Snow Leopard in Northern Tibet

Topics: Felidae, Panthera, Snow Leopard Pages: 6 (2216 words) Published: November 29, 2009
This paper will look two key features, first the snow leopard and the background of what this cat provides to the environment as well as its preferred habitats and its range. The second part discusses the Northern-Tibet Plateau, one of the most fragile areas in the world and has been changing drastically for the past three hundred year. Snow leopards are compared to being a keystone species in the area and this endangered species is at risk of being wiped off the planet to result in an ever changing grassland environment. Management plans are discussed for poor farming techniques as well as poaching is taken into account.

The snow leopard is an elusive yet majestic animal; it preys on several different animals from marmots to animals that are three times its size the main prey of the leopard is mountain sheep and has been known to eat yaks as well. Domestic livestock of farmers are always at risk in the high altitude mountains of central Asia. Retaliation and poaching of the snow leopard is a large problem for many of the regions. Killing these cats ultimately has a large impact on the landscape. The Northern-Tibet Plateau is the third largest grassland in China and is 90 % grassland. It provides a stable habitat for millions of animals and over two hundred different species. The degradation of the grasslands has begun to be an epidemic and with killing a keystone species it has multiplied the problem. Successful management plans have to be implemented as well as proper farming and herding techniques have to be used. With such a vast landscape human contact with the snow leopard has to be minimal and the natural prey needs to have a sufficient amount of grassland to keep numbers up.

Snow leopards are magnificent animals, living anywhere from 2000m to 6000m above sea level and range seasonally above the tree line. The study on snow leopards suggests that they select a cliff bases and ridgelines over hillsides and valley bottoms, they also utilize shrubs and deter away from forested areas. (Zhang, 2007) The preferred habitat also showed that the cats take into account grazing status, topography, vegetation type and ruggedness. (Jackson, 2001) Their range is vast, stretching from eastern Afghanistan to the Pamir Mountains then through the Himalayans into southern Siberia. They also range from Tibet to Mongolia (Tsweang, 2007). See Figure 1. The snow leopard is considered part of the big cat family yet it is the smallest of the big cats. This elusive cat lives high in the mountains and is rarely seen. Its main prey is wild goats and sheep, the leopards have been known to hunt domestic animals on nearby farms. It has been reported that the snow leopard can take down prey up to three times its size. They also hunt smaller prey such as rodents, much like other large cats which include the mountain lion, the snow leopard will kill up to several animals at once before eating. The reason for attacks on domesticated animals is due to the fact that hunting in the regions has reduced numbers in wild sheep and goats as well as taken natural habitats from these animals. The snow leopards do not have a sufficient amount of food and then ultimately turn to domesticated animals which are extremely easy for them to kill because they are enclosed by fences. The snow leopard will also hunt domestic animals because the snow may get to deep and they cannot move as easily and quickly to catch their prey. This is a very large reason for why snow leopards are endangered; they are killed and hunted to keep livestock safe, with the loss of a horse or yak. Reported in a study is that grass availability in pastures is decreasing while blue sheep and snow leopard numbers are increasing but the Tibetan Gazelles are decreasing in numbers (Pandey, 2005) This increases the sheep prey for the leopards but farmers also infringe on high altitude grassland habitats of the sheep and snow leopards. The farmers take a large...
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