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Snow leopard - Panthera uncia
Snow leopard - Panthera uncia

[Image: Wild-snow-leopard-in-stalking-pose.jpg]

Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Felidae
Subfamily: Pantherinae
Genus: Panthera
Species: Panthera uncia

  • Panthera uncia irbis, found in the Altai region

  • Panthera uncia uncioides, found in the core Himalaya and Tibetan Plateau

  • Panthera uncia uncia, found in the Tian Shan, Pamir, and trans-Himalaya regions.
The snow leopard (Panthera uncia or Uncia uncia) is a moderately large cat native to the mountain ranges of Central Asia. The classification of this species has been subject to change and is still classified as Uncia uncia by MSW3 as of 2000 and CITES Appendix I. However with more recent genetic studies the snow leopard is now generally considered as Panthera uncia and classified as such by IUCN. Classically, two subspecies have been attributed however genetic differences between the two have not been settled. The snow leopard remains on the endangered species list classified as C1.

Snow leopards occupy alpine and subalpine areas generally 3,350 and 6,700 metres (10,990 and 22,000 ft) above sea level in Central Asia. The Snow Leopard Survival Strategy (McCarthy et al. 2003, Table II) compiled national snow leopard population estimates, updating the work of Fox (1994). Many of the estimates are acknowledged to be rough and out of date, but the total estimated population is 4,080-6,590. However, the global snow leopard effective population size (those likely to reproduce) is suspected to be fewer than 2,500 (50% of the total population, or 2,040-3,295).

Snow leopards are smaller than the other big cats but, like them, 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). Body length ranges from 75 to 130 centimetres (30 to 50 in), with the tail adding a further 80 to 100 cm (31 to 39 in) to that length. These cats stand about 60 cm (24 in) at the shoulder.

Snow leopards have long thick fur, and their base color varies from smoky gray to yellowish tan, with whitish underparts. They have dark gray to black open rosettes on their body with small spots of the same color on their heads and larger spots on their legs and tail. Unusually among cats, their eyes are pale green or gray in color.

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 very important in the rocky terrain they inhabit. Their tails are also very thick due to storage of fats and are very thickly covered with fur which allows them to be used like a blanket to protect their faces when asleep.

The snow leopard has a short muzzle and domed forehead, containing unusual large nasal cavities that help the animal breathe the thin, cold air of their mountainous environment.

The snow leopard cannot roar, despite possessing partial ossification of the hyoid bone. This partial ossification was previously thought to be essential for allowing the big cats to roar, but 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. Snow leopard vocalizations include hisses, chuffing, mews, growls, and wailing.

[Image: Male-snow-leopard-standing-over-blue-sheep-carcass.jpg]

Naming and etymology
Both the Latinised genus name, Uncia, and the occasional English name "ounce" are derived from the Old French once, originally used for the European lynx. "Once" itself is believed to have arisen by back-formation from an earlier word "lonce" – the "L" of "lonce" was construed as an abbreviated "le" ("the"), leaving "once" to be perceived as the animal's name. This, like the English version "ounce", became used for other lynx-sized cats, and eventually for the snow-leopard.

The snow leopard is also known in its native lands as shan (Ladakhi), irves (Mongolian: ирвэс), waawrin prraang (Pashto: واورين پړانګ), bars or barys (Kazakh: барыс [ˈbɑrəs]), ilbirs (Kyrgyz: Илбирс ) and barfani chita - "snow cheetah" (Urdu).

Taxonomy and evolution
The snow leopard was first described by Schreber in 1775, in the Kopet-Dag Mountains in Turkmenistan and Iran. In the past, many taxonomists included the snow leopard in the genus Panthera, together with the other largest extant felids, but later it was placed in its own genus, Uncia. It was thought not to be closely related to the Panthera or other extant big cats. However, recent molecular studies place the species firmly within the genus Panthera, its closest relative being the tiger (Panthera tigris). MSW3 still refers to the snow leopard as Uncia uncia but the more recent IUCN classifies it as Panthera uncia. The Cat Classification Task Force, with the goal to propose on behalf of the Cat Specialist Group and the IUCN Red List Unit, and based on the best science and expert knowledge presently available, is currently working on an updated and practical classification of the Felidae, including genera, species and subspecies with the most likely distribution ranges of the respective taxa .

A recent research paper in the Journal of Heredity reveals that there are three sub-species of snow leopard. Until now, researchers had assumed this species, Panthera uncia, was monotypic. Studying snow leopard scat from wildlife trails and marking sites revealed three primary genetic clusters, differentiated by geographical location: the Northern group, Panthera uncia irbis, found in the Altai region, the Central group, Panthera uncia uncioides, found in the core Himalaya and Tibetan Plateau, and the Western group, Panthera uncia uncia, found in the Tian Shan, Pamir, and trans-Himalaya regions.

Biology and behavior
In summer, snow leopards usually live above the tree line on mountainous meadows and in rocky regions at an altitude from 2,700 to 6,000 m (8,900 to 20,000 ft). In winter, snow leopards come down into the forests to an altitude of around 1,200 to 2,000 m (3,900 to 6,600 ft). Snow leopards prefer broken terrain and can travel without difficulty in snow up to 85 centimetres (33 in) deep, although snow leopards prefer to use existing trails made by other animals.

The snow leopard leads a largely solitary life, although mothers may rear cubs in dens in the mountains for extended periods.

An individual snow leopard lives within a well-defined home range, but does not defend its territory aggressively when encroached upon by other snow leopards. Home ranges vary greatly in size. In Nepal, where prey is abundant, a home range may be as small as 12 km2 (5 sq mi) to 40 km2 (15 sq mi) and up to five to ten animals are found here per 100 km2 (40 sq mi); whereas in habitats with sparse prey, an area of 1,000 km2 (400 sq mi) supports only five of these cats.

Like other cats, snow leopards use scent marks to indicate their territory and common travel routes. These are most commonly produced by scraping the ground with the hind feet before depositing urine or scat, but they also spray urine onto sheltered patches of rock.

Snow leopards are crepuscular, being most active at dawn and dusk. They are known for being extremely secretive and well camouflaged.

[Image: Snow-leopard-in-wild-on-male-bharal-kill.jpg]

Hunting and diet
Snow leopards are carnivores and actively hunt their prey, though, like many cats, they are opportunistic feeders, eating whatever meat they can find, including carrion and domestic livestock. They can kill animals three to four times their size, such as the Bharal, Himalayan Tahr, Markhor and Argali but will readily take much smaller prey such as hares and birds. They are capable of killing most animals in their range with the probable exception of the adult male Yak. Unusually among cats, snow leopards also eat a significant amount of vegetation, including grass and twigs.

The diet of the snow leopard varies across its range and with the time of year, and depends on prey availability. In the Himalayas, it preys mostly on bharals (Himalayan blue sheep) but in other mountain ranges such as the Karakoram, Tian Shan, and Altai, its main prey consists of Siberian ibex and argali, a type of wild sheep, although this has become rarer in some parts of the snow leopard's range. Other large animals eaten include various types of wild goats and sheep (such as markhors and urials), other goat-like ruminants such as Himalayan tahr and gorals, plus deer, boars, and langur monkeys. Smaller prey consists of marmots, woolly hares, pikas, various rodents, and birds such as the snow cock and chukar.

Considerable predation of domestic livestock occurs which brings it into direct conflict with humans. Herders will kill snow leopards to prevent them from taking their animals. The loss of prey animals due to over grazing by domestic livestock, poaching and defense of livestock are the major drivers for the decreasing population of Panthera uncia. Snow leopards have not been reported to attack humans, and appear to be among the least aggressive of all the big cats. As a result, they are easily driven away from livestock; they readily abandon their kills when threatened and may not even defend themselves when attacked.

Snow leopards prefer to ambush prey from above, using broken terrain to conceal their approach, and can leap as far as 14 meters (46 ft). They will actively pursue prey down steep mountainsides, using the momentum of their initial leap to chase animals for up to 300 metres (980 ft). They kill with a bite to the neck, and may drag the prey to a safe location before feeding. They consume all edible parts of the carcass, and can survive on a single bharal for two weeks before hunting again. Annual prey needs appears to be 20-30 adult blue sheep.

Reproduction and life cycle
Snow leopards are unusual among large cats in that they have a well-defined birth peak. They usually mate in late winter, marked by a noticeable increase in marking and calling. The Snow Leopards have a gestation period of 90–100 days, so that the cubs are born between April and June. Oestrus typically lasts from five to eight days, and males tend not to seek out another partner after mating, probably because the short mating season does not allow sufficient time. Paired snow leopards mate in the usual felid posture, from 12 to 36 times a day.

The mother gives birth in a rocky den or crevice lined with fur shed from her underside. Litter sizes vary from one to five cubs, but the average is 2.2. The cubs are blind and helpless at birth, although already with a thick coat of fur, and weigh from 320 to 567 grams (11 to 20.0 oz). The eyes open at around seven days, and the cubs can walk at five weeks and are fully weaned by 10 weeks. Also when they are born they have full black spots and turn into rosettes as they grow up.

The cubs leave the den at around two to four months of age, but remain with their mother until they become independent after around 18–22 months. Once independent, they may disperse over considerable distances, even crossing wide expanses of flat terrain to seek out new hunting grounds. This likely helps reduce the inbreeding that would otherwise be common in their relatively isolated environment. Snow leopards become sexually mature at two to three years, and normally live for 15–18 years, although in captivity they can live for up to 21 years.

The snow leopard is currently restricted to central Asia in Bhutan, China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

[Image: Snow-leopard-walking-through-snow.jpg]

Its geographic distribution runs from the Hindu Kush in eastern Afghanistan and the Syr Darya through the mountains of Pamir Mountains, Tian Shan, Karakoram, 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.

Conservation status
There are numerous agencies working to conserve the snow leopard and its threatened mountain ecosystems. These include the Snow Leopard Trust, the Snow Leopard Conservancy, the Snow Leopard Network, the Cat Specialist Group and the Panthera Corporation. These groups and numerous national governments from the snow leopard’s range, non-profits and donors from around the world recently worked together at the 10th International Snow Leopard Conference in Beijing. Their focus on research, community programs in snow leopard regions and education programs are aimed at understanding the cat's needs as well as the needs of the villagers and herder communities affecting snow leopards' lives and habitat.

[Image: Snow-leopard-running-through-snow.jpg]

Population and protected areas
The total wild population of the snow leopard was estimated at only 4,080 to 6,590 individuals by McCarthy, et al., 2003 (see table below). Many of these estimates are rough and outdated.

In 1972, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) placed the snow leopard on its Red List of Threatened Species as globally "Endangered"; the same threat category was applied in the assessment conducted in 2008.

There are also 600-700 snow leopards in zoos around the world.

[Image: Snow-leopard-running-captive.jpg]

Protected areas:
  • Chitral National Park, in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan.

  • Hemis National Park, in east Ladakh, India.

  • Khunjerab National Park, Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan.

  • Nanda Devi National Park, in state of Uttarakhand, India, a UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site.

  • Qomolangma National Nature Preserve, Tibet, China.

  • Sagarmatha National Park, Nepal, a UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site.

  • Tumor Feng Nature Reserve, western Tianshan Mountains, Xinjiang, China.

  • Valley of Flowers National Park, Uttaranchal, India, a UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site.

  • Shey-Phoksundo National Park, Dolpa, Nepal.

  • Dhorpatan Hunting Reserve, Baglung, Nepal.

  • Annapurna Conservation Area, Western Nepal.

  • Jigme Dorji National Park, Bhutan

  • Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park, Mongolia

  • Ubsunur Hollow, on the territorial border of Mongolia and the Republic of Tuva, Russia

  • Dibang Wildlife Sanctuary, near Anini, India

  • Aksu-Djabagly Nature Reserve, Kazakhstan

  • Sarychat-Ertash State Nature Reserve, Kyrgyzstan

  • Katun Nature Reserve, Russia

  • Kibber Wildlife Sanctuary, India

  • Pin Valley National Park, India

  • Great Himalayan National Park, India

Much progress has been made in securing the survival of the Snow Leopard, with Snow Leopards being successfully bred in captivity. The animals usually give birth to two to three cubs in a litter, but can give birth to up to seven in some cases.

A "surprisingly healthy" population of Snow Leopards has been found living at 16 locations in the isolated Wakhan Corridor in northeastern Afghanistan giving rise to hopes for survival of wild Snow Leopards in that region.
[Image: wildcat10-CougarHuntingDeer.jpg]
The yak population in Mongolia and its relation with snow leopards as a prey species

B. Lhagvasuren and B. Munkhtsog
Institute of Biological Sciences, Mongolian Academy of Sciences, P.O. Box 415, Ulaanbaatar-38, Mongolia

There are currently about 1000 snow leopards in Mongolia with an overall density of 1.10 cats per 100 km2 of occupied habitat. These cats occupy an area range of probably less than 90 thousand km2. The snow leopards commonly use terrain that is extremely rugged, in the same habitat where yak graze and often unguarded. Consequently, they, along with horses, are often killed by snow leopard, more so than other large livestock. During our study, 168 faecal samples of the snow leopard were collected and analysed. Results show that ibex made up 38.7% of the total diet, small mammals 4.6%, red deer 2.4%, marmot 7.1%, and domestic livestock 31% (including sheep 17.3%, horse 5.4%, cow 4.8%, and goat 3.6%). In addition to prey, vegetation (14.9%) and soil (2.3%) were also found in the faecal samples. 

In this study, we found ibex to be one of the main prey species of the snow leopard. The study areas at Uvs and South Gobi, which have been protected since 1970, have very good populations of ibex in pasture areas not used for grazing. When the results of this study, conducted in areas where wildlife are adequately protected, are compared to studies conducted in areas with more livestock occupied areas, the snow leopard diet analyses show that wild prey species make up more of the snow leopard's diet than domestic livestock in protected areas. Possible explanations for this may be either that livestock have replaced wild prey in some pasturelands or that livestock are simply easier to kill than their wild counterparts, or perhaps both.

The percentage of goat in the snow leopard diet in Uvs, and even into the Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park, is small compared to the results of previous research in other areas due to small herd sizes. In a study conducted by Bold and Dorjzunduy (1976), domestic goats accounted for 82.4% of total livestock predated by cats. Amgalanbaatar et al. (1999) did a similar study in the Tost and Nemegt mountains. In the past 20 years, predation on domestic goats by snow leopards has increased up to 87.8% because of a rapid increase in the goat population in response to demand for cashmere. However, in our study area, wildlife are well protected and goat populations are relatively small, thus the percentage of domestic goat in the snow leopard diet is reduced. This study suggests if wild prey populations are viable, herders may not need to worry so much about their animals. Another important food item found in this study was small mammals, most likely because we collected the faeces mostly in the summer and autumn seasons. 

The snow leopard diet differs by region depending on the potential prey species and fauna in the regions. In the Yamaat valley of Turgen, which is strictly protected and contains an important red deer population, snow leopards usually locate along the forest borders and feed on the red deer. In the South Gobi, such as in Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park, if the summer is hot and dry and goitered gazelles migrate up to the mountains looking for water resources and good grazing, they can be attacked by cats. 

Snow leopards often kill horse and yak, which herders do not guard. As they are also farther ranging than other livestock, their pasture may also overlap with snow leopard habitat. In this study, yak remains were not found in the faecal samples and horse remains were significantly less than what we expected. The reason for this could be that the study areas are strictly protected and the number of domestic animals pastured there are few. Another reason could be that in these areas the populations of wild prey species, such as ibex, small mammals and hare, are sufficient and thus easier prey for the snow leopard than either horse or yak.

Vegetation remains were found in many of the samples, especially in those collected in areas of more grassy terrain such as in the Turgen Mountains, as opposed to those collected in the barren terrain in the South Gobi. Conversely, more soil was found in the South Gobi samples than those from Uvs. Most likely the animals are ingesting vegetation and soil while eating prey.

Wild snow leopard captured after killing 50 sheep 

A wild snow leopard that killed 50 sheep has been captured and put in a zoo in northwest China's Qinghai Province. 

The big cat haunted the Qijia village, Gonghe county of the province, and attacked the sheep before angry villagers finally decided to hunt it. 

They chased the leopard on motorcycles and roped the beast after lengthy fight. 

When villagers were told that the wild snow leopard they had snared was under first class protection along with the panda, they decided to hand it to the Xining Zoo in the capital city of the province rather than kill it. 

"The animal, aged five or six, was caught alive by the villagers only because it had been without food for several days and was weak," said Xu Shuren, head of the zoo and expert on wild animal protection. 

There are believed to be between 5,000 and 7,500 snow leopards left in the wild and around 500 in captivity, mainly in Asia. 

Qinghai had an estimated 900 to 1,200 wild snow leopards, Xu said. 

The demand for snow leopard pelts in some countries had led to a great drop their numbers.

(Xinhua News Agency December 13, 2007)

Insuring the Future of the Snow Leopard

In the trackless wilds of the Himalaya, an ecologist is using insurance to save one of the world’s most threatened animals from extinction. 

Shepherds in the Himalayan Mountains of Baltistan, in northern Pakistan, have long hated the snow leopard. Half the Balti economy comes from domesticated goats that are preyed upon by the snow leopard, largely because its traditional wild food – the ibex and markhor –have been hunted to near extinction. So local herders do not hesitate to kill the snow leopard, which is also threatened by the illegal trade in its highly-prized pelt.

Project Snow Leopard
Yale University researcher Shafqat Hussain, who originally trained as an economist, created Project Snow Leopard (PSL) in 1998 to save the snow leopard in Baltistan. This non-profit conservation programme combines ecotourism and low-cost insurance, protecting herders against attacks by the leopards on their livestock. The plan is helping local people realize that one cat alive in the surrounding bush is worth more to them than several killed for the fur trade. Hussain has been made an Associate Laureate in the Rolex Awards for Enterprise for his plan.

Hussain, who describes the snow leopard as ‘a marvel of nature’s perfection’, explains that, sitting at the top of the food chain, this animal plays a key role in maintaining the mountain ecosystem. Dr Ma Ming, of the Snow Leopard Trust in Xinjiang, China, calls it an ‘umbrella species’: protecting it ensures its habitat and many other local species are also preserved.

High Altitude
Wonderfully adapted for the extreme weather and rocky terrain, the snow leopard roams wild at altitudes up to 5,500 metres in the Himalayan peaks. Furry feet help it stay on top of the snow by acting as natural snowshoes. This rare creature hunts alone for wild and domesticated goats and other prey, which it pounces upon from up to 15 metres away. With a total population estimated at between 4,000 and 7,000 scattered across the Himalayas, including fewer than 150 in Baltistan, the snow leopard is listed as ‘endangered’ on the IUCN (the World Conservation Union) Red List of Threatened Animals.
This elusive relative of the tiger and more familiar African leopard is one of the least photographed, but most photogenic of big cats, with its metre-long tail and handsome dappled coat.

Snow Leopard Insurance
The insurance scheme set up by Hussain compensates villagers for every goat killed by the predators, which effectively deters the villagers from killing the offending cat or any other suspect. The annual premium paid is one per cent of the value of one goat, with each herder paying according to the number of goats he owns. This covers about half of all claims. The other half comes from Full Moon Night Trekking, the ecotourism agency Hussain founded, which advertises the snow leopard as its chief attraction.

Snow Leopard Camera Trap Photos

Stalking India's Hemis National Park, a snow leopard lives up to its name in U.S. photographer Steve Winter's award-winning National Geographic magazine image.

On October 30, 2008, "Snowstorm Leopard" was named best overall photo in the 2008 Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, which is organized by the Natural History of London and BBC Wildlife Magazine. 

"This is the hardest story I have ever done because of the altitude and the steepness of the mountains," the U.S. photographer told National Geographic. "At night it was 30 below zero [Fahrenheit]." 

Over ten months Winter's 14 "camera traps" shot more than 30,000 frames in pursuit of the endangered cat. 

As few as 3,500 snow leopards remain in the wild.

[Image: 1_1162459_461.jpg]

Snow Leopard Population Discovered in Afghanistan

ScienceDaily (July 13, 2011) — The Wildlife Conservation Society has discovered a surprisingly healthy population of rare snow leopards living in the mountainous reaches of northeastern Afghanistan's Wakhan Corridor, according to a new study.

The discovery gives hope to the world's most elusive big cat, which calls home to some of the world's tallest mountains. Between 4,500 and 7,500 snow leopards remain in the wild scattered across a dozen countries in Central Asia.

The study, which appears in the June 29th issue of the International Journal of Environmental Studies, is by WCS conservationists Anthony Simms, Zalmai Moheb, Salahudin, Hussain Ali, Inayat Ali and Timothy Wood.

WCS-trained community rangers used camera traps to document the presence of snow leopards at 16 different locations across a wide landscape. The images represent the first camera trap records of snow leopards in Afghanistan. WCS has been conserving wildlife and improving local livelihoods in the region since 2006 with support from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

"This is a wonderful discovery -- it shows that there is real hope for snow leopards in Afghanistan," said Peter Zahler, WCS Deputy Director for Asia Programs. "Now our goal is to ensure that these magnificent animals have a secure future as a key part of Afghanistan's natural heritage."

According to the study, snow leopards remain threatened in the region. Poaching for their pelts, persecution by shepherds, and the capture of live animals for the illegal pet trade have all been documented in the Wakhan Corridor. In response, WCS has developed a set of conservation initiatives to protect snow leopards. These include partnering with local communities, training of rangers, and education and outreach efforts.

Anthony Simms, lead author and the project's Technical Advisor, said, "By developing a community-led management approach, we believe snow leopards will be conserved in Afghanistan over the long term."

WCS-led initiatives are already paying off. Conservation education is now occurring in every school in the Wakhan region. Fifty-nine rangers have been trained to date. They monitor not only snow leopards but other species including Marco Polo sheep and ibex while also enforcing laws against poaching. WCS has also initiated the construction of predator-proof livestock corrals and a livestock insurance program that compensates shepherds, though initial WCS research shows that surprisingly few livestock fall to predators in the region.

In Afghanistan, USAID has provided support to WCS to work in more than 55 communities across the country and is training local people to monitor and sustainably manage their wildlife and other resources. One of the many outputs of this project was the creation of Afghanistan's first national park -- Band-e-Amir -- which is now co-managed by the government and a committee consisting of all 14 communities living around the park.

Snow leopards have declined by as much as 20 percent over the past 16 years and are considered endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

[Image: 110713121430.jpg]
This is a snow leopard captured by remote camera in Afghanistan. A team of researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society have discovered a surprisingly healthy population of these elusive big cats.


Journal Reference:

Anthony Simms, Zalmai Moheb, Salahudin, Hussain Ali, Inayat Ali, Timothy Wood. Saving threatened species in Afghanistan: snow leopards in the Wakhan Corridor. International Journal of Environmental Studies, 2011; 68 (3): 299 DOI: 10.1080/00207233.2011.577147
[Image: wildcat10-CougarHuntingDeer.jpg]
First Ever Videos of Snow Leopard Mother and Cubs in Dens Recorded in Mongolia

ScienceDaily (July 12, 2012) — For the first time, the den sites of two female snow leopards and their cubs have been located in Mongolia's Tost Mountains, with the first known videos taken of a mother and cubs, located and recorded by scientists from Panthera, a wild cat conservation organization, and the Snow Leopard Trust (SLT).

Because of the snow leopard's secretive and elusive nature, coupled with the extreme and treacherous landscape which they inhabit, dens have been extremely difficult to locate. This is a tremendous discovery and provides invaluable insight into the life story of the snow leopard.

Dr. Tom McCarthy, Executive Director of Panthera's Snow Leopard Program stated, "We have spent years trying to determine when and where snow leopards give birth, the size of their litters, and the chances a cub has of surviving into adulthood. This is one of those exceptional moments in conservation where after years of effort, we get a rare glimpse into the life of an animal that needs our help in surviving in today's world. These data will help ensure a future for these incredible animals."

A short video of the female and her cub who were bedded down in a partially human-made den was recorded from a safe distance by Örjan Johansson, Panthera's Snow Leopard Field Scientist and Ph.D. student, using a camera fixed to an extended pole.

The team, which included a veterinarian, entered the two dens (the first with two cubs, and the second containing one cub) while the mothers were away hunting. All three cubs were carefully weighed, measured, photographed and other details were recorded. Two of the cubs were fixed with tiny microchip ID tags (the size of a grain of rice) which were placed under their skin for future identification. The utmost care was taken in handling the animals to ensure they were not endangered, which was the top priority of the team at all times. In the following days, the team monitored the mothers' locations to ensure that they returned to their dens and their cubs, which they successfully did.

"Knowledge about the first days and weeks of life is vital to our understanding of how big cat populations work, and how likely it is for a newborn to reach adulthood and contribute to a healthy population. A valid conservation program requires such information, which this new development in snow leopard research provides," said Dr. Howard Quigley, Panthera's Executive Director of both Jaguar and Cougar Programs.

Referred to by locals as 'Asia's Mountain Ghost,' knowledge of snow leopards in general is quite limited due to the cat's elusive nature, and even less is known about rearing cubs and cub survival in the wild. Until now, what is known has mostly been learned from studying snow leopards in zoos. Although snow leopard litters typically consist of one to three cubs in a captive zoo environment, no information exists regarding litter size in the wild. As wild snow leopard cubs are subject to natural predators, disease, and also human threats such as poaching or capture for the illegal wildlife market, the percentage of cubs which survive to adulthood has until now only been speculated.

The use of PIT tags and observations of snow leopard rearing in the wild will allow our scientists to learn about the characteristics of a typical natal den and speculate how a den is selected, how long snow leopard cubs remain in dens, when cubs begin to follow their mothers outside of the dens, how often and how long the mother leaves the cubs alone to hunt, how many cubs are typically born in the wild, and other valuable data.

All of these data and more, gathered through camera-trapping and GPS collaring, help to inform effective conservation initiatives undertaken by Panthera across the snow leopard's range.

[Image: 120712162746_1_540x360.jpg]
This is a snow leopard mother and cub in a den in Mongolia.
[Image: wildcat10-CougarHuntingDeer.jpg]
221Extra Wrote:Prey Preference of Snow Leopard (Panthera uncia) in
South Gobi, Mongolia

Our results are in general agreement with previous studies,
indicating that large ungulates (wild and domestic) represent the
major part of snow leopard diet (in 38.7–98.8%, of the feces).

Moreover, Siberian ibex are most abundantly observed (9.1–
70.4%) in the diet in many parts of snow leopard range except in
the regions where ibex are rare [11,12]. However, our results
differ from other studies in that we are reporting high predation
on wild ungulates (79%), which is considerably higher that
previous reports (which range from 12.9–56.9%). It seems that
snow leopard predation and plasticity depends upon the
availability of its natural prey. Our study area appears to host
an abundant population of wild ungulates, including Siberian
ibex and argali sheep. It may be easier for snow leopard to attack
wild prey than domestic, because the latter is often guarded by
humans. In previously reported studies, medium and small
mammals provide an important dietary supplement (3.9–53.3%).
The absence of any medium or small mammals in our results
cannot be considered to be an indication of preference, since we
have no data on prey availability. Large wild cats tend to prefer
large-sized prey
[35–37]. Bird species represent an important
element of snow leopard diet; although they are observed in low
frequencies (1.2–15.9%), birds are consistent in all documented
studies (Table 3).
Our findings support previous studies that snow leopard tend
to focus primarily on a single prey item [11,12]. We also observed
only a single prey species per fecal sample. The average body
weight of an adult snow leopard is about 45 kg [12,38], for which
the required daily prey biomass is estimated to be 1.5 to 2.5 kg
[12]. Predation on large prey is therefore sufficient to fulfill its
bodily requirements for several days. McCarthy [5] estimated
that snow leopards kill a large prey item every 10–15 days and
feed on it for an average of 3–4 days and sometimes up to one
Although this study only examined vertebrate prey items
consumed by snow leopards, some studies [9,11–14] have
documented plant material in snow leopard feces (see also
Table 3). Why snow leopards consume plant matter has not been
definitively determined, although some studies [11,13,14] have
suggested this phenomenon is the result of accidental ingestion
while feeding on prey. The possibility has not been ruled out that
plant matter fills some specific dietary need such as providing
minerals or vitamins not readily gained from animal matter.
We observed seven samples that contained snow leopard DNA
exclusively; no prey DNA could be amplified from them. A
plausible explanation for this is found in that snow leopards may
go several days between meals [5,19] and in the latter part of this
interval its feces would likely contain mostly hair (from grooming)
and the cat’s own metabolic waste products. Another difficulty
arose in differentiating between argali and domestic sheep. These
two species have the same sequence when using the universal
primers for vertebrates 12SV5F/12V5R. Both these prey species
are found in the study area. To remedy this, we designed a new
primer pair OvisF/OvisR, targeting a part of the cytochrome b gene
from mitochondrial DNA. It showed consistent variation between
these two potential prey species and helped to discern argali and
domestic sheep remains.
DNA-based techniques provide a powerful means to study the
feeding ecology of wild and cryptic species like the snow leopard.
By using universal primers for vertebrates, limiting snow leopard
sequences with a blocking oligonucleotide, and then using next
generation sequencing, we were able to precisely identify all prey
items to the species level. Traditional methods of snow leopard diet
analyses via fecal samples have been unable to identify soft and
well-digested components or the remains of specific bird species.
Our approach has an obvious advantage in that virtually no
vertebrate prey remained unidentified as the 12SV5F/12V5R
primers amplify 98% of all vertebrates [39].

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Prey Preference of Snow Leopards From Other Ranges:
[Image: PreyPreferenceofSnowLeopard2.png]

Full Study, for those interested.

221Extra, Wrote:Here is an video showing a Dzo (Yak-Cow Hybrid) injured & then killed by the Snow Leopard then next day (kill not shown):

A very overlooked animal.

Irbis Wrote:There are two classification, in one snow leopard is in panthera genus in another it has own genus Uncia. Both are right. Geneticaly  tiger is  the closest felid to snow leopard, that mean snow leopard very close to panthera genus . But for me Uncia is more correct, because  snow leopard have differences in morphology and behaviour from panthera genus members, for example snow leopard can not roar like a jaguar, leopard, lion and tiger, also the skull of snow leopard more similar with the genus felis, not panthera! 
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Snow Leopards in Pakistan No Longer Wild, Expert Says
By eating mostly livestock, rare cat now dependent on people.

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A snow leopard in Pakistan's Chitral region.

Photograph by George B. Schaller, National Geographic
Christine Dell'Amore
National Geographic News
Published October 9, 2012

The snow leopard in Pakistan is an endangered species. The population of the rarely seen big cat has likely fallen to fewer than 450 in the country, mainly due to hunting. Now an expert has come up with an unconventional—and controversial—proposal to save the snow leopard: Classify it as a domesticated animal.

That doesn't mean that snow leopards are literally tame, like a chicken, explained Shafqat Hussain, a National Geographic Emerging Explorer who spoke during the National Geographic Explorers Symposium in Washington, D.C., in June: "When I say that snow leopards are like domestic cats, I mean it rhetorically to make contrast with the word wild." 

His idea stems from the changing relationship between snow leopards and humans. Where the cats do remain in the Himalaya, they increasingly share their habitat with mountain herders. A 2010 study of snow leopard scat found that up to 70 percent of the species' diet in the Gilgit Baltistan Province (map) comes from sheep, cattle, and other domestic animals. Some herders have killed snow leopards in retaliation for preying on their livestock. 

Given the snow leopards' diet, "how do we see these mythical, elusive wild animals? Are they really wild in the sense that of meaning we attach to the word wild—existing on its own, having no connection with society and domestic economy?" Hussain said.

"Clearly not."

Supporting Locals

So the way to enable snow leopards to survive, says Hussain, is not to create protected areas that sequester them from local communities. That solution often alienates farmers, who lose their grazing areas as a result. He would suggest supporting local herders instead so they can make a living despite snow leopard incursions. 

And that's exactly what he's been doing for more than a decade. In 1999 Hussain founded the Snow Leopard Project, an insurance scheme that compensates local people in snow leopard-range countries if their livestock are killed by the predators.

Various branches of the successful project, which is jointly managed by project officials and a committee of villagers, have spread to 400 households covering 3,000 animals across central Asia.

Since 1998, close to U.S. $7,000 has been paid out in compensation for lost animals, and $13,000 invested on improving livestock corrals and other infrastructure. Meanwhile, the snow leopard population seems to have remained stable, if not grown, Hussain said.

Snow Leopard Perspective Controversial

Not everyone agrees. In fact, there is great consternation in the big-cat conservation community about Hussain's ideas, particularly that conservation groups don't work with locals. 

Tom McCarthy, executive director of the Snow Leopard Program for the big-cat conservation group Panthera, said that he doesn't "know a single conservation [nongovernmental organization] working on snow leopards today that would support setting up reserves for the cats at the expense of local people."

For example, before Hussain set up the Snow Leopard Project, McCarthy and colleagues founded the award-winning Snow Leopard Enterprises, which helps local people in snow leopard countries generate income.

Conservation biologist and snow leopard expert Jerry Roe also said by email that relabeling the snow leopard as domestic will not resolve the conflict between snow leopards and herders or benefit the species.

For one, "a change of definition will not alter the perspective of snow leopards as a pest species in the eyes of herders," said Roe, co-founder of California-based Nomad Ecology, an ecological consulting and research company.

Living With Snow Leopards

Hussain thinks the objections are just not valid. Local people—at least in Pakistan—do not have an "atavistic enmity to snow leopards, [nor] this itch to kill it," he said. "If they get compensated for their losses, they have no interest in eliminating this animal."

Such is the case with Mohammed Ibrahim, chairman of Skoyo Krabathang Basingo Conservation and Development Organization in Krabathang, Pakistan (map), who also owns 15 goats. In a phone interview with an Urdu interpreter, Ibrahim said that he's not worried about snow leopards, mostly because of insurance schemes such as Project Snow Leopard that compensate herders for lost animals.

And since snow leopards have never been known to attack people, Hussain is confident that his scheme would work far better than a conservation policy that separates the leopards from the locals: "The idea of co-existing with snow leopards is easy to implement if you satisfy the villagers."

Ultimately, conservationists share the same goal: Ensuring that the snow leopard—what Hussain calls a "symbol of the high mountains"—can survive. Whether that will continue to be an animal dependent on people for food, though, is still up in the air.
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Cashmere trade threat to snow leopards

By Melissa Hogenboom
Science reporter, BBC News
23 July 2013 Last updated at 13:46 GMT

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Snow leopards are critically endangered as their natural prey has declined

The global demand for cashmere is threatening endangered snow leopards, according to a new report.

Domestic cashmere goats in parts of Central Asia have almost tripled in the last 20 years to fuel cashmere demand.

The goats are encroaching on the natural habitats of the snow leopard and their natural prey.

The authors of the paper, published in Conservation Biology, say that other endangered animals are also at risk.

These include herbivores which compete for the same resources as the goats, such as the antelope Saiga tatarica, the Tibetan chiru (Pantholops hodgsonii) and the Himalayan bharal (Pseudois nayaur) also known as the blue sheep.

As the snow leopards' habitats converge with domestic goats, the decline wild prey can increasingly lead the leopards to hunt the goats.

Consequently there has now been an observed increase in "retaliatory killings" of snow leopards by humans protecting their herds, report the authors.

In Mongolia alone, numbers of domestic goats have grown from about from five million in 1990 to close to 14 million in 2010. Farmers in India and China's Tibetan Plateau also herd goats for cashmere.

Charudutt Mishra of the Snow Leopard Trust and one of the co-authors of the paper, said cashmere "is an important source of livelihood" for local communities in many parts of Central Asia.

"Cashmere production is a complicated human issue. Understandably, indigenous herders are trying to improve their livelihoods, but the short-term economic gain is harming the local ecosystem.

"By improving our understanding of the relationship between indigenous herders, local ecology and global markets, we can implement policies at the national and international level which are better designed to protect biodiversity while supporting the livelihoods of local communities."

Dr Mischra, who received funding for his work from the Whitley Award for nature conservation, told BBC News that while cashmere production was not new, the global market for it had dramatically increased over the past 20 years.

He said "green labelling" of cashmere clothes could help bring awareness to the issue.

"One of the intentions is to bring together some of the local communities who produce cashmere and the buyers from the international market.

"We want to address everyone's concerns and develop a programme where we can make grazing more sustainable, and that allows for wild and domestic animals to co-exist."

Mountain killer
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  • Snow leopards are exceptional athletes capable of making huge leaps over ravines

  • Bodies highly adapted to their harsh, mountainous environment with enlarged nasal cavities which heat inhaled cold air

  • Are critically endangered since their fur was once highly prized and their natural prey has declined

  • Can bring down prey three times their own size, but on average only kill one large animal twice a month
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Evolution of a Predator: How Big Cats Became Carnivores

By Tia Ghose, Staff Writer | September 17, 2013 11:00am ET

[Image: aHR0cDovL3d3dy5saXZlc2NpZW5jZS5jb20vaW1h...dlcnMuanBn]
The Siberian tiger, also known as Panthera tigris altaica

The biggest and perhaps most fearsome of the world's big cats, the tiger shares 95.6 percent of its DNA with humans' cute and furry companions, domestic cats.

That's one of the findings from the newly sequenced genomes of tigers, snow leopards and lions.

The new research showed that big cats have genetic mutations that enabled them to be carnivores. The team also identified mutations that allow snow leopards to thrive at high altitudes. 

The findings, detailed today (Sept. 17) in the journal Nature Communications, could help conservation efforts by preventing closely related captive animals from breeding, said Jong Bhak, a geneticist at the Personal Genomics Institute in South Korea.

Lions and tigers

Tigers are the biggest members of the cat family and are closely related to other big cats, such as snow leopards and lions. The predatory felines are critically endangered, and only 3,050 to 3,950 tigers are thought to remain in the wild. Without tiger conservation, most scientists believe the iconic orange cats will eventually go extinct.

To aid those efforts, Bhak and his colleagues sequenced the genome of a 9-year-old Amur tiger living in the Everland Zoo in South Korea. The team also acquired DNA from around the world and compared the Amur tiger genome with that of the white Bengal tiger, the African lion, the white African lion and the snow leopard.

The tiger shares 95.6 percent of its genome with the domestic cat, from which it diverged about 10.8 million years ago, the comparison showed.

In addition, several genes were altered in metabolic pathways associated with protein digestion and metabolism, or how the body uses fuel like food to power cells. Those changes, which evolved over tens of millions of years, likely enable the majestic felines to digest and rely solely on meat, Bhak said.

Big cats also have several mutations that make for powerful, fast-acting muscles — a necessity when chasing down prey.

The team also found two genes in the snow leopard that allow it to thrive in the low-oxygen conditions of its high-altitude habitat in the Himalayan Mountains. Those genetic changes are similar to ones found in the naked mole rat, which also lives in low-oxygen conditions, though underground. In addition, the genetic analysis identified the mutations that give Bengal tigers and white African lions their distinctive white coats, Bhak said.

The new results could aid conservation efforts by giving scientists a tool to estimate genetic diversity in the wild.

By sequencing the genomes of tigers and other endangered cats like snow leopards, "we can find whether they are inbreeding," Bhak told LiveScience. "If their population diversity is very low, then one flu virus can kill a lot of them quickly, because they have the same genetic makeup."

Scientists can then take measures to introduce fresh blood into the population, which could make it more resilient.

The genomes can also aid captive breeding programs by helping zoos choose animals that aren't closely related for mating, he added.

The tiger genome and comparative analysis with lion and snow leopard genomes

Yun Sung Cho, Li Hu, Haolong Hou, Hang Lee, Jiaohui Xu, Soowhan Kwon, Sukhun Oh, Hak-Min Kim, Sungwoong Jho, Sangsoo Kim, Young-Ah Shin, Byung Chul Kim, Hyunmin Kim, Chang-uk Kim, Shu-Jin Luo, Warren E. Johnson, Klaus-Peter Koepfli, Anne Schmidt-Küntzel, Jason A. Turner, Laurie Marker et al.

Nature Communications 4, Article number: 2433 doi:10.1038/ncomms3433
Received 02 May 2013 Accepted 13 August 2013 Published 17 September 2013

Tigers and their close relatives (Panthera) are some of the world’s most endangered species. Here we report the de novo assembly of an Amur tiger whole-genome sequence as well as the genomic sequences of a white Bengal tiger, African lion, white African lion and snow leopard. Through comparative genetic analyses of these genomes, we find genetic signatures that may reflect molecular adaptations consistent with the big cats’ hypercarnivorous diet and muscle strength. We report a snow leopard-specific genetic determinant in EGLN1 (Met39>Lys39), which is likely to be associated with adaptation to high altitude. We also detect a TYR260G>A mutation likely responsible for the white lion coat colour. Tiger and cat genomes show similar repeat composition and an appreciably conserved synteny. Genomic data from the five big cats provide an invaluable resource for resolving easily identifiable phenotypes evident in very close, but distinct, species.

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(a) Orthologous gene clusters in mammalian species. The Venn diagram shows the number of unique and shared gene families among seven mammalian genomes. (b) Gene expansion or contraction in the tiger genome. Numbers designate the number of gene families that have expanded (green, +) and contracted (red, −) after the split from the common ancestor. The most recent common ancestor (MRCA) has 17,841 gene families. The time lines indicate divergence times among the species.
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Snow Leopard Collared for First Time in Nepal

By Megan Gannon, News Editor | December 18, 2013 03:40pm ET

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In a first for Nepal, scientists captured and collared an elusive snow leopard to track the movements of the endangered cat. This male snow leopard was captured using a foothold snare. Conservationists say it was not harmed during the capture on Nov. 25, 2013.

Scientists outfitted an elusive snow leopard with a GPS collar in Nepal, a first for the Himalayan country, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) announced today.

By tracking the movements of the spotted cat, conservationists hope to learn more about the ecology and behavior of the species to make better decisions about protecting the endangered animals.

The 5-year-old male snow leopard was captured in a snare in eastern Nepal's Kangchenjunga Conservation Area on Nov. 25, 2013. Named "Ghanjenzunga" after a local deity, the cat weighs 88 lbs. (40 kilograms) and measures 6.3 feet (193 centimeters) from the base of its head to the base of its tail. After being sedated, the cat was fitted with a GPS Plus Globalstar collar and released back into the wild. 

Ghanjenzunga will wear the collar until the end of 2015, WWF officials said. The satellite tech will allow scientists to track which habitats the cat prefers and which corridors it uses to get to those places.

"Snow leopards are highly elusive creatures and given the terrains they reside in, monitoring work on the species is a highly challenging task," Narendra Man Babu Pradhan, who is coordinator for development, research and monitoring at WWF Nepal, said in a statement. "While past studies on the snow leopard have been limited to areas that are accessible to people, this technology will help provide important information on the ecology and behavior of the wide ranging snow leopard."

While the cats had been tracked with VHF radio collars in the early 1980s and '90s, this is the first time satellite-GPS technology is being used to track snow leopards in Nepal, according to WWF officials. Last year, scientists outfitted two male snow leopards with GPS collars for the first time in Afghanistan.

Snow leopards roam through rugged mountain regions across 12 Asian nations and their numbers have been shrinking. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), often considered the world's main authority on the conservation status of animals, lists the snow leopard as an endangered species and estimates that its total population in the wild is 4,080 to 6,590.
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Images of Snow Leopard Cubs in Siberia Suggest Species Rebound

By James A. Foley Dec 27, 2013 01:54 PM EST

In the 1990s the population of snow leopards in Siberia was almost completely decimated, but a new series of photos featuring two snow leopard cubs frolicking in the Siberian wilderness is evidence that populations are rebounding, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
Camera traps set up along the Argut River Valley in eastern Russia spotted the playful pair of cubs. The traps were financed by the WWF and operated by the the Altai Project, WWF-Russia and Snow Leopard Conservancy.
"These photos are the evidence of the effectiveness of our work in Altai, the snow leopards are breeding," Sergei Spitsyn, from the Altaiskiy State Nature Reserve, told the WWF.
Evidence from other studies in the area has led researchers to believe that there are as many as eight snow leopards living inhabiting the Argut River Valley.
The cubs filmed by the camera traps are thought to be less than one year old.
The WWF said the cubs "are significant as they indicate that the population of snow leopards in the Argut Valley can be restored."
The conservation organizations enlisted the help of an ex-poacher, who treks to the camera traps to collect the data and checks the area for snares and other animal traps.
Globally, snow leopards number about 6,000 in the wild across 12 countries, but their number is declining overall, the WWF said. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List puts the snow leopard as a globally endangered species.
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Snow Leopards Photographed for the 1st Time in Uzbekistan

By Megan Gannon, News Editor | January 16, 2014 11:07am ET

[Image: camera-trap-snow-leopard.jpg] 
A snow leopard photographed during a November/December 2013 camera trap survey in Uzbekistan.
Credit: ©Y. Protas/Panthera/WWF Central Asia Program/Uzbek Biocontrol Agency/Gissar Nature Reserve

A camera trap snapped the first-ever pictures of the elusive snow leopard in Uzbekistan. Even better, it caught not one, but two of the endangered cats on camera.

The new images of the cats released by conservation groups Panthera and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) confirm that there are at least two individual snow leopards in the Gissar Nature Reserve, a protected part of the Pamir Mountains that can be visited only for scientific research.

Uzbekistan, which is about the size of California, is one of 12 countries in Asia where snow leopards still roam through rugged mountainous terrain. It's estimated that only 3,500 to 7,000 of the endangered cats are left in the wild. 

[Image: aHR0cDovL3d3dy5saXZlc2NpZW5jZS5jb20vaW1h...g5OTAyNTQx]
Two snow leopards spotted in the Gissar Nature Reserve in 2013.
Credit: ©Y. Protas/Panthera/WWF Central Asia Program/Uzbek Biocontrol Agency/Gissar Nature Reserve

Because of their scarcity and elusive nature, snow leopards are rarely photographed. In Uzbekistan, the cats had previously been confirmed only through traditional surveys and rare sightings.

Rangers and biologists collaborating with Panthera and WWF set up the camera trap in Uzbekistan between November and December 2013 to look for snow leopards. Other animals including bears, lynxes, ibexes, wild boars and hares were also caught on camera during the study.

"Panthera has provided over 300 camera traps through partnerships such as this to better document the range of this elusive and endangered cat of central Asia's mountains," Tom McCarthy, executive director of Panthera's snow leopard program, said in a statement. "With an improved understanding of their range and numbers we have a better chance to save them."

Camera traps have allowed researchers to get photos of the cats in their natural habitats from Tajikistan to Siberia. Beyond hidden cameras, conservationists have turned to other technology to track the secretive cats. In November, a 5-year-old snow leopard was outfitted with a GPS collar in Nepal, a first for the country.
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Irbis Wrote:Genetic all cats very close together, that is mean puma, house cat, lynx  also can be put in genus panthera. I think morphology and genetics both should be take into account. Snow leopard is not true panthera. That is why snow leopard is in subfamily pantherinae, in pantherinae there are genuses panthera, uncia and neofelis.

Snow leopard skull
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Snow leopard skeleton 
[Image: Snow_leopard_skeleton.jpg]
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Flying snow leopard
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Irbis Wrote:Snow leopard prey species in Mongolian Tost mountains
Snow leopard even kills adult males of horse and adult males of camels))
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Why Do High-Altitude Snow Leopards Breathe Like Pussycats?
How these big cats thrive in low-oxygen mountain habitats is still a mystery, study says.

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Despite living at high elevation, the snow leopard breathes in a similar way to cat species at sea level, a new study says. 

By Carrie Arnold, National Geographic 

The snow leopard might rule the high reaches of the Himalaya, but they share some unexpected similarities with the humble house cat, a new study says.

Despite living at elevations of more than 16,400 feet (5,000 meters), these spotted big cats breathe in the same way as other feline species that live at sea level—notably your pet kitty. 

Anyone who has ever tried to run even a short distance on a mountain has felt the effects of high elevation. The difficulties people and other animals have breathing isn’t due to lower oxygen, but rather low air pressure at high altitudes. Each breath takes in less oxygen and fewer air molecules overall.

Without adequate oxygen, mammals can't stay warm, run to chase prey, or escape predators. To get around this, other high-dwelling animals have evolved coping strategies—in particular, many of them have more efficient hemoglobin, an oxygen-carrying protein in the blood.

Scientists wondered if snow leopards had the same adaptation. But the new research, published August 5 in the Journal of Experimental Biology, reveals they don't.

In fact, the predators take in about half as much oxygen with each breath as they would at sea level. 

"We were very surprised," said study leader Jan Janecka, an evolutionary biologist at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. "Changing hemoglobin is one of the simplest ways to adapt to high altitudes."

Mountain High

Scientists already knew that low-altitude feline species generally have hemoglobin that's not good at binding with oxygen.

Even so, Janecka and colleagues suspected that they would find differences in the hemoglobin properties of snow leopards compared with other cats. 

The team obtained blood samples from big cats living in various U.S. zoos, including the African lion, tiger, leopard, panther, and of course snow leopard. They also took blood from domestic housecats.

When the scientists looked at the genes that make hemoglobin, as well as the protein itself, they found no differences between snow leopards and the other cat species.

"We still don’t know how snow leopards adapted [to life at altitude]. Our study raised more questions than it answered," Janecka said.

"There Must Be Other Things Going On"

Graham Scott, an evolutionary physiologist at McMaster University who was not involved in the study, says it was "technically very well done and used state-of-the art analyses."

"What’s unique about this study is that it shows us there must be other things going on" in the leopards' ability to live at altitude, he notes. 

For instance, Janecka and others believe that snow leopards might simply breathe harder to bring more oxygen into their bloodstream, and have begun studying that theory.

"As long as the animal is getting enough oxygen, natural selection isn't picky," Scott says.

“It shows," he quipped, "that there’s more than one way to skin a cat."

Genetically based low oxygen affinities of felid hemoglobins: lack of biochemical adaptation to high-altitude hypoxia in the snow leopard

Jan E. Janecka, Simone S. E. Nielsen, Sidsel D. Andersen, Federico G. Hoffmann, Roy E. Weber, Trevor Anderson, Jay F. Storz and Angela Fago
Received May 15, 2015.
Accepted May 18, 2015.

Genetically based modifications of hemoglobin (Hb) function that increase blood–O2 affinity are hallmarks of hypoxia adaptation in vertebrates. Among mammals, felid Hbs are unusual in that they have low intrinsic O2 affinities and reduced sensitivities to the allosteric cofactor 2,3-diphosphoglycerate (DPG). This combination of features compromises the acclimatization capacity of blood–O2 affinity and has led to the hypothesis that felids have a restricted physiological niche breadth relative to other mammals. In seeming defiance of this conjecture, the snow leopard (Panthera uncia) has an extraordinarily broad elevational distribution and occurs at elevations above 6000 m in the Himalayas. Here, we characterized structural and functional variation of big cat Hbs and investigated molecular mechanisms of Hb adaptation and allosteric regulation that may contribute to the extreme hypoxia tolerance of the snow leopard. Experiments revealed that purified Hbs from snow leopard and African lion exhibited equally low O2 affinities and DPG sensitivities. Both properties are primarily attributable to a single amino acid substitution, β2His→Phe, which occurred in the common ancestor of Felidae. Given the low O2 affinity and reduced regulatory capacity of feline Hbs, the extreme hypoxia tolerance of snow leopards must be attributable to compensatory modifications of other steps in the O2-transport pathway.
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Cat scat: Research examines food habits of snow leopards

Date: August 4, 2016
Source: University of Delaware
A new study finds researchers may have been missing the mark on the diet of endangered snow leopards. The findings suggest the leopards have been consuming larger, not smaller, species, and underscores the importance of verifying, through DNA testing, what endangered species need to survive.

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Snow leopard (stock image).
Credit: © oakdalecat / Fotolia

In order to create effective conservation programs to help protect and conserve populations of endangered snow leopards, whose estimated population is between 4,500-7,500 in the wild, University of Delaware researchers are studying their scat to try and understand what the large cats are eating.

While studying snow leopard scat is one of the least invasive ways to look at what the animals are eating and gauge their food preferences, according to a new UD study it may not always be the most accurate. Researchers found that past food-habit studies on snow leopards could have been biased by the inclusion of non-target species in fecal analysis, potentially misinforming managers about the prey requirements that allow snow leopard populations to succeed.

The research was led by Sarah Weiskopf, who recently received her master's degree from the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and who did the work as part of her undergraduate senior thesis; Kyle McCarthy, assistant professor of wildlife ecology; and Shannon Kachel, a graduate student who works with McCarthy. The findings were published in the Wildlife Society Bulletin.

As a result of non-target species possibly being included in past research studies, it has been thought that snow leopards -- who lack an abundance of natural prey -- consume great numbers of small mammals such as marmots, hares and pika, as well as wild ungulates, which are larger hooved animals such as ibex.

While estimates of the amount of small mammals snow leopards consume may have been overstated, the importance of large ungulate populations to the snow leopard's diets may have been understated, as this study suggests stable snow leopard populations are possibly more reliant upon large ungulate prey than previously understood.

"We've got this concept of what snow leopard scat looks like and where it can be found, so we think we can go out and collect it. A lot of old studies on what snow leopards eat are based on just that, collections that people have done in the wild," said McCarthy. "When we started doing genetics on snow leopard feces to try and get at a different question, which was individual identification of snow leopards, we started realizing that a lot of what we picked up and thought was snow leopard scat was not."

Weiskopf explained that a big problem with collecting and identifying scat in the field is that researchers mostly rely on morphological characteristics such as shape, size or associated signs of snow leopards, and since scat from different species can look similar, this can lead to misrepresented population estimates and errors in reporting what the snow leopards are actually eating.

"This can affect conservation plans because if snow leopards are eating more large ungulates, we need to make sure we're maintaining those large ungulate populations. Otherwise, a population of snow leopards might not survive because there's not enough prey, or they may start eating more domestic livestock, which can cause problems with local human populations. That could result in people going out and killing snow leopards in retribution," said Weiskopf.

The researchers wanted to look at the problem in a blind fashion, comparing their data sets of what they believed to be snow leopards and what those supposed snow leopards ate with a data set of snow leopard scat that was confirmed through genetic analysis to be from actual snow leopards.

"That's what we consider the bias in our food habit studies and that was the ultimate goal of Sarah's project -- to find out how far off we may have been in the past with what snow leopards eat and then ultimately refining our understanding of what they eat," said McCarthy.

The researchers analyzed 199 suspected snow leopard scat samples collected from two study sites in Tajikistan during the summer of 2012 and 56 scats collected from two study sites in Kyrgyzstan between June and December of 2005.

Overall, only 36.1 percent of collected scats thought to be from snow leopards were confirmed as snow leopard. The snow leopard samples were most often confused with red fox scat, which comprised 39.6 percent of collected samples.

"We don't want to overstate our results because this was just one study, but we did notice that if we were using the blind approach, we definitely had a lot more small mammal occurrence in those scats. When we used genetics to pre-screen the scat and find out which ones were actually snow leopard, there were many fewer small mammals in those scats," said McCarthy, who added that many of the small mammals consumed in the original blind data set were much more associated with red fox.

"It's a little bit of conjecture, but our thought is that a lot of food habit studies that have not been able to verify that their scat is actually from the species that they're studying probably do have this bias soaking in from other species," said McCarthy.

To determine what the snow leopards were actually eating, the researchers pulled hairs found in the samples and studied them on slides treated with nail polish.

"We looked at the whole hair under the microscope to see the medulla, which is the inner part of the hair. Then we pulled the hair off to look at the impression that was left in the nail polish to see the pattern on the outer part of the hair," said Weiskopf.

All hairs have a different scale pattern on them and the researchers could tell the individual species based on the scale pattern or the characteristics of the medulla.

The research was funded by a National Science Foundation Experimental Program to Stimulate Competative Research (EPSCoR) grant and the state of Delaware as well as the International Snow Leopard Trust, Kumtor Operating Company, Panthera Foundation and the Wildlife Conservation Society.

Story Source: University of Delaware. "Cat scat: Research examines food habits of snow leopards." ScienceDaily. (accessed August 8, 2016).

Journal Reference:
Sarah R. Weiskopf, Shannon M. Kachel, Kyle P. McCarthy. What are snow leopards really eating? Identifying bias in food-habit studies. Wildlife Society Bulletin, 2016; 40 (2): 233 DOI: 10.1002/wsb.640

Declining prey populations are widely recognized as a primary threat to snow leopard (Panthera uncia) populations throughout their range. Effective snow leopard conservation will depend upon reliable knowledge of food habits. Unfortunately, past food-habit studies may be biased by inclusion of nontarget species in fecal analysis, potentially misinforming managers about snow leopard prey requirements. Differentiation between snow leopard and sympatric carnivore scat is now cost-effective and reliable using genetics. We used fecal mitochondrial DNA sequencing to identify scat depositors and assessment bias in snow leopard food-habit studies. We compared presumed, via field identification, and genetically confirmed snow leopard scats collected during 2005 and 2012 from 4 sites in Central Asia, using standard forensic microscopy to identify prey species. Field identification success varied across study sites, ranging from 21% to 64% genetically confirmed snow leopard scats. Our results confirm the importance of large ungulate prey for snow leopards. Studies that fail to account for potentially commonplace misidentification of snow leopard scat may mistakenly include a large percentage of scats originating from other carnivores and report inaccurate dietary assessments. Relying on field identification of scats led to overestimation of percent occurrence, biomass, and number of small mammals consumed, but underestimated values of these measures for large ungulates in snow leopard diet. This clarification suggests that the conservation value of secondary prey, such as marmots (Marmota spp.) and other small mammals, may be overstated in the literature; stable snow leopard populations are perhaps more reliant upon large ungulate prey than previously understood.;jsessionid=76E89770B56E96EB1023019E14E90C1C.f02t02
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One Snow Leopard Needs a Protected Range Bigger Than Aruba
The big cats' home territories are up to 44 times bigger than previously thought, a new study using GPS collars reveals.

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A remote camera captures a snow leopard in the falling snow in Hemis National Park, India. 

By Jason Bittel

The snow leopard is known as the “ghost of the mountain” for good reason. The big cats are secretive, few in number, and native to craggy, high-altitude habitats of Central Asia that can be treacherous for humans.

Now, technology advances have finally given scientists a solid glimpse into the world of these endangered felines, and led to one of the most robust studies ever conducted.

From 2008 to 2014, researchers working in the Tost Mountains of South Gobi, Mongolia, outfitted 16 snow leopards with GPS collars. The collars logged each cat’s location about four times a day for over a year.

The data suggest that the big cats require enormous home ranges, about 80 square miles for males and around 48 square miles for females—44 times larger than earlier estimates. This means a single adult male leopard must roam over an area larger than the Caribbean island of Aruba in search of food and mates, according to the study, published September 21 in the journal Biological Conservation.


Snow Leopards Tagged in Afghanistan—A First In spring, 2012 conservationists fitted snow leopards with satellite collars in Afghanistan for the first time. Since then, one of the big cats has already roamed more than a hundred miles.

“Previous studies had mostly assumed smaller home ranges, and of course that influences everything from population estimates to conservation strategies,” says study leader Örjan Johansson, a Ph.D. student at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, whose data came from an eight-year project funded partly by Snow Leopard Trust, SL Foundation Mongolia, and Panthera.

“These findings underline that we need a lot more information on the snow leopard.”

Big Predators Require Big Spaces

Johansson says he wasn’t surprised by the results: “If anything, I expected that snow leopards would have even larger home ranges,” he says.

That's because, unlike big cats that live in areas of great prey abundance—such as African lions—snow leopards live in 12 mountainous countries where large prey is few and far between. That means the animals might have to roam gargantuan distances between each meal in their search for Siberian ibex, argali sheep, and sometimes domestic goats.

This last prey item gets the cats into trouble with local herders. When snow leopards kill livestock, people often respond by hunting the predators. The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists retaliatory killings as one of the snow leopard’s main threats. Fewer than 7,000 are left worldwide, according to the IUCN.

The new study also revealed that snow leopards—like most cats—are territorial, and will defend their home turf from other snow leopards of the same sex. So not only are their territories huge, they don't usually overlap.

Taking this new data into account, Johansson and colleagues discovered that 40 percent of the 170 protected areas found across the big cat's range are smaller than the space required by one adult male.

Even if you cut the new study’s home range estimates in half, just 22 percent of the protected areas could support 15 females, or the number required for a population to withstand the rate at which snow leopards are killed by herders.

“We may have to rethink how much space is needed for a viable snow leopard population,” says Johansson.

Unveiling the Snow Leopard

Independent zoologist Katey Duffey calls the new study’s findings very convincing, and notes how GPS is essential for studying elusive species with expansive ranges.

Previous research was conducted by VHF radio signal, which only works if scientists are able to keep up with the big cats on foot, says Duffey, who partners with the Mongolian Academy of Sciences and Irbis Mongolia Center.

A feat much easier said than done when you’re tracking an animal that can leap up to 50 feet at a time and scale cliffs. GPS technology, which relies upon satellites rather than human endurance, results in much more accurate estimates. 

“It’s still a struggle to do snow leopard research, but the wealth of data that we can collect now would have taken decades earlier,” says study leader Johansson.

That makes studies like Johansson’s extremely important in understanding how to conserve the cats, Duffey adds.

“There's still so much that is unknown about snow leopards."

Journal Reference
Örjan Johansson, Geir Rune Rauset, Gustaf Samelius, Tom McCarthy, Henrik Andrén, Lkhagvasumberel Tumursukh, Charudutt Mishra Land sharing is essential for snow leopard conservation Biological Conservation Volume 203, November 2016, Pages 1–7

Conserving large carnivores in an increasingly crowded planet raises difficult challenges. A recurring debate is whether large carnivores can be conserved in human used landscapes (land sharing) or whether they require specially designated areas (land sparing). Here we show that 40% of the 170 protected areas in the global range of the snow leopard (Panthera uncia) are smaller than the home range of a single adult male and only 4–13% are large enough for a 90% probability of containing 15 or more adult females. We used data from 16 snow leopards equipped with GPS collars in the Tost Mountains of South Gobi, Mongolia, to calculate home range size and overlap using three different estimators: minimum convex polygons (MCP), kernel utility distributions (Kernel), and local convex hulls (LoCoH). Local convex hull home ranges were smaller and included lower proportions of unused habitats compared to home ranges based on minimum convex polygons and Kernels. Intra-sexual home range overlap was low, especially for adult males, suggesting that snow leopards are territorial. Mean home range size based on the LoCoH estimates was 207 km2 ± 63 SD for adult males and 124 km2 ± 41 SD for adult females. Our estimates were 6–44 times larger than earlier estimates based on VHF technology when comparing similar estimators, i.e. MCP. Our study illustrates that protected areas alone will not be able to conserve predators with large home ranges and conservationists and managers should not restrict their efforts to land sparing.
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Concerns over first snow and common leopards found in same area

By Navin Singh Khadka
Environment reporter, BBC World Service
1 hour ago

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A snow leopard photographed in Qinghai province, China on 10 January 2016.

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A common leopard photographed in the same location in Qinghai province, China on 16 March 2016. This is the traditional habitat of the snow leopard

The first ever recorded video footage showing snow leopards and common leopards sharing the same habitat on the Tibetan plateau has caused concern among conservationists.
They are worried about the future of the snow leopard's habitat if common leopards begin to live at higher elevations in a warming climate.
The issue will be high on the agenda of an international meeting involving 12 snow leopard range countries starting in Nepal on Tuesday, 17 January.
The video was recently obtained from a camera trap in Qinghai province in China. It shows both cats at the same location in July 2016.
Wildlife experts say this is the first pictorial evidence of the two cats at the same place. The snow leopard is an endangered species.
One of the video clips from the camera trap shows a female common leopard with a cub.
This has made researchers think that the animal was not simply visiting the area but was actually living there.

Under threat

Snow leopards live at an altitude above 3,000m in typically open and rocky areas.
Common leopards' habitats include forests and woodlands at lower elevations.
Snow leopards are sparsely distributed across 12 countries - Mongolia and the Himalayan ranges in China, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal and Bhutan, as well as in the five Central Asian states.
There are an estimated 3,500 to 7,000 snow leopards in the wild and they have been listed as endangered mainly because of poaching and habitat loss.
Scientists say the lower reaches of snow leopard's habitats and the upper limits of common leopards' territories have always overlapped in the Himalayas and other high mountains in Asia.
But, they add, climate change could make that more complicated.
"In a changing climate, we expect the tree line to move up the slopes and that's encroaching into the snow leopard's habitat," said Byron Weckworth, China programme director with Panthera, a conservation organisation dedicated to preserving wild cats.
Some studies have shown that the upper forest tree line is already being pushed higher.
They suggest that between 30% and 50% of the current snow leopard habitat in the Himalayas will be lost because of the shifting tree line and the shrinking of the alpine zone.
"The bigger threat is the snow leopards' habitat loss and its fragmentation," said Mr Weckworth, whose organisation has partnered with the Snow Leopard Trust and Chinese conservation organisation Shan Shui to monitor wildlife in China's Sanjiangyuan nature reserve.
Prof Sandro Lovari, from the University of Siena in Italy, was not involved in this research but has conducted separate studies on snow leopards.
He agrees with the loss of habitat projections.
"Snow leopards could be squeezed between the barren land of the higher parts of the mountain and the upward moving tree line," he said.
Wen Cheng from Shan Shui says the availability of food will be key.
"The possibility for co-existence or conflict highly depends on the abundance and diversity of wild prey," he said.
Prof Lovari's team conducted a study on snow leopards in the Sagarmatha National park in Nepal's Everest region in 2013.
They found that the common leopard had a greater habitat adaptability.

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A common leopard caught on camera in a different part of Qinghai province, China, on 6 December 2015

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A snow leopard in its traditional habitat in Qinghai province, China on 4 March 2016.

"This behaviour could enhance the [common leopard's] takeover of the snow leopard's habitat as it's the larger, more ecologically flexible species," Prof Lovari explained.
In Nepal's Annapurna and Kanchanjunga conservation areas too, common leopards have been recently found in altitudes that normally have been the territories of snow leopards.
Koustubh Sharma, an expert with the Snow Leopard Trust, said: "How are these two cat species already managing to live together - or will the interface be difficult when their habitats are changing with climate change?"
"The pictures from our camera trap make these questions more relevant and pressing."
While some conservationists fear that there might be conflicts between the two leopard species for habitat and prey, others think the two already co-exist in places where their territories overlap.
Mr Weckworth said their research team in China found locals believing that the two species could even mate.
"The common leopards there are more pale in colour and that may have sparked that kind of perception among locals. But from a biological point of view, it's extremely unlikely that they can hybridise," Mr Weckworth of the Panthera organisation added.
During his field study in Nepal's Sagarmatha National Park, Prof Lovari said he found male snow leopards coming down to the edge of the forested land during the mating period.
"But there is no information whatsoever on the hybridisation between common and snow leopards," he said.
"It would be very unlikely - even more unlikely than brown bears and polar bears." 
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