Leopard (clouded and snow)
Leopards - general
The leopard is one of the five 'big cats' of the genus Panthera and is a member of the family Felidae. Leopards are spread around wide regions from sub-Saharan Africa, West Asia, the Middle East, South and Southeast Asia right up to Siberia. They are the sneekiest of all the big cats and are highly dangerous. In a Zoo situation they will lie in wait in their inside den ready to pounce when the keeper checks the locking devices. For the big-cat keepers checking the locks at night is a solitary duty as they do not need the distraction of a colleague. When the leopard keeper starts his checking he looks around carefully making sure he locates the cat before his check begins. Mr Leopard is an opportunist who will definitely pounce if he can. A hand near to the cage door lock is in a precarious position, for a split second is all it would take for a serious injury to happen. An ever-watchful approach of one's spotted charge is imperative and checking of locks and slides is regularly practised several times a day.
Among the 37 living species of Felidae, is the clouded leopard, neofelis nebulosa, which gets its name from the cloud-like markings on its body, head, legs and tail. Clouded leopards primarily live in lowland tropical rainforest but are also found in dry woodlands and even in the Himalayans. Their range, largely reduced owing to habitat destruction, once covered Nepal, southern China, Thailand, Indonesia and Borneo. The pelt colour ranges from ochre to tawny to silver-grey and black and white individuals have been seen in the wild. The back of the neck has two thick black bars and the eyes are greyish-green or brownish-yellow. They have short front legs with the hind legs being longer and they have the longest canines of any other living cat. Their large paws have long, sharp claws which help them to climb trees and their grip on branches is so strong that they can even hang upside down. They weigh about 28 pounds and measure around 36 inches plus 30 inches of tail which helps them balance on narrow branches enabling them to jump safely from tree to tree. They can live up to 17 years in captivity, although in the wild their life-span averages about 11 years.
Little is known of the breeding habits of clouded leopards in the wild but in captivity litters of 1 - 5 are born after an average 93- days' gestation. Less than 20% of captive clouded leopards have been successful at reproducing because the males tend to kill their females during mating.
The habitat of the clouded leopard is mostly within primary evergreen tropical rainforests but sightings have been made in secondary and logged forests as well as grassland, scrub and mangrove swamps and sightings have been recorded at elevations of as high as 3,000 meters. They are equally adept at hunting on the ground as well as in the trees but they use trees primarily as resting places. Their diet includes birds, primates, small mammals, porcupines, deer and wild boar.
Snow Leopard (Ounce)
Snow leopards, uncia uncia, are found at altitudes of between 9,800 and 17,000 feet in the high mountains of Central Asia.
Their habitat lies within Afghanistan, Bhutan, China, India, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbebekistan. China contains about 60% of snow leopard habitat. Snow leopards have already disappeared from certain parts of Mongolia which is part of their historic range. They are very rare with an estimated 3,500 to 7,000 left in the wild and 600 - 700 in zoos around the world. Exact numbers in the wild have not been determined due to the snow leopardís shy nature making it hard to determine their lifespan in the wild but they have been known to live for as long as 21 years in captivity.
Snow leopards measure about 2 feet high at the shoulders and are about 6 - 71/2 feet long including the 40-inch tail. They weigh between 77lb and 120lb. Their fur is thick with a white, yellowish or soft grey coat with ringed spots of black on brown which markings help camouflage them from prey such as the wolf, the tiger and the cheetah. They have heavy fur-lined tails and paws are completely covered with fur so that they are perfectly adapted to the cold and dry habitats in which they live. Their very large paws also keep them from sinking into the snow. They have light green or grey eyes.
They primarily hunt wild sheep and goats but are also known to eat smaller animals like rodents, hares and game birds. Their main natural prey species are blue sheep and ibex who live in close proximity to their habitat. Hunting of wild prey by man has reduced the snow leopard's food supply so their enforced raids on domestic livestock to supply their needs has brought repercussions for them. They are also hunted for commercial purposes as their pelts are in much demand. Sadly, there is evidence of demand for live animals for zoos and circuses and body parts are collected for use in Chinese medicine.
Encouragingly, I have read that since 2009 Afghanistan has placed the snow leopard in line for legal protection after recording it on their first Protected Species List which bans all hunting and trading of snow leopards within Afghanistan.
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