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Snow Leopard
Snow leopard

The snow leopard has long, thick smoky gray fur with dark rosettes and spots, and a very long thick tail. Weighing up to 75 kg , it has large, well-cushioned paws, a strong chest, and short forelimbs that enable it to scale outcroppings high on cliffs. Further adaptations for high-altitude life include long hair with dense, woolly underfur and an enlarged nasal cavity.

Throughout its range, the snow leopard is mostly associated with steep, dry, rocky terrain with shrub or grassland vegetation. the snow leopard lives above the tree line, where it hunts. It is generally found at elevations between 3000 - 4500 m. The snow leopard is an opportunistic predator. Its most common prey includes wild sheep and goats, but it also eats marmots, pikas, hares and game birds (chukor partridge and snowcocks), as well as domestic sheep and goats.

Snow leopards rarely descend into the coniferous forest belt and are most frequently spotted north of the main Himalaya along the Tibetan border. Ibex and bharal are primary food items in large parts of their range, but with the depletion of native ungulates, snow leopards have turned to livestock for sustenance. Strong and solitary, they nevertheless communicate to each other through signs such as scrapes.

Snow leopard population indices were estimated in areas of northeastern Bhutan. The Bhutan site consisted of open moist grasslands above timberline on the southern side of the Himalaya.

Factors such as the relatively open terrain and moist climate (e.g., heavy winter snow) appear to reduce habitat quality for snow leopard in Bhutan, so that in spite of the higher blue sheep density there are perhaps only 1-2 snow leopards per 100 km2 on average at the Bhutan site.

The blue sheep is one of its major prey. One must also consider that different topography, primarily differential presence of valley bottom cliffs and ridgetop outcrops (marking sites), can affect sign density, and general topography as well as livestock density probably influences snow leopard hunting success.

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