Snow leopards are smaller than the other big cats but like them, exhibit a range of sizes. Snow leopards have long thick fur, the base colour of which varies from smoky grey to yellowish tan, with whitish underparts. They have dark grey to black open rosettes on their body with small spots of the same color on their heads and larger spots on their legs and tail.
Snow leopards show several adaptations for living in a cold mountainou s environment. Their bodies are stocky, their fur is thick, and their ears are small and rounded, all of which help to minimize heat loss. Their feet are wide, which distributes their weight better for walking on snow, and they have fur on their undersides to increase their traction on steep and unstable surfaces, as well as to assist with minimizing heat loss. Snow leopards' tails are long and flexible, helping them to maintain their balance. The tails are also very thickly covered with fur which, apart from minimizing heat loss, allows them to be used like a blanket to protect their faces when asleep.
Snow leopards cannot roar, despite possessing some ossification of the hyoid bone. The presence of this ossification was previously thought to be essential for allowing the big cats to roar, but new studies show that the ability to roar is due to other morphological features, especially of the larynx, which are absent in the snow leopard. Snow leopard vocalizations include hisses, chuffing, mews, growls, and wailing.
The diet of the snow leopard varies across its range and with the time of year, and is dependent on prey availability. Its most common prey includes wild sheep and goats, but it also eats marmots, pikas, hares and game birds. It is not averse to taking domestic livestock, which brings it into direct conflict with humans. Snow leopards prefer to ambush prey from above and can leap as far as 14 meters.
|Estimated population size:||Estimated population size: 4,080 – 6,590 (roughly, and most estimates of the different countries are outdated); as the snow leopard is hardly ever seen, and for good reasons is called the ghost of the mountain, this number should be regarded as a very rough extrapolation with high uncertainty.In addition, there are between 600 and 700 snow leopards in zoos around the world.|