Snow leopard (Uncia uncia) is a keystone species, typically found at an elevation of 3,000-4,000m. They are the icons and vital components of the biologically rich yet often neglected alpine ecosystems of Central and South Asia. The species is often found in open coniferous forests and high altitude pastures. However, given the rapid degradation of its habitat, the species has an estimated global population of less than 2,500 mature breeding males. Thereby, the snow leopard has been categorized as an endangered species (IUCN Red list, US Endangered Species Act, CITES).
Snow leopards have long, thick fur, and their base colour varies from smoky gray to yellowish tan, with whitish under parts. They have dark grey to black open rosettes on their bodies, with small spots of the same color on their heads and larger spots on their legs and tails. Unusually among cats, their eyes are pale green or grey in colour.
Snow leopards show several adaptations for living in a cold, mountainous environment. Their bodies are stocky, their fur is thick, and their ears are small and rounded, all of which help to minimize heat loss. Their paws are wide, which distributes their weight better for walking on snow, and have fur on their undersides to increase their grip on steep and unstable surfaces; it also helps to minimize heat loss. Snow leopards' tails are long and flexible, helping them to maintain their balance, which is important in the rocky terrain they inhabit. Their tails are also very thick due for storage of fat and are very thickly covered with fur which allows them to be used like a blanket to protect their faces when asleep.
Length from the head to the base of the tail is 75 to 130 cm (30 to 50 in). However, the tail is quite long, at 80 to 100 cm (31 to 39 in).
They exhibit a range of sizes, generally weighing between 27 and 55 kg (60 and 120 lb), with an occasional large male reaching 75 kg (170 lb) and small female of under 25 kg (55 lb).
It is listed as endangered according to IUCN Red list of mammals. C.I.T.E.S.(Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species)
The snow leopard (Uncia uncia) habitat is currently restricted to Asia in Afghanistan, Bhutan, China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan,Uzbekistan, and possibly also to Myanmar. (McCarthy and Chapron, 2003)
Its geographic distribution runs from the Hindu Kush in eastern Afghanistan and the Syr Darya through the mountains of Pamir, Tian Shan, Karakoram, Pir Punjal / Kashmir, Kunlun, and the Himalaya to southern Siberia, where the range covers the Russian Altai mountains, Sayan, 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 (Sunquist&Sunquist, 2002).
In Pakistan, over 81'000 sq km area in Karakorum and Hindu Kush mountain ranges of Himalayas is potential habitat of the snow leopard, with an approximate population of 400-450 animals (Malik' 1997, Jackson, 2002, Fox, 1989, 1994)' mostly concentrated in the upper reaches of Gilgit-Baltistan (> 60%) and Chitral (Hussain' 2003).
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