SNOW LEOPARDS: CHARACTERISTICS, HUNTING BEHAVIOR, HUMANS AND POACHING

SNOW LEOPARDS

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Snow leopards are one of the world's rarest, most elusive and little studied large animals. They are generally very shy and well camouflaged, and hardly ever seen. Most encounters involve villagers looking for firewood or herding animals. The first photograph of one in the wild was taken in 1970 by the legendary zoologist George Schaller. Snow leopards prefer crags and ridges in steppe, rocky shrubs and open conifer forests at altitudes at around 3,500 (11,480 feet) to 5,000 meters (16,500 feet) but have been observed in mountains over 6000 meters (19,700 feet). In the winter they descend to lower elevations. [Source: Douglas Chadwick, National Geographic, June 2008]

Sparsely distributed across the high mountains of a dozen countries in south and central Asia, snow leopards are considered an endangered species. They range across 1 million square miles in portions if 12 nations in some of the world’s greatest mountain ranges: the Himalayas, Karakorum, Kunlun, Hindu Kush, Pamirs, Tian Shan and the Altai between Russia and Mongolia and the Sayan chain west of Lake Baikal. Most of their range is severely fragmented. They favor steep, rocky slopes and alpine steppes above tree line. Their tracks have been found at altitudes higher than 19,000 feet. They have been seen in Nepal, India, Pakistan, Bhutan, Tibet, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan and the Altai region of Russia.

Researchers estimate that the population has fallen by at least 20 percent in the last 16 years and now stands somewhere between 4,500 and 7,500 free-living cats, but Dr. Schaller said, “those figures are just wild guesses.” The number today is thought to be half the number as a century ago. The largest numbers are thought to be in China and Tibet, Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan. There are an estimated be 800 to 1,700 in Mongolia. In five of the 12 countries in which they reside there may be fewer than 200 left.

Natalie Angier wrote in the New York Times, "To Americans, snow leopards are perhaps the most beloved members of the great cat club, the exclusive group that includes tigers, lions, jaguars and leopards. Snow leopards retain the majesty and fluid, predatory elegance of the other big cats while incorporating touches of panda-esque cuteness, the incidental result of adaptations to the cold. [Source: Natalie Angier New York Times, July 25, 2011]

Snow leopards are called shan in Ladakh, irbis in Mongolia, and barfano chita—“snow cheetah”—in Urdu. Helen Freeman of the International Snow Leopard Trust was quoted in Wild Cats of the World: “We feel the spirit of the mountains. In the cat there is a freedom to roam a region that is rugged and wild and often defies you to put one foot in front of the other, let alone leap. And the animal lives there, not with destruction, but with beauty.”

Book and Conservation Organizations: Stones of Silence by George Schaller . The Snow Leopard Conservancy is headed by Rodney Jackson. The Seattle-based International Snow Leopard Trust is headed by Helen Freeman Good Websites and Sources: Snow Leopard Trust snowleopard.org ; National Geographic nationalgeographic.com ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Defenders of Wildlife defenders.org ; Snow Leopard Conservancy snowleopardconservancy.org ; Tibetan Animals: China.org article on Tibetan animals china.org.cn ;Animal Info animalinfo.org/country/china ; ARKive (do a Search for China or the Animal Species You Want) arkive.org Animal Picture Archives (do a Search for the Animal Species You Want) animalpicturesarchive ; Links in this Website: TIBETAN ANIMALS AND PLANTS Factsanddetails.com/China ; SHAHTOOSH AND CHIRUS Factsanddetails.com/China ; YAKS Factsanddetails.com/China ; ANIMALS AND PLANTS IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China

Snow Leopard Characteristics

left Snow leopards are smaller than common leopards. They are generally are 1 meter to 1.3 meters (39 inches to 49 inches) in length excluding their long 80 to 100 centimeter tail which can be as long 70 percent of its body length. Adults weigh between 25 and 75 kilograms (80 and 120 pounds). An average snow leopard stands about two feet at the shoulder, weighs about 100 pounds and is about nine feet long including its 5½ -foot tail.

Natalie Angier wrote in the New York Times, "A male snow leopard rarely exceeds 100-120 pounds---hardly more than a big pet dog...Despite their name, they are not leopards or, according to a recent genetic analysis, particularly close relatives of leopards. As William Murphy and Brian Davis of Texas A&M University reported last year in the journal Molecular Phylogenetics & Evolution, the snow leopard’s closest sister species is the tiger. But that kinship ends at the bathroom scale.

Snow leopards have long, thick fur that keeps them warm in cold weather. They have black spots like leopards found in Africa and southern Asia but unlike these leopards they have thick white fur and fewer spots and the spots are arranged in distinct rows that in some cases continue down the tail.

Snow leopards have short, powerful forelimbs and strong chest muscles that are ideal for climbing and making quick dashes through rugged terrain. They have wide, fur-cushioned paws that allow them to get firm grips or rocks on cliffs and steep slopes and act like snowshoes on soft snow and allow them to move easily and silently over the snow. Long, muscular hind legs enable snow leopards to leap seven times their own body length An unusually long, broad tail serves as both a balance pole for leaping and a wrap-around face muff for sleeping.

Snow leopards live as high as 18,000 feet and endure winters in some of the world’s coldest places. For protection against the cold they have long hair with thick underfur, wide, well-padded paws and a big chest and strong lungs that allow them to keep running even when the air is very thin.

The tail is thick and mobile and seems to have a life of its own. Snow leopards sometimes use their tails to send messages during social encounters and wrap around themselves like a scarf to stay warm in the middle of winter. The tail’s greatest benefit perhaps is providing balance in an environment where 1,000 meter drops are not uncommon.

Their large eyes provide extraordinary low-light vision, allowing them to hunt in near total darkness.

Snow leopards are well camouflaged. While common leopards found in Asia and Africa tend to use branches and leaves to hid themselves, snow leopards lose themselves among stones, dirt and snow. Sometimes their moving tail is the only thing that gives them away.

Snow Leopard Behavior

Perhaps less is known about snow leopards than any other large, popular, land mammal.

As a rule, snow leopards are temperamentally calm and low-key. They mark their territories by urinating on boulders and trees along ridge lines and stream beds that define the edges of their territories. They are essentially solitary animals, associating with other leopards only during the rutting season. Snow leopards can hiss, mew, chuff, growl and wail but the can’t roar as they lack the throat structure to do so. They don't purr either. Their vocalizations can sound remarkably similar to the yowl of a Siamese cat. They make a high pitched yowl when the leave their scent. Most of what is known about them has been determined from observing captive animals.

Snow leopards are always on the move. They sleep in different spots nearly every night and are most active in the early morning, late afternoon and evening, when the changing light makes them particularly hard to see. They prefer steep terrain and cliffs that they can use to spot prey.

Snow leopards are most active at night and in the twilight hours of dusk and dawn. They tend to follow low ridge lines or the bases of cliffs. It was long thought their range was limited to areas of five to fourteen square miles but now appears they cover more ground than that. One snow leopard radio collared in Mongolia in 1996 was found to have a range of 386 square miles. Another collared in Pakistan in 2007 had a range of 115 square miles and occasionally ventured into Afghanistan.

Snow leopard often mark features that stand out to human eyes such as large boulders, overhangs rocks, knolls, saddles. When trees are around they sometimes make long, vertical claw marks on tree trunks. Frequently used marking spots have a shiny, oily sheen.

Snow leopards rub, scratch, urinate and defecate to mark their territories. Their urine produces an acrid smell. The spray from their anal gland has a musky aroma. The primary purpose of the markings is to warn other snow leopards to keep away except during the mating season when it is meant to attract members of the opposite sex. Passing cats sometimes rub their faces on the spots, leaving some of their fur behind.

Snow leopards move very quietly. Their broad paws with extra fur between the toes not only keeps snow leopards warm but also allows them to track their prey very quietly and swiftly. Raghunandan Singh Chundawat, an Indian biologist who studied snow leopards for years told National Geographic they move “like snow slipping of a ledge as it melts...You almost have to turn away for a minute t to tell if the animal is going anywhere. If it knocks a stone loose, it will reach out a foot to stop it from falling and making noise.”

Snow leopard breeding habits appear to be similar to other felines. Four or five cubs may be reared but usually only one or two are. In most cases two three yung are born in April to June after a 98- to 103-day gestation period. Markings are more prominent on cubs than on adults. Cubs are suckled for about two months after which time they start eating solid food. At three months they follow their mother around and stay with her for a year or more.

Snow Leopard Prey

Snow leopards hunt a variety of animals that inhabit mountains and high elevations: ibex, argali, urial sheep, blue sheep, tahr, goat-antelopes known as gorals and serows, Tibetan antelope, Tibetan and goitered gazelles, musk deer, red deer, wild boars, wild asses, wild yaks, wild bactrian camels marmots, hares, mouse haires (pikas), partridges and turkey-size snow cocks. ibex, musk deer, tahr, wild boar and marmot. If these animals are not available they will hunt sheep and goats and other domesticated animals. They sometimes eat mountain plants such as Myricaria, a tall, feathery shrub.

Snow leopard have been known to kill yaks and wild asses but mostly they hunt smaller prey such as wild goats and sheep, marmots, pikas, hares and birds. Bharal, a kind of Himalayan mountain goat, are a common target. The preferred prey of snow leopards in many places are blue sheep, preferably blue sheep lambs. The main hunting season is in June when blue sheep have new lambs. In the far northern frontier of Pakistan snow leopards often prey on ibex (wild goats). In Mongolia they often feed on marmots, where there are stories of leopards waving their tails to attract curious marmots, just as local hunters do with white rags.

Applying DNA fingerprinting to snow leopard scat researchers have been able to determine what snow leopards eat. Among the Wakhan population in Afghanistan, snow leopards overwhelmingly stick to a diet of ibex, Marco Polo sheep and other natural prey. In Mongolia, by contrast, about 22 percent of the resident snow leopard intake consists of domestic sheep and goats.

Snow leopards are at the top of the food chain in the places they inhabit. What they do and what happens to them has an impact on other animals as well as plants and ecosystems. Particularly important is the effect they have in scavengers such as foxes, lynx and wolves and on hoofed animals and their impact on plant communities they eat and walk on.

Snow Leopard Hunting

right Snow leopards tend to live in areas where there are few prey animals and range over a large area to find them. Radio-collar studies indicate they prefer to roam along the bases and crests of river bluffs and up and down stream canyons and ravines, following the seasonal migrations of their prey. During the winter they often retreat to the forests.

Snow leopards are ambush hunters that like to attack from above. Gary Ahlborn nearly saw a leopard make a kill in 1983. While gathering fire wood he say a male bharal come plunging down a steep slope with leopard behind in pursuit. Both animals were taking huge strides and traveling at top speed. After a hundred-yard chase the leopard drew within reach of the bharal. He lunged forward, catching the sheep on the left side of its rump and sending a cloud of fur into the air. The bharal veered sharply and ran off to safety.♪

Snow leopards are able to climb rocks and hunt quietly at the same time. They can spend up to a week pursuing an animal and have been known to kill bharal three time their size. The tracks of one kill showed a leopard riding a sheep until it was able to bring the sheep down.♪

Raghunandan Singh Chundawat told National Geographic, “At a fresh carcass, you can tell if a snow leopard with young made the kill, The ear swill be gnawed off . Those are all the cubs can get at until [their mother] opens up the hide for them.”

Endangered Snow Leopards

Snow leopards have always been rare, and they have the modest advantage over cousin carnivores like tigers and lions of occupying harsh habitats largely above the tree line, arable soil and easy human grasp. Snow leopards have always been scattered because of difficult terrain that makes up most their habitat and limited number of animals they prey on.

Snow leopards are threatened by the loss of prey species, being shot by poachers for their fur and being killed by herders as pests. Even some of the remotest areas of its range are now being utilized by herders for grazing. Thousands became pelts for the fashion trade. Many are killed by herders who don’t like losing livestock to them.

Protected since 1975 under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, snow leopards continue to be killed for their fur, which can earn a hunter a small fortune. Their bones and penis are used in Chinese medicine.

Poaching, hunting and the killing of snow leopard prey are big problems. It is easier to kill a snow leopard than see one. Hunters kill and trap snow leopards and their prey with bait, snares, pitfall traps and poisons.

Heavy poaching is a problem in Kyrgyzstan. Large numbers are also believed to be hunted in China, where demand for snow leopard products is high and the government tries to undermine the Dalai Lama and his please to Tibetans to stop wearing fur of endangered animals by encouraging Tibetans to wear snow leopard fur.

Snow Leopards and Humans

left In contrast to many of the other great cats, Dr. Schaller told the New York Times, “I don’t know of a single case of a snow leopard that would attack and kill people.” Raghunandan Singh Chundawat told National Geographic that he once saw a village girl tug in a goat carcass that unknown to her was also being grabbed by a hidden snow leopard, the girl came away from the encounter unhurt.

There are some stories though. Journalist Galen Rowell spent the night on a hill off the Jomoson-Annapurna trail where a leopard reportedly killed a woman walking back to her village. The same leopard had apparently snatched a baby from a mother's arm before that and devoured it right before her eyes. If the story is true it is not that hard to understand why villagers are not as keen as westerners about preserving snow leopards.

Rowell wrote in National Geographic that a snow leopard once passed by him without seeing him but then became the focus of all the cat's attention when the leopard noticed him. “For six tense minutes the leopard stared intently,” Rowell wrote. “Pulling his ears back tightly against his head, he seemed to melt into the low vegetation. Lying prone he was nearly invisible. Finally the leopard made a move. For the first 75 yards he barely lifted his belly off the ground as he crept away. His body made very little motion, as if he had somehow located a moving sidewalk. With a final glance back it stood up and broke into a full run.”

Snow leopards are considered pests by animal herders who often have their sheep and goats taken by leopards. In Ladakh, pashmina goat herders keep their animals outside at night in cold weather so they will develop their soft thick wool. Snow leopards sometimes kill many of these goats while they in their pens. Rodney Jackson of the Snow Leopard Conservancy told Time, “When snow leopards get into a pen their predatory instincts are repeatedly triggered and they go on a killing frenzy. Killing 20 or more animals at a time is not uncommon. One hundred and seven sheep is the record we’ve seen.”

Snow Leopards and Villagers

One of the major threats to snow leopards is thought to be the growing number of sheep and goat herders who share the cats’ terrain, barely scratch out a living and may react to a poaching cat by shooting or beating it to death. Snow leopards tend to inhabit areas where people raise live stocks rather than farm. Livestock make easy kills and a single snow leopard can make mincemeat of heard in a single night and send a herding family into poverty. The pickings are particularly easy for snow leopards when the animals are in low stone corrals. Encounters between snow leopards, humans and livestock are particularly common n the winter when snow leopards are hungry and come out of the mountains to find food.

Natalie Angier wrote in the New York Times, “Applying DNA fingerprinting to snow leopard scat to reconstruct the local cat menu, researchers have seen wide variability in the incidence of livestock poaching. Among the Wakhan population in Afghanistan, snow leopards overwhelmingly stick to a diet of ibex, Marco Polo sheep and other natural prey. In Mongolia, by contrast, about 22 percent of the resident snow leopard intake consists of domestic sheep and goats.

One villager who lost nine goat kids and a sheep in one night when a snow leopard came into his house via a ventilation shaft told National Geographic, usually they “come and kill, eat and go somewhere else but this snow leopards was always around. They have killed one or two animals in the pastures many time. This was the first problem in my home. Everybody wanted finish this leopard.”

When leopard attack livestock it is often because their natural prey has been made scarce by overgrazing or hunting. When a leopard kills livestock villagers in turn want to kill the leopard. Often killing like this goes on in remote places where nobody knows about it.

Snow Leopard Poaching

Snow leopards have traditionally been hunted and poached for their thick coat, which at one time was made into luxurious coats. Their bones are also valued in Chinese medicine. In the Winter Palace of the Bogd Haan, the former Dalai-Lama-like leader of Mongolia, in Ulaan Baatar there is a yurt made of 154 snow leopard skins given to the Bogd Haan for his 25th birthday.

Snow leopards are often killed by poachers with bamboo spears poisoned with the deadly monkshood plant. The spears are placed under ledges where the impale leopards leaping off the ledge to follow a trail. The poison is so lethal even a superficial wound can be fatal.

In 1977 Jackson bought a snow leopard pelt for US$10 to show the Nepalese government that poaching was going on. In 1985 U.S. customs agents at Seattle airport seized a snow leopard coat that an Arkansas couple had bought at a Chinese government tourist shop for $1,058. The coat was made of three snow leopard belts and is believed to able to deand a price of $60,000 on the black market. The Arkansas couple said they were misinformed about the coat's identity.♪

You can still sometimes see snow leopard pelts openly sold in markets for around $100. Some nomads in the Phala region of Nepal used to trap snow leopards for what they said was "a very good price." But after one man sold the pelts from two leopards he had caught, his normally-healthy wife became very ill and later died. From then on, no more snow leopards were trapped regardless of what the price was.

Live leopards can be purchased at exotic pet markets and through the Internet As of the 1990s, snow leopards went for between $5,000 and $7,000.

Poaching of snow leopards fortunately is decreasing. The number of snow leopards in the Himalayas foothills has increased to 500 since antipoaching efforts began there. Also See Mongolia.

Poaching still goes on. In 2006 and 2007, authorities seized 104 furs of rare animals, including 27 snow leopard pelts, and furs from clouded leopards, lynx and bears, from a fur dealer in Gansu Province who purchased the furs in Qinghai Province and Tibet. It was the largest seizure of snow leopard pelts since records were kept on such maters beginning in 1949.

Studying Snow Leopards

Snow leopards difficult to study because of their low numbers, the fact they are scattered over a large range, their secretive nature, and the difficult terrain they live in. Even when they are nearby they are difficult to see.

Rodney Jackson and Darla Hillard studied snow leopards---three males and two females, one of them with two cubs in the Langu Gorge area of Shey-Phoksundo National Park in Dolpo region in western Nepal. In four years they saw the animals collectively only 18 times. Jackson said that studying snow leopards “in some respects was like studying a ghost.”

To catch the leopards Jackson and Hillard used a tethered goat as bait and a loop snare to entrap the leopard. When a leopard was caught it was sedated with a drug inserted with a jab stick and fitted with a radio collar. During one collaring Jackson was bitten deep enough to expose bone and had to walk two weeks to get to the nearest clinic.♪

Raghunandan Singh Chundawat is one of the leading experts on snow leopards and has probably seen them in the wild more than anyone and he has only seen them a few dozens times in his entire career. Skilled at gleaning clues from snow leopard kills and tracking their faint paw prints on stony ground, he has studied them in Hemis High Altitude National Park in Ladakh, India.

Snow leopards are difficult to get close to let alone photograph, The best picture of them are taken using camera traps set in places that snow leopards are known to frequent. Natalie Angier wrote in the New York Times, “Using cannily placed motion-sensitive camera traps, scientists have amassed a wealth of snow leopard images, allowing them to estimate population numbers, identify individuals and track migrations. They’ve also gained a glimpse of the cat’s daily schedule, which seems to involve frequent bouts of territorial marking: cheek rubs, spraying with tail raised, and the digging of little divots in the ground. [Source: New York Times, Natalie Angier July 25, 2011]

Admittedly, the trap method can enrich evidence of leopardian flag planting. “Our rangers know that if you place a camera in an area that funnels the snow leopards past a large rock, the animals will want to spray the rock, and you’ve got them,” said Peter Zahler, the deputy director for Asia programs at the Wildlife Conservation Society of the Bronx Zoo.

Snow leopards can be tracked by looking for their droppings faint paw prints and scrapes made by their rear legs. A few snow leopards have been fitted with radio collars but tracking them is often difficult because they slip behind rocks or other obstacles that block the transmissions.

Thomas McCarthy, director of the snow leopard program for the conservation group Panthera, has spent nearly two decades crisscrossing the rugged Himalayan plateau to study a snow leopards. Working in southern Mongolia, Panthera researchers have outfitted 14 snow leopards with sophisticated GPS collars that transmit location and motion readings back to the scientists’ computers multiple times a day.

“The data we’re getting is just incredible,” Dr. McCarthy told the New York Times, “The cats are using immense home ranges,” 10 or 20 times bigger than previous estimates. More intimate cat tales emerged as well. Collars told the scientists when a female snow leopard spent several days dallying with a male. Sure enough, about 14 weeks later, the female’s collar announced that she had entered a cave fit to be a natal den. Electronic eavesdropping also cast doubt on the stereotype of snow leopard as antisocial hermit. Evidence of two cats sitting together to eat dinner “was quite a shock to us,” Dr. McCarthy said. Beyond mating and mother-cub relationships, he said, ‘snow leopards are supposed to be solitary.”

Difficulty Spotting and Finding Snow Leopards

Snow leopards are so rarely seen and so so stealthy they been called “ghost of the mountains.” Thomas McCarthy told the New York Times, “I’m out here in snow leopard country for half of every year---for nearly two decades Dr. McCarthy told the New York Times by balky telephone connection from Tajikistan, “and I can easily count on one hand the number of times I just happened to see a snow leopard. To study snow leopards, you have to be very dedicated, or part crazy, or both.

George Schaller, the renowned biologist and environmentalist and Panthera’s vice president, is vast in experience and reputation and normally raptor-eyed. “I put radio collars on a couple of snow leopards in Mongolia,” he said. “The radio tells me where they are, I go there, I look and look. I see nothing, unless the snow leopard chooses to move. “If a snow leopard sits quietly and doesn’t want to be seen,” Dr. Schaller said, “you won’t see it.” [Source: New York Times, Natalie Angier July 25, 2011]

In August 2011, scientists from Pantera reported in The International Journal of Environmental Studies the results of what they called said were the first camera trap records of snow leopards in Afghanistan. Based on photographs taken at 16 different locations along the vast and frigid Wakhan Corridor of northeast Afghanistan, Anthony Simms and his colleagues suggested that the region they described as “one of the most remote and isolated mountain landscapes in the world and a place of immense beauty”could well be an impressive snow leopard stronghold. “We’ve been surprised at the number of snow leopard detections captured in our survey,” Dr. Simms said in an interview. “It’s a promising sign that we may have a healthier population here than expected.” [Source: New York Times, Natalie Angier July 25, 2011]

Snow Leopard Conservation

Few resources have been earmarked for snow leopard conservation and protection. Only about a fifth of their range lies within reserves and many of these reserves contain villages and livestock.

Natalie Angier wrote in the New York Times, “Conservationists are working mightily to confront the problem---by helping villagers build predator-resistant corrals, organizing insurance programs to compensate herders for their losses, or to seek fresh revenue streams by, say, luring wealthy adventure tourists their way. The tourists may never see a snow leopard, but at least their dollars would help ensure that the cats were out there, quietly watching them. [Source: New York Times, Natalie Angier July 25, 2011]

Snow Leopard Trust runs and array of programs in five different countries: live stock vaccinations in Pakistan, livestock insurance in India, ecotourism in Kyrgyzstan and craftmaking from herders in Mongolia. Mike McCarthy is science and conservation director of the Snow Leopard Trust snowleopard.org

Snow Leopard Conservancy forms partnerships with in-country groups to save snow leopards and their habitat. Programs include GPS tracking, camera traps and programs to benefit local such as Himalayan-homestays.com. Rodney Jackson is the pioneering snow leopard researcher and founder of Snow Leopard Conservancy-India. snowleopardconservancy.org

There are community-based projects to help snow leopards in Mongolia and India. One program run by the Snow Leopard Conservancy-India steers trekkers, who pay $10 night for room and board, to villagers who agree not to harm snow leopards. Money from the conservancy is used to help villagers build sturdy leopard-proof pens and corral made wire mesh (which alone are credited with saving snow leopards by saving livestock), starting livestock insurance programs, providing environmental education class at local schools and financing parachute cafes---trail side tea shops set up under surplus army parachutes. Participants in the homestay program often serve as guides. Ten percent of profits is put into community projects such as well-building or renovating monasteries.

Conservation efforts are aimed as much at protecting the prey of snow leopard as it protecting the snow leopards themselves. In places where the numbers of prey of snow leopards have increased the numbers of snow leopards have increased.

In Ladakh traditional stone corals are covered with chain link fencing that goes on top of the corral and covers the entire open area. This technique has proved be effective in saving livestock and saving snow leopards by preventing revenge killings.

Tibetan Buddhists, including the Dalai Lama, have spoken out on the snow leopard’s behalf and urged followers not to wear leopards pelts or kill the leopards out of revenge for killing their livestock. Around Buddhist monasteries there are informal protected zones.

Snow Leopard Killed by Jaguar at Zoo in Louisiana

In October 1997, AP reported: “It was a cat fight with teeth and tragedy. A jaguar escaped from a cage and killed a rare snow leopard in another pen before officials at the Louisiana Purchase Gardens and Zoo were able to recapture it. Zoo director Jake Yelverton said a worker who was cleaning cages had rigged the cage door so it no longer closed and locked automatically. “He left the outside enclosure gate open and released the cat into the outside area,'' Yelverton said. The worker has been fired. [Source: Associated Press, October 25, 1997]

The big cat got loose early Tuesday, before the zoo opened, and slashed the leg of the snow leopard before it was shot with tranquilizers. The snow leopard, born at the zoo eight years ago, bled to death. “We couldn't get to her in time,'' Yelverton said. “We had to deal with a jaguar prior to dealing with the bleeding of the snow leopard.''

Image Sources: snow leopard images: WWF

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated January 2013

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