Snow Leopard

by S. Ghilzai / published on July 12, 2014

The snow leopard is a cat that can be found throughout the mountain ranges of Central Asia. Their habitat spans across twelve nations and 2 million square kilometers. In Afghanistan, the snow leopard can be found in the Wakhan Corridor, near the country’s border with China and Tajikistan, where the Hindu Kush mountain range starts.

An adult male can be between 25 and 55 kilograms, sometimes even reaching 75 kilograms, and stand (at the shoulder) at about 60 centimeters- for which they are considered big cats. They are between 75 to 100 centimeters long from head to the base of their body, with an unusually long tail (80-100cm). Snow leopards have thick, greyish fur that both keeps the animal warm in the snow, as well as provides camouflage against the rocky terrain. Their large paws allow them to climb and leap, up and around their mountainous habitats.

Snow leopards are carnivores and hunt their prey (which can be anything from birds, and hares, to sheep and markhors). They are the apex predators in most of the areas they can be found in, meaning, they have no predators of their own, and are at the top of the food chain, especially in Afghanistan. The snow leopard is classified as either Panthera uncia or Uncia uncia.

Snow leopards have been on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List since 1972, meaning they are endangered of being extinct. Wildlife specialists speculate there are only about 3,000 to 7,500 snow leopards left on earth. There are a few reasons for the decline of the leopard population. First, poaching: in Afghanistan, many people hunt the leopards for their pelt, or for sport. Second, there is less and less food for the species, both adding to their extinction, as well as forcing the leopards to attack livestock in the area (which causes even more killing by humans). Also, the disturbance caused to the species as more humans move into their territory decreases the animals’ numbers. The National Environment Protection Agency of Afghanistan and the Wildlife Conservation Society have teamed up to protect the species from complete extinction by studying the animals (by putting satellite collars, tracking and watching the animals). They seek to both teach the people of the Wakhan Corridor about the leopard’s endangerment, as well as to stop people from killing the animals. It is now illegal to poach snow leopards in the country.