Huge, agile and ferocious—are the qualities I am known for. Hi, I am a snow leopard and it’s not easy to spot me. I live in regions with high-altitude and snow-capped mountains like the Himalayas.
Many people often describe me as an animal which is hard to set eyes on and has an element of mystery about it. Only I know though, that I am a little shy but actually a very friendly animal, it’s just that I and my brothers live in such difficult terrain that we’re constantly on the move.
We are mostly found in the Himalayan regions and Central Asia, which is a difficult terrain to live in. Probably that’s also why sometimes we are referred to as ‘ghosts of the mountain’.
Hence, wildlife experts often have to wait for hours to spot one of the family members. So you could say I am a creature of the mountains. I have heard many of them complaining about the long hours they had to wait in hiding, patiently, to spot one of us.
An interesting thing about me is that though I am a member of the cat family, unlike my cousins like the cheetah, leopard or the tiger I do not roar! But I do growl and yowl. What’s more is that we have a grey and yellowish fur with spots on it. These spots are called rosettes and enclose smaller circles. We also have an extraordinarily long tail which helps us balance ourselves against rocks and on hills.
While, the world calls me a snow leopard, wise guys like scientists and wildlife experts have a special name for me—Panthera uncis.
We can be spotted in alpine and sub-alpine regions, which are situated mostly above the tree line and at a height of almost 18,000 ft. The countries where we are found in include China, Russia, India, Bhutan, Nepal, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Mongolia. The area collectively spans across around 2 million square kilometre—roughly the size of Greenland or Mexico.
In India, there are various wildlife parks and sanctuaries where you can come and meet me. For instance, if you live in Arunachal Pradesh then you can drop in at Namdapha National Park to say hi to me or if you are a resident of Jammu and Kashmir then Hemis National Park. Other places where I and my family members live are the Great Himalayan National Park in Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand’s Gangotri National Park and the Khangchendzonga National Park in Sikkim.
Most snow leopards weigh around 40-55kg and because of their agility can jump up to 50 feet. Moreover, we can hunt prey up to three times our own weight. What we eat mostly depends on the area where we are hunting, but we prey mainly on goats and sheep like the Asiatic ibex, blue sheep, and the Argali.
Sadly, my existence is something I am not very certain about, thanks to problems like loss of habitat, poaching, and hunting. Snow leopards are fast disappearing from the face of the earth. All over the world, there are just 7,000 of us left.
In India, different surveys have shown our numbers to be in the vicinity of 500 snow leopards. However, our futures appear to be bleak as human activities like infrastructure development, construction, housing are diminishing forest cover.
Other things that seem to threaten our existence are poaching and climate change. Due to a rapid rise in human settlements and grazing space, our habitats in hilly regions are shrinking in size. In the long term, climate change is another problem which may force us to lose our homes.
Do you know that in future, climate change could result in loss of 30% of the area inhabited by snow leopards in the Himalayas?
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has declared snow leopards as ‘Vulnerable’ on its Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN categorizes animals whose numbers range between 2,500 and 10,000 as vulnerable and those less than 2,500 as ‘critically endangered’.
I feel the world needs to listen to us, as a top predator snow leopards help in maintaining the population of certain animals, which if unchecked would lead to rapid deforestation, upsetting the ecological balance.
You might be very young but that does not mean that you cannot help me save my family across the world. For starters, you can spread word about how we face the threat or extinction.
Although some countries are taking a few steps to preserve our population, my brothers and I feel we have a long way to go. In 2014, 12 countries where we are found decided to observe October 23 every year as the International Snow Leopard Day.
The day marked the first anniversary of the landmark Bishkek Declaration, wherein came together to pledge their support to save the snow leopard.
Also, you can donate for the preservation of snow leopards or can even adopt a snow leopard by paying for its upkeep in a wildlife park with the help of your parents.
Shailesh is post graduate in Environment Management from Forest Research Institute (FRI) University, Dehradun, India. Presently he is working in the areas of Environmental and Renewable Energy Advisory Services. He has started GreenCleanGuide.com during his college days.