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Snow Leopard (Panthera uncia o Uncia uncia, Schreber 1775)
Few animals are more mysterious and unapproachable of Snow Leopard. Only someone saw one in the wild and very little is known of how he lives. Endemic to the high mountains of Tibet, Snow Leopard has a thick greyish coat, slightly tinted cream, with dark irregular spots, that allows it easy camouflage in mountainous terrain in which it lives. The fact that Snow Leopard leads a mostly solitary life and is extremely elusive increases the difficulty to spot him. Moreover, its territory is quite vast and, like most felines, it is mainly crepuscular.
Snow Leopard exhibits various adaptations to life in the cold mountain. Stocky body, thick fur and ears small and rounded are useful to minimize the loss of body heat. The long tail (80-100 cm), as well as help in maintaining balance, it also has a protective function: in the cold Himalayan winters Snow Leopard rolls it up around its muzzle using it as a “scarf”. The large soles of the feet act as rackets for not sinking into the snow and are equipped with fur also between the fingertips, a feature that improves the degree of adhesion on impervious and unstable surfaces, and also helps to minimize heat loss. Snow Leopard has short snout, bulging forehead and nasal cavities unusually large that allow it to breathe quietly cold and rarefied air of high altitudes.
It generally remains beyond the tree line, in rocky environment; during summer, it goes up even to 6000 meters of altitude. It feeds on wild sheep, rabbits, birds, and when winter descends to the valley, it is not uncommon that it assaults domestic livestock. Given the scarcity of prey, every individual has a very extended hunting area. The reproductive period falls at the end of winter; after a gestation period of a hundred days, the female gives birth to 2 to 4 babies. Following the indiscriminate hunting practiced for its valuable fur, now the Snow Leopard is very rare.