Snow leopards inhabit the highest, most remote mountains ranges on earth. Their range stretches through twelve countries of Central Asia, making snow leopards among of the most elusive animals on the planet. Rarely seen in the wild, it wasn’t until 1970 that an actual photograph was taken of this mysterious “ghost cat.”
It is remarkable that a predator can exist in such harsh environmental conditions, but the snow leopard has found its niche on top of the world, and they can live and hunt as high as any prey species can exist. As the only predators of their kind at that altitude, snow leopards do not have to contend with competition, and they do not need to share their prey with any other species.
The snow leopard is perfectly adapted to its environment. In proportion to its body size, the snow leopard has the longest tail of any cat species, which serves a dual purpose: it helps with balance when climbing on the rocky terrain, and it provides warmth when used as a scarf to cover the mouth and nose. The long, thick fur of the coat protects the cat from the harsh elements and provides perfect camouflage. Large, insulated paws act as snowshoes, and long, powerful hind legs help the cat travel through the snow. Finally, large sinuses with powerful lungs in a large chest help snow leopards cope with the low oxygen levels of high altitudes.
The Philadelphia Zoo is home to four snow leopards, all of which reside in KeyBank Big Cat Falls. Come visit them soon, or check back here throughout the month to learn more about them!
By Jen Robertson, KeyBank Big Cat Falls Keeper