International Snow Leopard Day 2020 | UPSC

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International Snow Leopard Day 2020 | UPSC

International Snow Leopard Day 2020 | UPSC

      HEADLINES:

International Snow Leopard Day 2020 : Of snow leopards and domestic dogs

      WHY IN NEWS:

‘Man’s best friend’ has become a big threat for the charismatic cat in Ladakh, as this account shows

SYLLABUS COVERED: GS 3: IUCN : Conservation of Biodiversity

      LEARNING: 

For PRELIMS it is important to study about Snow leopard today ! We have mentioned everything . Go through distribution , habitat and behaviour. Do not forget IUCN status .

For MAINS note down the threats this animal is facing 3000 meters above sea level . Let us dive in !

      ISSUE: 

Despite a range of over 2 million km2, scientist estimate that there may only be between 3,920 and 6,390 snow leopards left in the wild.

INTERNATIONAL SNOW LEOPARD DAY 2020

International Snow Leopard Day 2020 | UPSC

  • Known for its beautiful fur and elusive behavior, the endangered snow leopard (Panthera uncia) is found in the rugged mountains of Central Asia.
  • Snow leopards are sparsely distributed across 12 countries in central Asia, from southern Russia down to the Tibetan plateau.

DISTRIBUTION
Snow leopards are concentrated in Afghanistan, Bhutan, China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

  • They’re usually at home in high, rugged mountain landscapes at heights of over 3,000 metres – and climate change may shrink their available habitat.

Snow leopards are perfectly adapted to the cold, barren landscape of their high-altitude home.

  • Human threats have created an uncertain future for the cats.

SNOW LEOPARD BIOLOGY

  • SOLO TRAVELLER : The snow leopard is usually solitary and highly elusive
  • CREPUSCULAR : Dawn and dusk are the cat’s most active times
  • LIVING LARGE : Some snow leopards have home ranges of up to 1,000 square kilometers
  • SINGLE MOMS : For about 18 months, females raise their cubs – all alone
  • COLD AND DRY : The snow leopard primarily lives in arid, barren mountain areas
  • GENTLE : Snow leopards are not known to be aggressive toward humans
  • CARNIVOROUS : The cat’s main prey are ibex, argali and blue sheep

PHYSICAL FEATURES

  • Its extra large paws keep the cat from sinking into the snow- like a pair of natural snow shoes.

Its round, short ears reduce heat loss, and the wide, short nasal cavity warms the air before it reaches the cat’s lungs.

  • The cat has strong, short front limbs and longer hind limbs. They help launch the cat up to 30 feet (10 meters) in one leap!
  • The snow leopard sports excellent camouflage thanks to its grey-white fur with its dark spots and rosettes.
  • Its extra long tail helps the cat keep its balance and provides extra warmth when it’s wrapped around the body.
  • The snow leopard has soft, dense fur that grows extra-thick during the winter to keep the cat’s body warm.

BEHAVIOR

  • Snow leopards are shy, elusive cats known for their solitary nature.
  • Once the cubs are about 2 years old, they begin to disperse from their mother and set out on their own.

In order to communicate snow leopards leave markings on the landscape that other cats will find.

  • They scrape the ground with their hind legs and spray urine against rocks to mark their territory or locate mates.
  • Snow leopards make sounds similar to those made by other large cats, including a purr, mew, hiss, growl, moan, and yowl.
  • However, snow leopards cannot roar due to the physiology of their throat, and instead make a non-aggressive puffing sound called a ‘chuff’.

LIFE CYCLE

  • Mating season for wild snow leopards is between January and mid-March. 
  • The female is typically pregnant for 93-110 days before retiring to a sheltered den site and giving birth to her cubs in June or July.
  • The diligent mother raises her offspring alone, providing food and shelter for her cubs.

SNOW LEOPARDS GROW UP QUICKLY

  • Cubs are small and helpless when they are born, and do not open their eyes until they are about 7 days old.
  • At 2 months old, cubs are ready to eat solid food.
  • At 18-22 months old, cubs become independent of their mothers.

In captivity, snow leopards have been known to live for as long as 22 years.

  • Life in the wild is much harder, so the life expectancy of wild snow leopards is more likely to be 10 to 12 years.

PREY

  • What snow leopards eat varies depending on their location, but the cat most often hunts wild sheep and goats.
The three most important prey species for snow leopards are :
International Snow Leopard Day 2020 | UPSC
  • The blue sheep (also known as bharal),
  • The Asiatic ibex (a large wild goat),
  • The argali (another wild sheep species).
Availability of wild prey is the most important factor that determines if an area can be suitable for the cats.

HUNTING PATTERN

  • Snow leopards eat slowly, usually taking 3 or 4 days to consume a prey animal.

Snow leopards hunt a large animal every 8-10 days on average.

  • There appear to be slight differences between the diets and predation patterns of males and females:
  • Snow leopards are opportunistic predators and sometimes hunt livestock (such as sheep, goats, horses, or young yaks).
  • Predation on domestic livestock may increase in winter when hunting is difficult because of scarce wild prey and harsh weather.

IUCN STATUS

International Snow Leopard Day IUCN

HABITAT

  • Snow leopards live in the mountains of Central Asia. While their habitat range covers 2 million km2 (approximately the size of Greenland or Mexico), there are only between 3,920 and 6,390 snow leopards left in the wild.

International Snow Leopard Day 2020 | UPSC

The snow leopard range in the mountains of Central Asia (source: Global Snow Leopard & Ecosystem Protection Program)

  • China is one of the most influential countries for our conservation efforts, as it contains as much as 60% of all snow leopard habitat areas.

In the Himalayas, snow leopards are usually found between 3,000 and 5,400 meters above sea level.

  • At the snow leopard’s typical elevation, the climate is cold and dry, and only grasses and small shrubs can grow on the steep mountain slopes.
  • The amount of space each snow leopard needs differs between landscapes. Researchers think that this depends on the availability of prey.
  • With habitat mapping technology, it is documented that a snow leopard travel across 27 miles of open desert in a single night!

THREATS

  • POACHING : Between 2008 and 2016 alone, one snow leopard has reportedly been killed and traded every day – 220 to 450 cats per year !
  • LOSS OF PREY : A decline in numbers of wild prey due to hunting and competition with livestock for grazing.
  • PROBLEM ANIMALS (DEPREDATORS) : Snow Leopards kill livestock and are killed by herders in retribution.
  • MINING : Other large-scale development decrease the living habitat.
  • LOSS OF HABITAT : More people and livestock move into snow leopard range, fragmenting habitat, so snow leopards become isolated and vulnerable.

Exact numbers are unknown, but there may be as few as 3,920 and probably no more than 6,390.

  • LACK OF EFFECTIVE PROTECTION : Most protected areas are too small to protect the home range of even a single snow leopard, and many countries cannot afford to pay rangers.
  • LACK OF AWARENESS : Herders living with snow leopards sometimes do not understand why snow leopards need to be protected.
  • CLIMATE CHANGE  : Temperatures are on the rise across the mountains of Central Asia. The Tibetan plateau has already gotten 3 degrees warmer in the last 20 years.

      IASbhai WINDUP: 

The changes impact the entire ecosystem: vegetation, water supplies, animals – and they threaten to make up to a third of the snow leopard’s habitat unusable.

SUGGESTED READING : DOWNLOAD FACT SHEET 
     SOURCES:DOWNTOEARTH | International Snow Leopard Day 2020 | UPSC

DISCOVER MORE : IUCN LIST

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