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

SN: Eight to 12 years in the wild, though males generally have shorter life spans, living an average of six to eight years. At zoos, snow leopards live to their late teens. In the wild, if they break a leg, they can no longer hunt and feed. But at the zoo, injuries will be seen to and the animal will be cared for while it heals.

DN: In the summertime, how does the snow leopard adapt to its environment in its natural habitat?

— Kate De Groote, age 12

SN: One of the big threats to snow leopards is global warming. They can’t sweat, so they pant like a dog in warmer seasons. Also, they shed in the hot summers. But their territory is so high up that it doesn’t get really hot.

At Hogle, one of our old leopards didn’t groom well or shed as much as needed, so she was brought into an air-conditioned area during the hot months.

DN: How is a snow leopard different from a regular leopard?

— Ellie De Groote, age 10

SN: Snow leopards aren’t a part of the same genus as other leopards. They have their own category, Uncia.

Heather Tuttle: Are they the only big cats that have paws covered in fur?

SN: No. Any of the cats that live in extreme temperature have fur covering the bottom of their paws. Sand cats and black-footed cats that live in the desert do, as well as cold-climate cats such as the leopards and bobcats.

Heather Tuttle: I’ve noticed at the zoo that the leopard has a softer voice. How do they communicate with each other in the wild?

SN: They do have a moan-like call that carries. They mark their territory with pugmarks — marks left by the glands in their feet, or with urine and scat.

One fun fact about the leopard is that it has been said that the calls of snow leopards have been responsible for the yeti myths.

Heather Tuttle: What would you like kids to know about snow leopards?

SN: As individuals, they can do something here to help the leopards in the wild. Simple things such as not letting your car idle make a difference. They can support the Snow Leopard Trust, which is a great organization that works to protect the leopard. The trust helps provide an income to the people living in the snow leopard’s region by selling their handmade goods to prevent poaching. Hogle Zoo has been a longtime supporter of the Snow Leopard Trust. Check out the website at snowleopard.org.

Do you have a question for a keeper? The next topic will be polar bears. Submit questions with your name and age to heather@deseretnews.com by Jan. 24.

Basic facts about the snow leopard

Range: According to snowleopard.org, “Snow leopards live in the high, rugged mountains of central Asia. Their habitat extends through 12 countries: Afghanistan, Bhutan, China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. While their habitat range covers an area approximately the size of Greenland or Mexico, there are only between 4,000 to 6,500 snow leopards left in the wild.”

Class: Mammal

Order: Carnivora

Family: Felidae

Genus: Uncia

Species: Uncia

Length: Body: 3-4 feet. Tail: 3 feet

Height at shoulder: 2 feet

Weight: 70-120 pounds. Males are approximately 30 percent larger than females.

Average lifespan: 15-20 years

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