Snow leopards (Uncia uncia) are unique among cat species in that they do not actually fit into the big cat section or the little cat section. It was previously believed to belong to the Panthera genus but has been placed firmly in its own genus. It is believed to be an evolutionary link between big and little cats.
Snow leopards have thick, shaggy creamy white to pale ash grey coats with dark rosette markings. They have huge paws that are furred on the underside to prevent snow balling up under the paw pads. Snow leopards have long flexible tails that can be as long as their bodies, for balancing on rocks and slippery surfaces. They can weigh up to 75 kilograms and live for about 17 years.
Being cats, snow leopards are carnivores. They eat animals such as ibex, urial, marmots, boars and occasionally domestic livestock. They are adept leapers and prefer to take their prey down by jumping on it.
Snow leopards live in the mountain ranges of southern Asia, mostly in the Himalayas and China. They are solitary cats, coming together for breeding in winter.
Snow leopard females bear litters of 1-4 cubs after a gestation period that lasts around 95 days. The cubs stay with their mothers for up to 18 months before moving on to their own territory.
Snow leopards have been classified as endangered by the IUCN Red List. Their wild population is estimated at around 7000. The snow leopard is hunted by humans for its soft, unique coat and its bones, which are still used in traditional medicine. Several successful breeding programs have been implemented in an attempt to save this rare cat.