Snow leopards (Uncia uncia) are found only in the mountains of central Asia and the Himalayas.
Northern Nepal is home to around 500 endangered snow leopards, they are very rare. There are an estimated 3,000 to 7,500 snow leopards in the wild all across central Asia, exact numbers in the wild have not been determined due to the snow leopard’s shy nature. In addition, some 600-700 animals survive in zoos around the world.
The snow leopard is an apex animal to the Himalayan ecosystem.
Snow leopards in Nepal prefer to inhabit steep cliff areas, rocky outcrops and ravines. Such habitats provide them with the camouflage they need to ambush unsuspecting prey. They primarily hunt wild sheep and goats. Snow leopards are also known to eat smaller animals like rodents, hares, livestock, and game birds. Blue sheep and Himalayan tahr are the major wild prey-base to the species.
Nepal is leading the way in safeguarding the species and its habitat.
Nepal has made conservation history by becoming the first country to launch its climate-smart snow leopard landscape management plan. Snow leopards are found at altitudes between 9,800 and 17,000 feet in the high, rugged mountains, it has been suggested that the snow leopard in Nepal has a presence in 8 mountain protected areas. These are Annapurna Conservation Area, Shey Phuksundo National Park, Kangchenjunga Conservation Area, Manaslu Conservation Area, Makalu Barun National Park, Dhorpatan Hunting Reserve, Sagarmatha National Park and Langtang National Park. Mostly active at dawn and dusk, snow leopards are rarely seen in the wild.
The snow leopard in Nepal shows several adaptations for living in a cold, mountainous environment.
Its body is stocky, its fur is thick, and its ears are small and rounded, features that help to minimize heat loss. Its broad paws well distribute the body weight 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. Its long and flexible tail helps to maintain balance in the rocky terrain. The tail is also very thick due to fat storage and is very thickly covered with fur, which allows the cat to use it like a blanket to protect its face when asleep. Unlike other big cats, snow leopards are unable to roar.
The conflict between Nepal leopards and humans.
Snow leopards are known to kill people’s livestock, therefore there is a conflict between the animals and humans. Economic losses through predation can be over 12% of the vital income of subsistence farmers in some areas. Sometimes snow leopards kill more livestock than they need to feed and kill up to 50 animals in one night. The US-based Snow Leopards Conservancy has now launched a snow leopard conservation project in Nepal to tackle the problems of poaching and habitat loss on a community-based level.
Snow leopards occur often in indigenous stories and myths in Nepal.
In Dolpho, for example, there are stories of high lamas frequently making trips to Tibet in the shape of a snow leopard to search for rare, medicinal herbs. Generally, there is a widespread belief that by killing a Nepal snow leopard all the animal’s sins will be transferred to the person killing it.
You can make a difference.
sources: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2008/06/snow-leopards/chadwick-text/1, http://www.wwfnepal.org/what_we_do/wildlife/snow_leopard/,