|[Note Guidelines] Photographer's Note|
|I know that photos of captive animals are frowned on, but I particularly like the expression on the face of this Snow Leopard. It had been lying quietly on it's back in the shade, minding it's own business, when it's companion padded over from the other side of the enclosure and proceeded to give it a bite on the head. Nothing serious. Just one of those little spats like your house cats have when one is bored and decides to stir things up a bit. A staring match ensued with a few snarls and bared teeth and then it was over as quickly as it had begun.|
These were taken at Marwell Zoological Park, a centre for the breeding and conservation of endangered species.
And, as always, Wikipedia is a wonderful source of information:
The snow leopard (Uncia uncia), sometimes known as the ounce, is a large cat native to the mountain ranges of Central Asia from Afghanistan, northern Pakistan, to Lake Baikal and eastern Tibet. The taxonomic position of this species has been subject to change. In the past, many taxonomists included the snow leopard in the genus Panthera, with several of the other largest felids, but later it was placed in its own genus, Uncia. However, a recent molecular study places the species firmly within the genus Panthera, although the exact position remains unclear. It cannot roar, despite possessing an incomplete ossification of the hyoid bone, which was thought to be essential in allowing the big cats to roar. However, new studies show that the ability to roar is due to other morphological features, especially of the larynx, which are absent in the snow leopard. Well known for its beautiful fur, the snow leopard has a whitish-tan coat with ringed spots of dark, ashy-brown and rosettes of black. Its tail is heavy with fur and the bottom of its paws are covered with fur for protection against snow and cold.
The life span of a snow leopard is normally 15–18 years, but in captivity it can live up to 20 years.
Weighing usually 35 kilograms (77 lb) to 55 kilograms (121 lb), the snow leopard is slightly smaller on average than a leopard. Exceptionally large males can weigh up to 75 kilograms (165 lb), very small females weigh only 25 kilograms (55 lb). The head and body length is 39–51 in (99–130 cm), the shoulder height is about 60 cm (24 in). The tail measures 32–39 in (81–99 cm) and is proportionately longer than in any other cat species of comparable size. It helps to maintain its balance on the rugged terrain and unstable surfaces of its habitat and is used to cover its nose and mouth in very cold conditions. The head of the snow leopard is relatively small, however the male's head is usually much squarer and wider than that of the female. The big furry feet act as snowshoes, like those of the lynxes. The snow leopard has gray-and-white thick fur with numerous rosettes on the flanks and spots on the head and neck.
In summer, the snow leopard usually lives above the tree line on mountainous meadows and in rocky regions at an altitude of 2,700 m (8,858 ft) to 6,000 m (19,685 ft). In winter, it comes down into the forests at an altitude of about 2,000 m (6,562 ft). It leads largely a solitary life, although mothers can rear cubs for extended periods of time in cave dens in the mountains. It is an opportunistic feeder, eating whatever meat it can find and kills animals three times its size, including domestic livestock. Its diet consists mainly of ibexes, the Bharal, the Markhor, the Urial, deer, boars, as well as pikas, marmots and other small rodents. It ambushes prey from above when possible, as it can jump as far as 14 meters (46 ft). Its agility often proves helpful when ambushing prey and traversing through mountains.
An individual snow leopard lives within a well defined home range. However, it does not defend its range aggressively when encroached upon by other individuals. Home ranges can vary greatly in size. In Nepal, where prey is abundant, a home range can be as small as 12 km˛ (5 sq mi) to 39 km˛ (15 sq mi) and up to 5 to 10 animals are found here per 100 km˛ (39 sq mi); whereas, in habitats with sparse prey, an area of 1,000 km˛ (386 sq mi) supports only 5 of these cats.
The snow leopard's range in central and south Asia is rugged mountainous regions of approximately 1,230,000 square kilometers, which extends through 12 countries: Afghanistan, Bhutan, China, India, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.
The geographic distribution streches from the Hindukush in eastern Afghanistan and the Syr Darya through the mountains of Pamir Tien Shan, Karakorum, Kashmir, Kunlun, and the Himalaya to southern Siberia, where the range covers the russian Altai, Sajan, Tannu-Ola Mountains and the mountains to the west of Lake Baikal. In Mongolia it is found in the Mongolian and Gobi Altai and the Khangai Mountains. In Tibet it is found up to the Altyn-Tagh in the North.
Population and conservation
The total wild population of the snow leopard is estimated at between 4,000 and 7,500 individuals. In 1972 the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, (IUCN) placed the snow leopard on its Red List of Threatened Species as "Endangered," the same classification given the panda and the tiger.
There are also 600-700 snow leopards in zoos around the world
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