If we happen to ask you what is the closest species to a snow leopard? Your answer, most likely, will be a leopard, of course. But what if we told you no? And that he’s actually closer to a tiger, unlike his name. Surprising enough? There is more. These are the only cats of the Panthera species that cannot roar. Why do you ask?
“It’s because of the different physiology of their throats. The non-aggressive sound they produce is called a chuff, ”says Rohit Rattan, associate coordinator, Western Himalayas program, WWF India.
Plus, this big feline is extremely adaptable as it is typically found between 10,000 and 20,000 feet above sea level. “One of the lesser-known snow leopard facts is that every snow leopard can have about 100 km² of land to hunt and search for suitable partners, ”Janaki Mohanachandran, Senior Project Manager, Snow Leopard Program, WWF India, tells you.
Now that you know that the cat is on the high slopes, you must be wondering how he does not fall while jumping from here to there. The magic is in his tail. “They have a long, hairy tail that helps the animal balance itself while traversing steep, rugged cliffs, especially when running behind its wild prey on steep and dangerous slopes,” says Rattan.
Although not many of us have been lucky enough to have seen a snow leopard, if you are one of the lucky ones you will know what it feels like to stand before this majestic being with trembling legs and shining eyes. . However, you will be surprised to know that it is not as aggressive as it looks.
“The snow leopard is a shy species and there have been no reports of aggression towards humans,” says Rattan.
This one, one of the most wanted big cats, is also plagued by several myths. Here is some. “In India, especially in the eastern Himalayas, snow leopards are revered as guardians of the mountains and often people believe that mountain deities are angry with them if their cattle are killed by a leopard. of snow. This belief system is actually a complex detail of the existing livestock depredation caused by snow leopards and dholes in the eastern Himalayas as the inhabitants of these harsh landscapes navigate their lost beliefs. spirituality and the relationship they share with their environment, ”explains Mohanachandran. .
Rattan adds and tells you that in Nepal it is believed that snow leopards as well as domestic cats were born to wash away the sins of their past lives, and if you kill them, their sins will be transferred into your life. “In Pakistan, the Wakhi ethnic group considers high altitude courses to be sacred landscapes where supernatural powers tend their herds of wild goats. They believe that these supernatural powers are the protectors of the high mountains and should not be unhappy with misdeeds. If they are angry, they can cause economic loss to those responsible for the wrongdoing. They compare the snow leopard (called “pes” in the Wakhi language) to the fairies who protect you, but if they are angry they can punish you too, ”Rattan tells you.
However, among all of this, what often goes unnoticed is the fact that the snow leopard is listed as vulnerable on the IUCN-World Conservation Union Red List.
Rattan says there have been no reliable estimates because the species has remained relatively poorly studied both in India and around the world. There have only been a few guesses or estimates on their population which suggest that there could be around 400-500 individuals in India while there could be 4000-6500 individuals found in the 12 countries of the range. distribution of the snow leopard. It lists some of the threats the species faces.
“First, increased levels of disturbance and habitat degradation are the primary threat to the species. Second, poorly planned infrastructure projects whose linear infrastructure fragment their habitat. Three, an ever-increasing number of domestic livestock are putting pressure on their prey base as well as the rangelands. Fourth, snow leopard predation on livestock often pits humans against them. Five free-roaming dogs often hunt their prey and cause them undue competition. Sixth, inadequate research focused on the species and its ecosystems, ”says Rattan.
With the species struggling to survive with so many threats, one wonders what makes tiger and lion conservation steal the show. Mohanachandran has an answer.
“I think throughout the history of conservation in India we’ve had a species-focused conservation effort. And since the snow leopard has inhabited the Himalayan states, the challenges of climate change and development-induced environmental change have taken center stage. And I think we are on the right track in focusing on a more holistic approach to the conservation of the landscape with its cultural and natural heritage, as they become an integral part of the conservation of the species itself ”, believes- he does.
Also, when you compare snow leopards to other big cats, they are much less studied and very poorly known about them. “They are limited to the Himalayan alpine courses with altitudes of over 3000 meters and therefore only a determined few seek to reach them. While on the other hand, the tiger and the lion are household names. The main reason why tigers and lions steal the show is that they occupy a large part of mainland Indian jungles. There has also been a lot of research on Tigers for a long time. Tiger tourism and safaris put them on a long pedestal, ”says Rattan.
However, the bright side is that efforts are being made on many levels to conserve snow leopards and their prey base. The Snow Leopard project, launched in 2009, has put in place an inclusive and participatory approach to conserve snow leopards and their habitat. “As part of the Snow Leopard project, various field conservation strategies are being implemented by various organizations to ensure that threats to the species can be minimized. Currently, efforts are underway in all Himalayan states of India to assess the snow leopard population. Lately, research on the snow leopard has been given the necessary impetus. While a lot is being done, there is still a long way to go to ensure that conservation is ecosystem-based and holistic, ”says Rattan.
And in case you didn’t know, the big cat with the thick coat is also called the Ghost of the Mountains. “As mentioned before, they are found in very rugged, steep and high altitude mountainous areas that are not easily accessible and therefore are the most elusive of all the big cats. And because they are so elusive and very little is known about the species, they are considered very mysterious and often referred to as “the ghost of the mountains,” concludes Rattan.
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