Here’s a guest post by Greg, but I have to weigh in at the start and say that snow leopards, are, I think, the most beautiful cats in the world next to tigers. –Professor Ceiling Cat
by Greg Mayer
Snow leopards (Panthera uncia) are a species of large cat found in the mountains of Central Asia, where they are predators of sheep, goats, and other mammals and birds. They are listed as Endangered by the IUCN. Both the Bronx and Brookfield Zoos have recently had births of snow leopards, and made announcements almost at the same time.
The Bronx Zoo’s cub is older, born April 9, and first shown to the public this week. The New York Times has several great pictures, and it was hard to pick one– you should go look at them all! Ah, what the heck: I can’t pick just one. Here’s another:
Brookfield’s cub was born June 13, and its birth was just announced; it is not yet on exhibit. There are several great photos at Brookfield’s website. To give the Bronx and Brookfield equal treatment, here are two pix of the Brookfield cub.
Here’s the Bronx Zoo’s cub running around with its mother:
Both cubs were born through mating programs designed by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Species Survival Plan Program. (Here’s an old description of the snow leopard program, published originally in the sadly now-defunct Endangered Species Update). There are several groups that promote snow leopard conservation, including the IUCN, the Snow Leopard Trust, the Snow Leopard Network, the Snow Leopard Conservancy, and Panthera (see their brochure here).
Among cat species, snow leopards are the best adapted to high altitudes. They are long-haired, pale in color, and adept at moving on rocky slopes (and are sometimes hard to see!). [JAC: as you can see in the video above, they also have huge footpads that act like snowshoes, helping them move about on the snow.)
They are sometimes placed in a separate genus, Uncia, but they seem to fall phylogenetically well within the other big cats (Panthera), and their distinctive features reflect their high-altitude adaptations rather than a deeper separation in time from other felids.
In addition to being adapted to high altitudes, they are also unbearably adorable when young.
Wei, L., X. Wu and Z. Jiang. 2009. The complete mitochondrial genome structure of snow leopard Panthera uncia. Molecular Biology Reports 36:871-878. pdf