Questions about snow leopards from a 5th grade student

(Note: The Maryland Zoo does not have snow leopards)

What does a snow leopard eat?

Snow leopards are carnivores that feed mostly on mountain sheep, deer and ibex but also on medium sized birds, marmots (which are like groundhogs), pikas, hares and other small mammals. When wild prey is scarce, they may resort to feeding on livestock like sheep, goats and cows which can bring them into conflict with humans.

Where does a snow leopard live?

The Himalayan and other mountainous regions of central Asia including India, Tibet, Bhutan and Nepal, China, Mongolia, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Russia and some former soviet republics like Uzbekistan.

How long does a snow leopard live?

Like most cats, snow leopards in captivity can live for 15 to 20 years. Wild cats typically have shorter life spans than those in captivity.

How fast can it run?

Because of the steep and rocky terrain that they live in, snow leopards rely less on outsprinting their prey and more on stalking and surprising them with quick and powerful attack. They have retractable claws that allow them to move silently amongst the rocks without scraping their claws on the ground and therefore giving themselves away to their prey. Cats are typically very patient hunters and wait for the best opportunity to make their attack. The black-spotted, white coat of the snow leopard makes it difficult to see in a terrain that is often snow-covered. Snow leopards can pounce as far as 45 feet horizontally and 30 feet .

How many young does a snow leopard have?

Snow leopards may have between 1 to 5 young with 2 to 3 being typical.

How long do the young stay with their mother?

Young snow leopards need to learn a difficult skill, how to hunt, within a fairly short period of time. They typically stay with their mother for around 18-22 months.

Why is the snow leopard endangered?

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) does list the snow leopard as Endangered. Habitat loss is the main problem. As human populations grow in the region, more land is used for farming and housing. As snow leopards get squeezed into smaller areas, they have to compete for the limited prey available and some of the cats will not survive. Also, as their prey becomes harder to find, some cats may resort to feeding on farm animals which may force farmers to kill the cats. Livestock also take food resources away from the natural prey animals of the leopard making them less abundant. Snow leopards are also vulnerable to poaching (see below). Today, many people are aware of the conservation threats to animals like the snow leopard. The IUCN website listed below describes several actions that are being taken to curb the decline of the Snow Leopard. Organizations like the The Snow Leopard Trust are focused on these issues – lobbying governments to take action to prevent snow leopard declines through enactment and enforcement of legislation limiting the trade of snow leopard parts and striving to educate people living in the areas where snow leopards live on how to avoid problems with snow leopards and how snow leopards can actually help them earn money through eco-tourism and other means that do not result in the killing of the leopards. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), which oversees the care of animals in accredited zoos like the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, has a program called the Species Survival Plan (SSP), which strives to maintain healthy captive populations of endangered and threatened species like snow leopards. For more information on SSP’s go to the Conservation section on our website or visit the AZA website.

What is the snow leopard killed for?

Mostly for its coat, but also for organs and bones (both used in oriental medicines as a substitute for tiger) and claws. It is also killed to prevent them from feeding on livestock as has already been mentioned.

How many snow leopards are left?

Studies estimate that there are between 4080 and 6590 snow leopards remaining in the wild with most of them estimated to be in China (approximately 2000) and Mongolia (500-1000).

I would highly recommend that people interested in further information on snow leopards visit Snow Leopard Trust and IUCN Redlist.