The snow leopard is an endangered animal. In fact, only 4,500 to 7,500 of these creatures are estimated alive today.
The snow leopard is found in scattered populations throughout the mountains of central Asia, Afghanistan, Russia, Mongolia and southern China. Scientists believe that sixty percent of the leopard’s population lives in China.
One of this leopard’s unique features is its ability to kill prey three times its own size and weight. To fuel their fierce predatory ways, snow leopards normally eat sheep, goats, hares, and game birds. They eat slowly and often take three to four days to consume their prey.
The snow leopard's coat is the thickest of any cat and makes it look larger than it actually is. It also has 12 centimeters of fur on its belly to protect it from the extreme cold. The leopard's paws have thick fur on each sole, which insulates them in winter and protects them from hot rocks in summer. Its tail is very long and thick and enhances the creature’s balance. When resting, the snow leopard wraps its tail around its body to keep warm.
Unfortunately, snow leopards are illegally hunted for their fur, which is used to make different types of garments. Also, their bones and body parts can be used to make traditional Asian medicine. Furthermore, as people expand their farms and grazing areas for livestock herds, they are invading more and more into the snow leopard's territory, thus leading to conflict.
Conservationists are trying to protect this animal, but it is too soon to tell if this beautiful creature will survive.
[Sources: The Encyclopedia of Animals; defenders.org; conservancy.org]