Date of article: July 2009: Snow leopard hunting can mean either the stalking and catching of prey by the snow leopard or the killing of the snow leopard by sport hunters. It usually means the former these days. On this page, I briefly look at sport hunting of the snow leopard and then also discuss the feeding ecology of this beautiful wild cat.
Of course, sport hunting is a threat to the survival of the snow leopard. It is protected from being hunted throughout its range, except in Afghanistan. Its protection does not mean that sport hunting does not exist. In Afghanistan this cat is killed for the grisly body parts trade (src: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/3150667.stm – 2003)
Even within the context of sport hunting, conservation of the snow leopard can take place. The concept is this. Sport hunting of animals that are the usual prey of the snow leopard is allowed in restricted and controlled numbers. The local villagers and farmers participate in this scheme and receive funding from the sport hunters’ payments. This results in the herders and farmers not shooting the snow leopard to protect their livestock as they have an alternative income that serves as compensation for loss of livestock. This in turn allows the snow leopard to survive both on wild prey and livestock. The presence of the snow leopard also serves to maintain the natural order as it is the top predator.
The concept of allowing the sport hunting of, for example, blue sheep, the prey animal of the snow leopard and to use the funds generated to protect snow leopards, is somewhat fragile and it seems that it does not always work.
A research study found that the money generated by trophy hunting of mountain ungulates in Mongolia does not support sustainable conservation management and it does not benefit local people as it is designed to do. Personally, I have always doubted the idea that sport hunting can benefit conservation. This is because at a fundamental level the shooting of iconic species for pleasure undermines conservation. It might not undermine it in terms of money but it does undermine conservation in terms of mentality and attitude.
However, the shooting of snow leopards for pleasure was big business in Mongolia and fully endorsed by the Mongolian government. In 1986 it proposed sport hunting the snow leopard in the South Gobi. The annual quota was five. The fee for each leopard killed was $11,200 (USD). Other animals were also on the list. Mongolia was not a signatory to CITES at the time. The snow leopard being so elusive, only one was shot! This practice has stopped. The Dalai Lama criticised the practice as being against Buddhism and a large percentage of the Mongolian population were Buddhists at the time (src: tibetanliberation.org).
Snow Leopard Hunting – feeding ecology
Over much of its range, the ibex and blue sheep are the snow leopard’s major prey.
They also eat vegetation and carrion (the kills of other animals or dead animals). In India this cat is sometimes known as the “bharal killer”. Bharal is the name for blue sheep. Snow leopards appear to prefer adult males.
There is and was a conflict with local herders and farmers as the snow leopard will attack livestock. Retaliatory killings then take place by farmers to protect their livelihood. Conservation work is being carried out in this most important area, which is a threat to the survival of the precious snow leopard. I mention this above. Also please see “Why are Snow Leopards Endangered?” which covers threats and conservation. Livestock which is hunted are: yak, sheep and goats for example. The snow leopard is, it seems, relatively easy to shoot being less fearful of humans than is usual for wildcats.
Livestock can form a major part of the snow leopard’s diet especially in winter when wild prey is scarcer.
Snow Leopard Hunting – technique
The hunting technique of the snow leopard is best described by watching these videos. I don’t think words can add an awful lot. And these videos have been on the Internet for a very long time and therefore I would hope that they remain visible to interested viewers. The first video shot of a snow leopard hunting. It fails to catch a bharal:
The next video includes (towards the end) an astonishing sequence of a female snow leopard also failing. The cat chases at full speed down a very steep and rocky slope. It is quite awesome:
In typical wild cat style, the snow leopard approaches as near as possible to the prey. The prey is often as agile as the hunter as these videos attest. So proximity and surprise is essential. Starting the attack from above helps.
The snow leopard kills by a bite to the throat or nape. After killing its behaviour varies. It may take the prey back to its den (a feat of strength often) or eat on the spot. Or it may move the carcass to a more secure place.
As to the amount of food required, in captivity it is 1.5 kg per day or between 6 and 27 kg per week. When a female is feeding her two young a blue sheep will last 48 hours.
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