Snow leopards eat a large quantity of vegetation

Snow leopard eats a large quantity of vegetation

Snow leopard eats a large quantity of vegetation. Image: MikeB

The experts are unsure why but the snow leopard living on the high plains of the Hindu Kush and the rocky, scree slopes of the Himalayas eats a large amount of vegetation, far more it seems that is typical of the cat species. Fiona Sunquist writing in Wild Cats of the World by Mel and Fiona Sunquist speculates that this unusual habit is for:

  • eliminating endoparasites in the gut
  • a dietary supplement.
  • a laxative

My theory is that as the snow leopard inhabits high elevations above sea level where the air is thin, folic acid helps to maximise the transportation of oxygen around the body in the blood thereby invigorating them for the hunting ahead. Folic acid, a B-complex vitamin, is required to make red blood cells and a folic acid deficiency automatically leads to low levels of hemoglobin.

That’s an untested theory! But the snow leopard’s habit of eating relatively speaking lots of vegetation which sounds odd for an obligate carnivore holds true across their distribution.

In Pakistan more than 22% of the scats examined contained plant material. And as stated in the Infographic, in Ladakh more than 50% of the 50 scats examined contain vegetation. Ladakh is a part of the larger Kashmir region in the extreme north of India.

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The sort of vegetation that snow leopards eat are:

  • Willow twigs
  • Myricaria bushes
  • Tamarix twigs

A study in Hemis National Park in Ladakh found plant remains in 41% of snow leopard scats. And 25 of 173 scats were made up entirely of Myricaria germanica bushes. You can see in the Infographic that this is a 60-250 cm high shrub belonging to the Tamaricaceae family.

As we know from domestic cats, all cats eat a little bit of vegetation but there are no reports of cat species eating the kind of quantities eaten by the snow leopard.

Fiona Sunquist writes that “several closely related Tamarix species are colloquially known as ‘manna plants’ because they produce a nutritious, edible exudate”.

The reason why snow leopards eat this plan might simply because it is nutritious. Ironically, I think snow leopards eat more veg than a typical Brit, certainly more than me. I am a terrible veg eater but I do force myself.

Below are some more articles on the snow leopard.

Snow leopard moving efficiently and silently through deep snow

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Infographic on snow leopard physical features

Infographic on snow leopard physical features

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An innocuous question but an important one as the snow leopard needs large 'snowshoe' style paws to successfully navigate over, ...
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Snow leopard falls with blue sheep in its jaws and never lets go

Two snow leopards fall hundreds of feet onto rock and survive

Here are two videos which show snow leopards falling hundreds of feet, rolling down rock faces, hammering into rocks on ...
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Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

Note: sources for news articles are carefully selected but the news is often not independently verified.

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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