Barfani Chita (Urdu), Ikar (Balti: Baltistan)
Description and Biology:
Although sharing its name with the common leopard, the snow leopard is not believed to be closely related to the Leopard or the other members of the Pantherine group and is classified as the sole member of the genus Uncia uncia. Due to the under-development of the fibro-elastic tissue that forms part of the vocal apparatus the snow leopard cannot give a full, deep roar and this along with differences in skull characteristics help to separate it from its fellow 'big cats'. In appearance, the snow leopard is strikingly different from the common leopard. Although it has similar rosettes and broken-spot markings, they appear less well defined and are spaced further apart. The fur is long and woolly and helps protect the cat from the extreme cold of its generally mountainous habitat. The general ground coloration of the cat is predominantly grey with brownish/yellow tinges on its flanks and lighter, often white fur on its belly, chest and chin. The head, which sports small ears and a distinctive heavy brow, is rounded and comparatively small for its body size, which can be up to 1.3 meters length and weigh up to around 70kg. The long tail, which can measure as much as 900cm, helps the cat balance as it moves over rugged and often snowy terrain. The powerful limbs of the snow leopard are relatively short for its body size and are supported by large, powerful paws.
Generally crepuscular in its hunting activities, the snow leopards main prey is that of wild sheep such as Bharal (Blue Sheep) and Argali, goats, including Markhor and Ibex. Other prey taken includes Musk Deer, marmots, various species of hare and birds. The cat often uses the natural protection of the terrain to stalk its prey, keeping low below the skyline and pouncing down onto its victim. Commonly the animal is a solitary hunter but may share the task with its mate during its breeding season. It has been know that one animal will stalk the prey while the other lies in wait to make the kill. With larger prey, it is common that the snow leopard will remain close to its kill and return over a period of three to four days to feed. his well built, muscular cat can bring down prey more than two to three times its size, as is the case with the native Yak. However, unlike its distant neighbours the Tiger and Leopard, the snow leopard is generally not aggressive toward man. Where human habitation does come close to the range of the snow leopard, it is common, during the harsh winter months for the cat to take domestic livestock. Some conservation organisations are now working with local inhabitants to help educate in the need for conservation management and to supply financial reparation for the loss of domestic stock. Due to the often-harsh weather conditions that prevail cubs are always born in the spring, with mating taking place some three months earlier in late winter. This ensures that a food source is abundant and less effort is needed to secure a kill. The litter size is usually between 1-4 (typically two) cubs and they are born after a gestation period of approximately 98 days. The cubs weigh between 320-708g at birth -have a daily average weight gain of approximately 48g per day and stay with their mothers until they are over 18 months old (all above information from Big Cats Online).
Habitat and Distribution:
The snow leopard generally inhabits elevations between 2000-4000 meters although it can occasionally be found at lower altitudes to the north of its range and as high as 5500 meters in Himalayan regions. The cat is generally associated with generally rocky terrain such as high valley ridges, rocky outcrops and mountain passes. As summer gives way to winter, the snow leopard will follow its migrating prey down below the tree line to the lowland forests that cover much of its habitat-however the cat is rarely associated with dense forestation.
In summer it is found in alpine pastures upto 5100 m, evelation while in winter it descends to lower altitudes. In the alpine pasture snow the following vegetation characterizes snow leopard
Primula macrophylla, Sibbaldia cuneata, sedhm recticaule, Cerastium, cerastiodies, Oxytropis immersa
In Pakistan the Snow Leopard is found in the high mountains of the Karakoram and the Hindukush. There are mainly found in Baltistan, Chitral, Gilgit, Upper Swat Valley, the Slopes of Nanga Parbat, Khunjerab National Park and the Chitral Gol National Park. The total population of the snow leopards in Pakistan is 100-200 ( IUCN's Cats Specialist Group).
Recent Sightings and Population Surveys:
1998: Female sub adult snow leopard captured by a local villager after it is seen eating domestic goats in Jamalabad, Hunza. Later released in Khunjerab National Park.
1999: 7 snow leopards seen in Chitral Gol National Park in N.W.F.P in January. 4 at one place and pug marks of 3 others.
1999: Snow leopard pug marks seen in Chitral Gol National Park in N.W.F.P in November, by Mr. Ahmed Khan.
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