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Russia’s Exotic and Endangered Snow Leopard

Amongst the diverse and beautiful Russian fauna and flora, lurks one of the most spectacular and elusive cats, known to man. With its silky grey coat, brown and black rosettes and striped tail, the Russian Snow Leopard is an awesome sight. It is just a great pity that visitors to the country are extremely unlikely to view this extraordinary creature as they are close to extinction, and those that do stalk the rocky ridges and mountains of Russia are well hidden and very shy.

Snow Leopards (Uncia uncia) can grow to weigh approximately between 35 to 55 kilograms and its broad, strong paws doubles as snowshoes in the winter months allowing the cat to remain agile in the cold weather. In winter their beautiful gray coats turn white, allowing them to blend in with their environment and assist in camouflaging themselves. The life expectancy of a snow leopard is usually 15 to 18 years, living high up on the Russian mountain ranges during the summer and lower down in the forest areas during winter. Their lush tails are used in the extreme cold to warm their mouths and noses and the tails of some snow leopards have been known to grow to lengths of about 90 centimeters. They are generally not fussy eaters and will hunt anything from small animals to livestock.

Unfortunately this stunning predator is on the brink of extinction due to human greed. The illegal trade of live snow leopards, their beautiful fur and even their bones, has caused the slaughter of thousands of snow leopards. It is estimated that the number of snow leopards world wide only numbers at approximately 4 000 to 7 000 individuals, with only 100 individuals estimated to still be roaming free in Russia. In some countries more than 120 cats are killed in a year and the constant fight against man, for habitat and food, increases the struggle for the survival of the snow leopard. In recent years marmots have also been targeted by hunters as their pelts are also highly sought after. And once again another natural food source is being taken away from the snow leopards. Authorities are now taking drastic steps to prosecute poachers by implementing conservation projects and employing wild life rangers to track down the illegal hunters.

To increase the Russian Snow Leopard population, many zoos are working hard to ensure the success of their breeding programs. Rehabilitation and the release of young snow leopards, back into the wild, will hopefully keep snow leopards away from extinction. Snow leopards that are released back into the wild have a high survival rate, as they are generally solitary animals that only seek company during the mating season. The plight of the snow leopard is not only being addressed by the countries were they are found in the wild, such as Uzbekistan, Nepal, India, China and Russian, but wildlife organizations for across the world, have pledged themselves to the fight of illegal trade of snow leopard products and the survival of a unique and breathtaking predator.

 



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