from the den for a long distance.
- Leopard has almost no enemies among other animals, so he is not afraid to hunt, even in the dark. The only hungry wolves can cause some trouble to the beast, although skirmishes usually end in a snow leopard victory.
Leopards hunt alone and, mainly, on their territory. And only when in need, they seek food outside. A pair of snow leopards on a hunt is a male and a female. Predators remember pasture habitual for cattle walking, the location of water sources, check them while walking around their plot. In the summer months, the beast can be sent to the highland meadows, where artiods are grazed. And in the spring his path is laid in the forest. The irbis has enormous patience to sit in ambush for hours, guarding the prey on the rock, and then jumping on it from high stones. Leopard jump can reach up to 6 meters in length and up to 3 in height. This hunter without fear walks along the narrow ledges of rocks, over the very precipice. He sees his victims as an experienced sniper, determining the distance from a distance.
Snow Leopard Feeding
The prey of a bold and fast snow leopard becomes a variety of animals, birds, and sometimes, under very difficult seasonal conditions, and the mouse. A predator can hunt in the most diverse terrain, which is determined by personal territory. It can be mountains, meadows, and steppe expanses, the river bank.
- The main summer ration of the snow leopard is sheep, mountain goats. As well as smaller animals - gophers, for example. A large cat can cope with a huge yak, because in the hunt it shows considerable wit, cleverness and courage.
- In the winter menu - moose, roe deer, deer and even aggressive boars. If there is no large “catch”, hares and woodchucks are caught for lunch. Fall into the teeth of the leopard and birds - partridges. Mice are also being hunted.
- The leopard is a celebrated hunter who is not content with one victim. If possible, the beast kills several large animals at once in one hunt. There are cases when a predator killed up to 8 sheep in one attack, it was a very serious damage to the flocks. I do not eat my ounce at the place of hunting. He pulls the carcass in a secluded corner, somewhere under a tree or under a rock. And then only taken for meat. One large victim of this cat is enough for several days (3-4). The snow leopard is significantly different from other large representatives of the cat family by such features of hunting and feeding.
Snow leopard and man
- Back in the 19th century, snow leopards were not rare and were of great interest because of their beautiful and warm fur. The animals were allowed to hunt, she was even encouraged, as the predator was considered very dangerous for humans, for pets. Hunters who showed a dead leopard, were given a prize. Unfortunately, this attitude to the beautiful representatives of the cat family has led to a sad result - a terrible decrease in the number of leopards. Now measures are required to restore the population, to save a rare species of animals.
Description of the snow leopard
Uncia uncia living in the highlands of Central Asia is also called the snow leopard or snow leopard.. Russian merchants borrowed the last word in the original transcription “irbiz” from Turkic hunters as early as the 17th century, but only a century later this beautiful beast was “introduced” to the Europeans (so far only in the picture). He did this in 1761 by Georges Buffon, who accompanied the drawing with the remark that Once (irbis) is trained for hunting and is found in Persia.
The scientific description from the German naturalist Johann Schreber appeared a little later, in 1775. Over the next centuries of the snow leopard, many famous zoologists and travelers, including our Nikolay Przhevalsky, studied. Paleogenetics, for example, found that the snow leopard belongs to ancient species that appeared on the planet about 1.4 million years ago.
Character and way of life
This territorial animal, prone to solitude: related groups form only females with growing kittens. Each snow leopard has a personal plot, whose area (in different locations of the range) ranges from 12 km² to 200 km². The borders of personal territory are marked with smell marks, but they do not try to defend it in fights. The snow leopard usually hunts at dawn or before sunset, less often during the day. It is known that the snow leopards living in the Himalayas, go hunting strictly at dusk.
During the day, animals rest on the rocks, often using one den for several years. The den is more often settled in rocky crevices and caves, among stony placers, preferring to hide under overhanging slabs. Eyewitnesses said that they saw snow leopards in the Kyrgyz Alatau, reclining on short archa in the nests of black vultures.
It is interesting! Irbis periodically bypasses the personal site, checking the campsites / pastures of wild ungulates and following familiar routes. Usually its path (when descending from the summits to the plain) runs along a ridge or along a stream / river.
Due to the considerable length of the route, the detour takes several days, which explains the rare appearance of the beast at one point. In addition, its movement is hampered by deep and loose snow: in such places the snow leopard makes permanent trails.
How many live snow leopards
It has been established that in the wild nature, snow leopards live for about 13 years, and almost twice as long - in zoological parks. The average life expectancy in captivity is 21 years, but there is a recorded case when the female snow leopard has lived to be 28 years old.
The irbis is recognized exclusively by the Asian species, whose range (total area of 1.23 million km ²) passes through the mountainous regions of Central and South Asia. The zone of vital interests of the snow leopard includes countries such as:
- Russia and Mongolia,
- Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan,
- Uzbekistan and Tajikistan,
- Pakistan and Nepal,
- China and Afghanistan,
- India, Myanmar and Bhutan.
Geographically, the area extends from the Hindu Kush (eastern Afghanistan) and Syr Darya to southern Siberia (where it covers Altai, Tannu-Ola and Sayan), crossing the Pamir, Tian-Shan, Karakorum, Kunlun, Kashmir and Himalayas. In Mongolia, the snow leopard is found in the Mongolian / Gobi Altai and in the Khangai mountains, in Tibet - up to the north of Altunshan.
Important! Russia accounts for only 2-3% of the global range: these are the northern and north-western areas of the species habitat. In our country, the total area of settlement of snow leopards is close to 60 thousand km ². The beast can be found in the Krasnoyarsk Territory, Tuva, Buryatia, Khakassia, the Altai Republic and in the mountains of the Eastern Sayan (including the Munku-Sardyk ridges and the Tunkinskie Goltsy).
Irbis is not afraid of high mountains and eternal snows, choosing open plateaus, gentle / steep slopes and small valleys with alpine vegetation, which alternate with rocky canyons and heaps of stones. Sometimes animals adhere to more even areas with shrubs and scree, able to hide from prying eyes. Snow leopards for the most part live above the forest boundary, but from time to time they enter forests (usually in winter).
Snow Leopard Diet
The predator easily cracks down on its prey, three times its weight. The ungulates cause constant gastronomical interest of the snow leopard:
- horn and Siberian mountain goats,
- blue sheep,
- takins and containers
- argali and gorals,
- musk deer and red deer,
- серау и косули,
- кабаны и олени.
При резком снижении диких копытных ирбис переключается на мелкую живность (сусликов и пищух) и пернатых (фазанов, уларов и кекликов). В отсутствии привычной пищи может завалить бурого медведя, а также истреблять домашний скот – овец, лошадей и коз.
It is interesting! За один раз взрослый хищник съедает 2–3 кг мяса. Летом мясной рацион становится частично вегетарианским, когда ирбисы начинают есть траву и подрастающие побеги.
Ирбис охотится в одиночку, подкарауливая копытных возле водопоев, солонцов и троп: набрасываясь сверху, со скалы, или подползая из-за укрытий. На исходе лета, осенью и с наступлением зимы снежные барсы выходят на охоту группами, состоящими из самки и ее выводка. From ambush the predator jumps out when the distance between him and the victim is reduced so much as to reach it with several powerful jumps. If the object escapes, the snow leopard loses interest in it immediately or falls behind, after running 300 meters.
A large ungulate snow leopard usually suffices by the throat, and then strangles or breaks the neck. Carcass drags under a rock or in a safe shelter where you can safely eat lunch. Being fed, throws prey, but sometimes lies nearby, driving away scavengers, for example, vultures. In Russia, the ration of the snow leopard mainly consists of mountain goats, red deer, argali, roe deer and reindeer.
Population and species status
According to the World Wildlife Fund, now in nature there are from 3.5 to 7.5 thousand snow leopards, and about another 2 thousand live and breed in zoos. To a significant reduction in the population led, above all, the illegal hunt for snow leopard fur, as a result of which the snow leopard was recognized as a small, rare and endangered species.
Important! Poachers still hunt for the snow leopard, despite the fact that in all countries (where its range is located) the predator is protected at the state level, and its prey is prohibited. In the Red Book of Mongolia from 1997, the snow leopard is listed under the status “very rare”, and in the Red Book of the Russian Federation (2001), the first category is assigned to it as “threatened with extinction at the limit of the range”.
In addition, the snow leopard has fallen into the 1st Annex of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna / Flora. With the same wording, the snow leopard (under the highest security category EN C2A) is included in the IUCN 2000 Red List. Conservation agencies that monitor the dynamics of poaching fur production emphasize that provisions for the protection of the species in the field are not being sufficiently implemented. Along with this, long-term programs aimed at preserving the irbis have not yet been adopted.
Irbis - a description of the animal and photos. What does a snow leopard look like?
The snow leopard is a graceful predator with a flexible and mobile body, with a smooth and graceful gait, somewhat resembling a leopard, but more squat than it. Traits of adaptation of the snow leopard to the habitat are noticeable in all its external appearance. The average body length of an animal is 100-130 cm, the tail is 90-105 cm. The total length of the body, together with the tail, can reach 230 cm. The height at the withers is approximately 60 cm. The size of the males exceed the size of the females. The weight of an adult male snow leopard reaches 45-55 kg, the female weighs no more than 35-40 kg.
The body of the irbis is slightly convex in the area of the sacrum and sloping towards the shoulders, which is typical of the appearance of small cats (Latin Felinae). The snow leopard is ten times heavier than a domestic cat and seven to eight times lighter than a tiger, the largest of the cats. For this, scientists call it the "big small cat." The irbis differs from the leopard in a less massive front part of the body and smaller head size.
The head of the snow leopard is small, round, shaped like a head of a domestic cat. On it are small, rounded, widely spaced auricles. The structure of the skull of the snow leopard is easily identified by its characteristic large forehead. There are no tassels on the ears. In winter, the ears are almost invisible due to the long pile covering them.
Author photo: Ltshears, CC BY-SA 3.0
Vibrissae on the face of the snow leopard are black or white, up to 10.5 cm long. The eyes of the animal are large, with rounded pupils. Vision and smell are very well developed.
Photo by: Eric Kilby, CC BY-SA 2.0
The snow leopard has sharp and long teeth and claws. Teeth in all cats, including the irbis, 30 pieces:
- on the upper and lower jaw 6 incisors, 2 canines,
- on the upper jaw - 3 premolar and 1 molar,
- on the lower jaw - 2 premolar and 1 molar.
The length of the canines of the snow leopard is somewhat less than that of other cats. It is 59.9 mm.
Photo by Klaus Rassinger and Gerhard Cammerer, CC BY-SA 3.0
Author photo: Rolf Dietrich Brecher, CC BY-SA 2.0
On the sides of the long tongue of the snow leopard there are bumps covered with keratinized skin. They help the beast to peel meat from the victim and wash themselves during hygiene procedures.
Author photo: Tambako The Jaguar, CC BY-SA 2.0
Soft and long hairs of an animal can reach 55 mm.
Especially the long coat is covered with a magnificent snow leopard tail. It reaches more than of the overall size of the body and seems very thick due to the elongated fur. The thickness of the tail exceeds the thickness of the predator forearm.
Photo by Marit & Toomas Hinnosaar, CC BY 2.0
The irbis holds the tail either curved to the back, or freely drags it on the ground, stones or snow: then in the winter between its tracks there is a distinct stripe.
By the way, the snow leopard often bites its tail for some reason. Zoologists suggest that he just warms his nose in cold winters. But maybe this has another explanation? All cats love to play, and the snow leopards are no exception: they bite their tails for fun.
Author photo: theweaselking. Taken from the site: photobucket.com
Snow leopard's wide snowshoes have light pink retractable claws. Along with thick hair, they make the predator visually larger. The length of the foot of the hind legs of a mammal is 22-26 cm.
Photo by: Greg Hume, CC BY-SA 4.0
The coat color of the snow leopard on the back and top of the sides is predominantly smoky brownish gray, with dark gray or black spots. There are no differences in coloring between females and males. In the offseason, smoky deposit is less pronounced than in winter. The belly and sides of the animal are lighter underneath than the upper part of the body. Yellow in the color is missing. However, according to recent data, the Baikal subspecies (Latin. U.u. baikalensis-romanii), which not all scientists recognized as a valid subspecies, marked yellow tones in color.
The spots on the body of the predator are in the form of rings (rosettes) or continuous streaks with a diameter of 5 to 8 cm. There are only continuous specks on the neck, head and legs. On the back next to the sacrum, they often merge and form strips stretching along the body. At the end of the tail are large markings in the form of half-rings framing the tail. Unlike a real leopard, a snow leopard has a lot less spots.
Author photo: Doris Kessler, CC BY-SA 3.0
The pattern of spots in each animal is individual. In young individuals, it is bright, over the years it becomes fuzzy and vague, remaining only on the head and paws. Such coloring helps the predator to remain imperceptible among rocks, stones and snow. The adaptability of the snow leopard to its natural habitat is also expressed in the change in the thickness of the coat depending on the season. The winter fur of the snow leopard is very lush and silky, it allows the predator not to freeze in the mountains even in the cold season.
Like all living organisms, the snow leopard's fitness is relative. When the environment is actively changing - the snow melts quickly, the mountain slopes are covered with thick vegetation, then the animal does not save the color of wool or sharp claws.
Photo author: Winkelbohrer, CC BY-SA 2.0
What eats snow leopard?
Irbis, like any cat - is a deft and strong hunter. He can kill the victim, exceeding its weight by more than 3-4 times. The food of the snow leopard is mostly medium-sized ungulates. Irbis hunts mountain goats (lat. Capra, horned goats (markhur) (lat. Capra falconeri), blue sheep (lat. Pseudois), argali (lat. Ovis ammon), Siberian roe deer (lat. Capreolus pygargusmusk deer (lat. Moschus moschiferus) marals (lat. Cervus elaphus), reindeer (lat. Rangifer tarandus), boars (lat. Sus scrofa), gazelle (lat. Gazella subgutturosa), cool (lat. Equus hemionus), serau (lat. Capricornis), gorals (lat. Naemorhedus caudatus), Himalayan tar (lat. Hemitragus jemlahicus) takins (lat. Budorcas taxicolor). More often, he attacks goat females and young goats, sometimes not yet able to follow the mother.
Snow leopards eat such small animals as snowcocks, pikas, woodchucks, hares, gophers, and kekliks. Birds are caught: pheasants, pigeons, partridges, mountain turkeys. Of the large victims of their prey, moose, marals and horses can become prey. Like other cats, they sometimes eat grass or shoots of rhododendron to compensate for vitamin deficiencies. Domestic animals (goats, sheep, pigs, horses) are attacked by snow leopards either in winter, or if they graze in alpine meadows.
Photo author: Winkelbohrer, CC BY-SA 2.0
On average, the snow leopard hunts 2 times a month. He does it alone, more often at night or at dusk, less often during the day. Only occasionally a male and a female or a female with older cubs can go hunting together.
A snow leopard hunt consists of an ambush and a decisive shot. Usually, a predator lies above the path, along which ungulates pass along to make a jump from above. He can also guard them at the watering or salt lick. For luck, he needs a height advantage. If at a throw the leopard misses, then it usually chases the victim to no more than 300 meters or leaves it alone. At short distances, the speed of the snow leopard can reach 64 km per hour. The snow leopard can also creep up to the victim from cover. When the victim remains several tens of meters away, the snow leopard jumps out and quickly leaps over it with a jump of 6-7 meters. Having caught up with his prey, he tears with her teeth her throat or groin.
Occasionally the irbis tries to catch up with its prey. So on the ridge of Jebaglytau there were traces of a predator, chasing the females of argali about a kilometer.
The leopard does not kill several animals at the same time, as a wolf does, for example. He eats the carcass of a killed ram or goat in 3-7 days. At one time he can eat no more than 3 kg of meat.
Author photo: Gunnar Ries Amphibol, CC BY-SA 3.0
Where does the snow leopard live?
The snow leopard lives in 12 countries: Nepal, Afghanistan, China, Kazakhstan, Bhutan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, India, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Russia.
Irbis is the inhabitant of the snowy peaks of the massifs of Central Asia. Typically, his home is the highlands at the border of the snow line, to an altitude of 2000 - 5000 meters. Depending on the snow line, it can go down to the level of 500 m (in Russia) and go up to 6500 m (in Nepal). In winter, the predator can be found in the forests, where the snow leopard hunts for a hare, musk deer, maral. The oldest fossil remains of this animal were found in Altai and Mongolia. They have survived there since the Pleistocene epoch of the Quaternary.
The habitat of the snow leopard extends from the Himalayas in the south, through the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and the mountains of Central Asia to the mountains of Southern Siberia in the north. The predator is found in Altai, Sayan, Tien Shan, Kunlun, Pamir, Hindu Kush, Karakorum, as well as on the outer Himalayan ranges and in small isolated mountains in the Gobi region. In the mountains of Tibet, the snow leopard occurs before Altunshan. The southern limit of distribution of the mammal is in Tajikistan. A small area of the potential range is located in northern Myanmar, but the recent presence of this animal here has not been confirmed. On the territory of Russia, the northernmost border of the snow leopard habitat in the world: here it inhabits the Altai-Sayan mountain country (the south of the Krasnoyarsk Territory, the Chita region, the Republic of Tyva, Altai, Buryatia, Khakassia), and also is found in such reserves as the Altai and Sayano - Shushensky. Unfortunately, in Russia the snow leopard population is on the verge of extinction.
Due to the small size and secrecy, the presence of a snow leopard in the territory and his habits are identified mainly due to indirect signs. Where there is a snow leopard, there are scratches in the ground, scuffs on tree trunks, excreta, urinary marks and traces of footprints. The traces of the snow leopard are large, without claw marks, resembling traces of a lynx. But the snow leopard and lynx practically do not occur on the same territory. Now, automatic cameras (camera traps) and satellite beacons have been added to the methods for detecting the beast. With their help, you can learn everything about the snow leopard.
The slopes of the mountains of Altai is a typical habitat of the snow leopard. Author photo: Stefan Kühn, CC BY-SA 3.0
The number of snow leopards in the world
This secretive and therefore insufficiently studied mammal has become rare because of humans. The first mentions of him in the literature appeared only in the XVIII century. And all the works of that time were devoted to how to find the habitat of the snow leopard, how to kill the beast correctly and excrete its skin. The snow leopard was important only as a commercial animal. Due to the intense destruction, the life of the irbis was in danger.
Due to the fact that the snow leopard leads a secretive lifestyle, it is difficult for scientists to accurately calculate the number of individuals. According to the latest data, from 4 to 7 thousand snow leopards are left in the world.
- In Russia, there are only 150-200 individuals.
- China has the largest number of snow leopards: 2000-5000 individuals.
- In the zoos of the world lives 600-700 irbis.
Snow leopards are completely extinct in parts of Russia, Nepal, India and Mongolia. The reasons for the decline in the number of this species throughout the world are similar to the absurdity:
Irbis are mined because of valuable fur, as well as for the use of its body parts in oriental medicine. Often, leopards die after hitting loops set on other animals, in Russia - most often on musk deer.
- Changing the habitat of the snow leopard man.
The laying of roads, as well as gas and oil pipelines affects the number of ungulates - the main prey of the leopard. The proximity of anthropogenic structures also causes discomfort of this cautious and secretive mammal.
- Shooting when attacking livestock.
The snow leopard can attack livestock if it is grazed on the hunting area of a predator. Climbing into the covered pen, he can kill almost the whole herd in the heat of the moment.
- Reducing the number of ungulates due to intense hunting for them and the change of their habitats.
Author photo: Doris Kessler, CC BY-SA 3.0
How does the snow leopard live in the wild?
Irbis is important that it was surrounded by rocks, boulders, scree, gorges, because it can not long pursue prey, and therefore hunts from ambush. When the snow leopard sits, crouching among the rocks, it is almost impossible to notice. Short beast relative to the body allows him to move silently over the rocks. He slowly sneaks up or quietly waits for the victim, and then abruptly attacks her. This tactic allows the predator to deal with an animal much larger than itself. Like big cats, he kills prey quickly and accurately, and eats it like representatives of small cats: slowly and slowly.
Irbis is a cautious beast. Its main refuges are remote gorges, crevices and caves in the mountains. The females hide here and breed their offspring. In the mountains, the snow leopard wanders behind herds of ungulates, rises higher in the mountains in the summer, and descends to the forest belt in the winter. In the summer, it is often kept in the subalpine and alpine zones of the mountains.
Despite its name, the snow leopard is difficult to move in deep snow. In winter, he prefers to walk on the beaten paths of animals.
Photo by: H. Zell, CC BY-SA 3.0
Irbis can jump in height to 3 meters and in length to 6-7 meters. There is evidence that he "flies" the gorge and a width of 15 meters, but this is unlikely. The leopard’s leap is helped by well developed pectoral muscles, and with their help, it climbs beautifully on steep cliffs. At the same time the tail serves as a wheel - this is one of the explanations of why the snow leopard needs such a long tail. The main prey of the snow leopard is the wild mountain ungulates, so daily training exercises - overcoming the steep slopes, jumping on scree - this is a vital necessity for the predator. The snow leopard uses its tail as a balancer during fast movements and sharp turns.
The snow leopard is an animal well adapted to life at high altitude. It has an extended chest and a large volume of lungs in order to get the necessary amount of oxygen from the discharged air high in the mountains. The deep and wide cavity of his nose helps to warm the cold mountain air. In addition, when he goes to bed, he covers his nose with his fluffy warm tail.
Irbis is able to withstand temperatures down to -40 ° C and below. For the winter, even the pads of his paws are covered with thick wool.
Each snow leopard has its own territory, the borders of which it marks in different ways: scraping the ground with its hind legs, leaving holes - scratched, splashing urine on the rocks at the nose level, excrement, teasers on the most noticeable tree trunks. But the males are not aggressive towards their fellow tribesmen, their territories may overlap with the territories of several adult females.
The most active snow leopard at dawn and dusk, so it is difficult to notice. In winter, the beast is more difficult than in summer, since its traces in the snow are clearly visible.
By the way, the snow leopard loves to play, like all cats: he wallows in the snow, rolls down from the mountains on his back, having previously driven away well. After a successful hunt, he basks in the sun, settling somewhere more comfortable.
The snow leopard does not know how to growl: he purrs, meows, moans, howls, hisses. The meowing of the snow leopard resembles a roar, so he calls the spring to his guttural "ay."
Photo by: Tony Hisgett, CC BY 2.0
Is a snow leopard dangerous to humans?
In relation to a person, the irbis behaves non-aggressively and is not afraid of it. Scientists say that the predator has no gene for fear of people, because, living high in the mountains, he rarely meets his true enemies. Even disturbed by prey or hunting, the snow leopard will not attack, but will only try to escape. Living alongside people for a long time, he can observe them out of curiosity that is common to all cats. Характер и поведение снежного барса портятся, когда он встречается с браконьерами: зверь становится пугливым и пытается выйти из безысходной ситуации. Опасным снежный барс может быть, только если почувствует угрозу своей жизни или безопасности своих детёнышей. Он может становиться на пути и издавать угрожающие звуки – это означает, что барс не сдаст позиций даже ценой своей жизни.
В истории было отмечено 2 случая нападения ирбиса на человека. В первом – это был зверь, больной бешенством, и он действительно нанёс раны нескольким людям. In the second, an old, toothless, weakened leopard attempted to attack a traveler from a cliff, but he stunned the beast with a stick, tied it up and brought it to the village.
A captured adult snow leopard after a few days admits to him a man and allows him to stroke. Taken at an early age, snow leopards become completely tame and homemade.
Author photo: Doris Kessler, CC BY 3.0
Enemies of the snow leopard in nature
The enemies of the snow leopard in their natural habitat are wolves, lynx, dogs, in the south - leopards (lat. Panthera pardus). Leopards, lynxes, wolves and snow leopards kill each other when there is competition for a shortage of prey. But in a fight with a pack of wolves, before dying, the irbis has time to mortally wound several enemies, because this is a very strong beast. An irbis is stronger than a lone wolf, so that in the animal world the snow leopard can stand up for itself.
Subspecies of the snow leopard
Previously it was believed that the geographical variability of color and body size of the leopard is not expressed, and the species was defined as monotypic. All modern classifications adhere to this point of view. But in September 2017, after analyzing the collected litter and mitochondrial DNA of animals, the scientists published the results of phylogenetic research, indicating the need to isolate 3 subspecies of irbis: