Snow leopards are incredible living beings: they are able to leap seven times their own body length, can hunt in almost complete darkness due to their large eyes, and some have been known to travel for 25 miles in a single night. These rare, wonderful large cats, however, are in danger, and Tibetan Buddhists seem to be among the few ones currently helping.
I don’t know if you remember the movie Seven Years in Tibet, with Brad Pitt. If you watched it, you may recall the part when the Dalai Lama himself instructs Heinrich Harrer (Pitt) to build a cinema. When Harrer is in the middle of laying the foundations for the building, everything has to stop, for workers and monks find (of course!) worms in the soil, and the completion of the building could kill thousands of them.
As a matter of fact, one of the basic tenets of Buddhism is preserving life, of any living being. Hundreds of Buddhist monasteries on the Tibetan plateau are today safeguarding the endangered snow leopard. A few days ago Livescience reported the outcome – as well as some amazing photos – of a research conducted by Scientists of Panthera.org – an organization aiming to preserve the future of wild felines through scientific leadership and global conservation action.
The scientists who published the research – of which you can find a copy on the following page on the Panthera.org website – indicated that half of the monasteries in the area are within the snow leopards’ natural habitat.
This is good news, for Buddhist monks have been since a while back routinely patrolling the surrounding environment to avoid hunters from killing these rare cats. Scientists from the Panthera.org organization found out that over 300 monasteries inhabit the same region as the snow leopard of the Tibetan Plateau.
Hunters would kill snow leopards because of their fur, as well as internal organs, which are often used in traditional Chinese medicine. Moreover, even herders may kill the animals, for they represent sometimes a threat to domestic goats and sheep.
Although the image below may show this beautiful feline is midway to extinction, according to the Red Data List the snow leoprad is, in reality, considered a globally Endangered (EN) species.
Despite the fact of being slightly smaller than other big felines, the snow leopard is, nonetheless, classified as a large cat native of the mountains of Central Asia. The animal generally weighs between 25 and 75 kilograms (60 and 120 lbs), depending upon gender. The body, from head to base of the tail is quite short, only 75 to 130 centimeters (30 to 50 inches). The tail, however, is quite long, reaching 80 to 100 centimeters (31 to 39 inches) in most cases, which helps them to maintain their balance on the steep mountains they inhabit. That is, furthermore, the longest tail on any cat in the world.
The snow leopard may – as much as other big cats – use vocalizations, but not many know this beautiful feline cannot actually roar, due to the absence of some morphological feature.
These animals usually live the coldest subalpine and alpine areas of Central Asia, at around 3,350 to 6,700 meters (10,990 to 22,000 feet) of altitude, and that is why they have such a thick fur. There is a lot of debate regarding the exact number of wild snow leopards existing today, but the estimated figure is between 4,150-7,350, of which only 50%, that is 2,040–3,295 is effective population, which means able to reproduce. That doesn’t sound much comforting, does it?
Watch now this very interesting, short documentary by National Geographic’s photographer Steve Winter. The guy spent a long time among the remote mountains of northern India to capture some exclusive images of the shy, elusive snow leopard.