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Snow leopards: Taking a look at an Olympic mascot

By Heather Tuttle

For the Deseret News

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 14 2014 2:15 p.m. MST

A snow leopard's long tail is used for balance as well as warmth. It will wrap the tail around sensitive areas, such as their nose when they sleep.

Shutterstock

Mascots have been an official part of the Olympics since the Summer Games in Munich in 1972. Over the years, mascots have become a popular ambassador — and marketing tool — for the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

This year is the first time Russia will host the Winter Olympics and the first time the general public of the host country got the final say in choosing their Olympic mascots.

After designs for the mascots were narrowed down to 10, the Russian people voted by sending a text message or calling into a free phone line. The results were revealed on a live television show on Feb. 26, 2011. The snow leopard came out on top by collecting 28 percent of the votes. The polar bear came in next with 18 percent of the votes, followed by the hare, which picked up 16 percent.

Some feel the voting was swayed when then-Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin stated his preference for the “strong, fast and beautiful” snow leopard just prior to the public vote. Afterward, Putin stated, “It (Russia) is beautiful for its diversity, and the fact that one of the symbols of the Olympics has become an animal that we are reviving, and which was destroyed by humans in the ’50s of the last century, suggests that Russia is becoming different.”

The following questions were submitted to the Deseret News by children ages 4-12. Stephanie Natt, a senior keeper at Hogle Zoo’s Asian Highlands, sat down with the Deseret News last week to answer the questions.

Deseret News: Are snow leopards endangered?

— TJ, age 8

Stephanie Natt: Yes, they are threatened.

DN: What is their main predator, or is it on the top of the food chain?

— Logan Olsen, age 11

SN: They are at the top of their food chain, primarily due to the fact that they live high in the mountains. It’s possible there could be some bears in those high altitudes, but they really don’t have a predator other than man.

DN: How many are there?

— Savana Anderson, age 11

SN: Today, there are approximately 5,000-7,000 in the wild. Snow leopards are fairly elusive, and it is so hard to get into the areas where they live to really check. The current zoo population is about 500 worldwide, with 150 in the U.S.

DN: How many babies do snow leopards have?

— Cairo, age 6

SN: Their litters range from one to four cubs. Typically, though, a snow leopard will have one to two offspring in a litter. Nema, here at Hogle, has only had single births.

DN: What do snow leopards like to eat?

— Sami, age 4

SN: In the wild they prefer wild sheep and goats. At the zoo they eat rabbit, though Chim has recently been introduced to rats.

DN: How do they get water? And how much do they sleep?

— Charles Adair, age 10

SN: Streams and rain runoff. Their territory must include three things: food, shelter and water. The size of their territory is dictated by these needs.

They will sleep about 20 hours a day, but they don’t sleep for 20 hours straight. They will sleep in short periods and get up for short periods.

DN: How old do they get?

— Mallory Caldwell, age 10

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