Compared to the rest of the cat pack, the mighty snow leopard is in a category of its own — a "cat-egory" if you will.
But how much do we really know about this icy animal? Truth is, even experts don’t fully understand the complexities of the snow leopard. They’re so elusive that it’s guesstimated there could be anywhere between 3,920 and 7,500 left on Earth. (Not a lot either way, but more on that later.)
What people do know about the snow leopard, though, is incredibly enlightening, at times heartbreaking, and downright fascinating.
Here are 11 things you need to know about the cat they call the "ghost of the mountains":
1. Snow leopard sightings are rare — even for other snow leopards.
Hence the ghostly nickname. Snow leopards mainly roll solo — unless it’s mating season or a mama is caring for her cubs. Other than that, good luck spotting these solitary animals that count dusk and dawn as their favorite times of day.
2. Rocks are their preferred mode of communication.
When searching for a mate (or avoiding one for that matter), snow leopards are known to leave scrapes and mark their territories on rocks for other snow leopards to find and get the message.
3. Their nostrils function kind of like heaters.
Ever try breathing hot air from your nose? Well, a snow leopard’s nasal cavities are short and wide to heat up freezing air before it ever reaches their lungs.
4. They essentially have pogo sticks for legs.
Snow leopards can jump as far as 50 feet in one go. For reference, a basketball hoop is 10 feet off the ground. So yeah, that’s, umm, pretty incredible.
5. This ferocious-looking feline isn’t actually so scary.
As intimidating as snow leopards might seem, there’s never been a verified attack on a human. In fact, when disturbed, they’re more likely to scurry away.
6. Snow leopards have built-in invisibility powers.
They can’t vanish into thin air, but they can disappear in plain sight. Because of their light-colored fur and dark spots, snow leopards have an easy time camouflaging in their surroundings.
7. Their tails can do more than just wag.
Did you know a snow leopard’s tail can be as long as its actual body? In fact, it even provides balance through uneven terrain and can act as an extra layer of heat when it’s wrapped around them.
8. There are houses, mansions, and then there’s a snow leopard’s habitat.
2 million square kilometers. That’s how vast the snow leopard’s Central Asia habitat is — roughly the size of Mexico. Granted, that covers all snow leopards. But, for even just one, home can be a 1,000-square-kilometer area.
9. They’re not that into snow. And they’re not that leopard-like.
To be honest, snow leopards prefer rocky cliffs and ravines to snow. Plus, snow leopards are actually more similar to tigers than they are to common leopards. ("Rock tigers" does have a nice ring to it.)
10. These cats got monks watching their backs.
Buddhist monks are protectors of the snow leopard. They ward off illegal poachers, a serious threat that’s disrupting the future of snow leopards as we know it.
11. Snow leopards are rapidly depleting.
In fact, in under two decades, their population is estimated to have declined by at least 20%. Because of illegal poachers, herders killing snow leopards to protect their flock, and even climate change, these majestic animals are now considered endangered.
Snow leopards play a pivotal role in the circle of life. And they need our help.
Snow leopards mainly eat mountain goats and sheep; without snow leopards, these herbivores will eat off the food supply reserved for other creatures and surrounding communities. Snow leopards help keep the ecosystem in balance, and everyone is able to live in harmony.
But they need your support — help put a stop to their decline once and for all. Take action now with the Snow Leopard Trust or World Wildlife Fund and let’s keep these friendly felines with us for generations to come.
It’s time the "ghost of the mountains" was seen in all its glory.