Irbis, or snow leopard, or snow leopard - a large predatory mammal from the family of felines, living in the mountains of Central Asia. Irbis has a thin, long, flexible body, relatively short paws, a small head and a very long tail. Reaching with the tail length 200-230 cm, weighs up to 55 kg. The color of the fur is light, smoky-gray with annular and continuous dark spots. Due to the inaccessibility of habitats and low species density, many aspects of its biology are still poorly researched. At present, the number of Irbis is catastrophically small, in the 20th century it was included in the Red Book of the IUCN, in the Red Data Book of Russia, as well as in the protection documents of other countries. As of 2012 year hunting for irbis is prohibited.
Relatively large cat. The general appearance resembles a leopard, but smaller than it, more squat, with a long tail and is distinguished by a very long coat with an unclear pattern in the form of large dark spots and rosettes. Torso strongly elongated and squat, slightly elevated in the sacrum. The length of the body with the head 103-130 cm, the length of the tail 90-105, see Height in the shoulders about 60 cm. Males somewhat larger than females. Body weight of males reaches 45-55 kg, females - 22-40 kg. Length of the rear foot 22-26 see Wool is high, very thick and soft, its length on the back reaches 55 mm - it provides protection from cold, harsh environments. According to the density of fur, the snow leopard differs from all large cats and is more similar to small cats. The general background of fur color is brownish gray without any admixtures of yellow and red color (a yellowish shade of fur was noted in some of the animals that died in captivity and, possibly, is an artifact). The main coat color on the back and upper part of the sides is light gray or grayish, almost white, with a smoky coating. Boka below, belly and inner parts of the extremities lighter than the back. On the general light-gray background scattered rare large annular patches in the form of rosettes, inside which there may be an even smaller spot, as well as small solid patches of black or dark gray color. The spotted pattern is relatively pale, formed by diffuse spots, the diameter of the largest of which reaches from 5 cm to 7-8 cm. Solid spots of various sizes are located on the head (the smallest of them), the neck and legs (larger, shifting to the bottom in small ), Where the annular spots are absent. In the back of the back, spots sometimes merge, forming short longitudinal bands. Between the annular spots there are small small continuous ones. Large solid spots on the terminal half of the tail often encircle the tail in the transverse direction by an incomplete ring. The very tip of the tail on top is usually black. Dark spots are black, but they look dark gray.
The general color of the main background of the winter fur is very light, grayish, almost white, with a smoky coating, more noticeable on the back and on the top of the sides, while a light light yellowish shade can be developed. Such coloring perfectly masks the beast in its natural habitat - among dark rocks, stones, white snow and ice. The general background of summer fur is characterized by a lighter, almost white color and sharp outlines of dark spots. Smoky fur plaque is expressed in summer weaker than in winter. There is information that requires further confirmation that with age, the spotted pattern on the skin fades, becoming even more vague and unclear. In young specimens, the spotted pattern is more distinctly expressed, and the color of the spots is more intense than in adult individuals. Sexual dimorphism is absent in coloration. Geographical variability of coloring in the snow leopard is not expressed, or, if it exists, it is very insignificant. The absence of a clearly expressed geographical variability is determined by the relatively small range of the species. Irbis is an extremely stenotypical species and on the territory of the whole range adheres to identical conditions and habitats. The head is relatively small in size, round in shape. Ears are short, bluntly rounded, without tassels at the ends, in winter they are almost hidden in fur. Mane and tanks are not developed. Vibrissa white and black, up to 10,5, Eyes large, with a round pupil. The skull is relatively powerful, with tubercles and crests, strongly developed zygomatic arches, but less massive and heavier than other representatives of the genus Panther. Length of skulls of males 18-19 cm, condylo-basal length 16,5-17,3 cm, zygomatic width 12-13,5 cm, interorbital width 4,3-4,7 cm, width of rostrum above canines 4,8-5,3 cm, length of upper dentition 5,8-6,3, An adult snow leopard, like most other felines, has 30 teeth. On the upper and lower jaws according to 6 incisors, 2 fang; On the upper jaw - according to 3 premolar and 1 molar; On the lower jaw - according to 2 premolar and 1 molar. The long and mobile tongue is equipped on the sides with special tubercles, which are covered with cornified epithelium and allow to separate meat from the skeleton of the victim. These tubercles also help with "washing". The tail is very long, exceeds three quarters of the length of the body, covered with long hair and therefore it seems very thick (visually its thickness is almost equal to the thickness of the forearm of the snow leopard). Serves as a balance when jumping. The limbs are relatively short. Paws of the snow leopard are wide and massive. Claws on the paws are retractable. The tracks are large, round, without marks from claws. Snow leopard, unlike other large cats, can not growl, despite the incomplete ossification of the hyoid bone, which was believed to allow large cats to roar. New studies show that the ability to snarl in felines is determined by other morphological features of the larynx that are absent in the snow leopard. Despite the structure of the hyoid apparatus as in large cats (Panthera), there is no draft "roar-growl". "Murmuring" occurs both with inspiration and with exhalation - like in small cats (Felis). The methods of ripping off the booty are like those of large cats, and the position of eating is small.
Irbis is an exclusively Asian species. The area of the snow leopard in central and southern Asia occupies the territory of mountainous regions with an area of approximately 1 230 000 km2 And extends through the territory of the following countries: Afghanistan, Myanmar, Bhutan, China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. The geographic distribution extends from the Hindu Kush in eastern Afghanistan and the Syr Darya through the Pamir, Tien Shan, Karakorum, Kashmir, Kunlun, and Himalayas to South Siberia, where the range covers the mountains Altai, Sayan, Tannu-Ola. In Mongolia, it was discovered in the Mongolian Altai and the Gobi Altai and in the Khangai Mountains. In Tibet, it is found right up to Altunshan in the north. On the territory of Russia there is an insignificant part of the area of the snow leopard, which is about 2-3% of the current world range and represents its north-western and northern outskirts. The total area of probable snow leopard habitats in Russia is at least 60 000 km2. It is found in the Krasnoyarsk Territory, in Khakassia, in Tuva and in the Altai Republic, in the mountains East Sayan, In particular, on the Tunkinsky Goltsi and Munku-Sardyk ridges. However, there is a gradual decrease and fragmentation of the range of snow leopards on the territory of Russia, although in some places there may be an increase in population following the increase in populations of mountain goats. In the territory of the former USSR, the Irbis area was occupied by the Pamir-Hissar system and Tien Shan - the entire Pamir, the Darvaz ridge, including the southwestern spurs, the Peter the Great, Zaalaysky, Gissar ranges, including the Baysuntau mountains and the Zeravshan range up to the Penjikent region. The southern border runs in southern Tajikistan from Pyanj to the north and covers the Kulyab, Dashti-Jumsky, Muminabad and Kzyl-Mazar regions, where the beast meets regularly. Further the border passes to the northwest, skirting from the north of Dushanbe. Further, the border passes along the southern slope of the Gissar Range to the west, and then to the south-west. To the north and north-east, the snow leopard is found along all ranges of the Tien-Shan system, to the south including the Kuramin and Fergana ranges that border the Fergana Valley, in the west to the western spurs of the Chatkal, Pskem, Ugam and Talas ranges. On Altay The snow leopard is widespread in the extreme south, where the range covers the Chui steppe, and also partially or entirely the main ridges of the southern, part of the central, eastern and northeastern Altai and associated massifs.
Irbis is a typical representative of the fauna of the high rocky mountains of Central and Central Asia. Among the large felines, the snow leopard is the only permanent inhabitant of the highlands. It mainly inhabits alpine meadows, treeless cliffs, rocky terrain, stony placers, steep canyons and is often found in the snowy zone. But, at the same time, in a number of areas the snow leopard lives at much lower altitudes, populating a zone of arboreal and shrubby vegetation. By inhabiting the upper belts of high mountains, the snow leopard prefers the areas of small open plateaus, gentle slopes and narrow valleys covered with alpine vegetation, which alternate with rocky gorges, heaps of rocks and talus. The ridges, where snow leopards usually keep, are usually distinguished by slopes of great steepness, deep gorges and outcrops of the rock. Irbis can also be found on more leveled areas, where bushes and rocky talus provide shelter for rest. Snow leopards predominantly keep above the forest boundary, but can also be found in forests (more often in winter). The habitat covers biotopes located in the belt between 1500-4000 meters above sea level. Sometimes it meets at the boundary of eternal snow, and on the Pamir in the upper Alichur its traces even in winter several times met at an altitude of 4500-5000 meters above sea level. In the Himalayas the snow leopard is marked at an altitude of 5400-6000 meters above sea level and below 2000-2500 meters above sea level. In summer, most often it keeps at an altitude of 4000-4500 meters above sea level. On the slopes of the Turkestan range in the summer the snow leopard was observed only beginning approximately from a height of 2600 meters above sea level and above. Here the snow leopard is kept in rocky places. In Talas Alatau he lives in the belt between 1200 - 1800 and 3500 meters above sea level. At the Dzhungar Alatau, it meets at an altitude of 600-700 meters above sea level. On the Kungei Alatau ridge, the snow leopard is rarely found in the spruce forest belt (2100-2600 meters above sea level) and especially in the Alpine (up to 3300 m. a. M.). In the Trans-Ili Alatau and Central Tien-Shan in the summer the snow leopard rises to a height of up to 4000 meters or more, in winter it sometimes descends to the heights of 1200 m. a. м. However, the snow leopard is not always a highland animal - in a number of places it lives year-round in the region of low mountains and in the mountain steppe at altitudes of 600-1500 meters above sea level, holding, like in the highlands, rocky gorges, cliffs and rocks, Where goats and arhars live. At altitudes of 600-1000 meters above sea level, the snow leopard is common all year round in the spurs of the Dzhungar Alatau, Altynamela, Chulak and Matai. In summer, following its main prey, the snow leopard rises to the subalpine and alpine belts. In winter, when a high snow cover is established, the snow leopard descends from the highlands to the middle belt of mountains - often in the area of coniferous forest. Seasonal migrations are characterized by a fairly regular nature and are due to seasonal migrations of ungulates - the main prey of the snow leopard.
Adult snow leopards are territorial animals that lead mostly single lives (but there are also family groups), although females raise kittens for a fairly long period of time. Each snow leopard lives within the boundaries of a strictly defined individual territory. However, it does not protect aggressively the territory from other representatives of its species. The habitat of an adult male can be overlapped by individual habitats from one to three females. Irbis mark their own territories in various ways. Individual territories can vary significantly in size. In Nepal, where there is a lot of production, such a territory can be relatively small - with an area of 12 km2 to 39 km2, And in the area of 100 km2 Can inhabit 5-10 animals. In a territory with a low production volume, an area of 1000 km2, Lives only up to 5 individuals. Irbis regularly makes rounds of his hunting ground, visiting winter pastures and camps of wild ungulates. At the same time, he moves, following the same routes. Bypassing pastures or going down from the upper mountain belt to the lower parts, the snow leopard always follows a path that usually follows the ridge or along a river or stream. The length of such a detour is usually great, so the snow leopard appears again in one or another place once in several days. The animal is poorly adapted to travel through a deep, loose snow cover. In areas where loose snow is lying, snow leopards predominantly trample on permanent trails, for which they move for a long time.
Predator, usually hunting for large prey, corresponding to its size or larger. Snow leopard can cope with prey, three times its mass. The main prey of snow leopards is almost everywhere and all year round - ungulates. In the wild, snow leopards mainly feed on ungulates: blue sheep, Siberian mountain goats, gnarled goats, argali, tara, taki, sera, gorals, roe deer, marals, musk deer, deer, wild boar. In addition, from time to time, they also feed atypical for their diet small animals, such as ground squirrels, pikas and birds (feces, snowcocks, pheasants). In the Pamirs, it feeds mainly on Siberian mountain goats, rarely on argali. In the Himalayas, the snow leopard hunts mountain goats, gorals, wild rams, small deer, Tibetan hares. In Russia, the main food for the snow leopard is the mountain goat, in places also maral, roe deer, argali, reindeer. With a sharp decrease in the number of wild ungulates, the snow leopard usually leaves the territory of such regions, or sometimes begins to attack livestock. In Kashmir, he occasionally attacks domestic goats, sheep, and horses. There is a recorded case of successful hunting 2 irbis on the 2-year-old Tien-Shan brown bear (Ursus arctos isabellinus). Vegetable food - green parts of plants, grass, etc. - Irbis use in addition to meat ration only in the summer. Snow leopards hunt alone, skrad (crawling to the animal because of shelter) or ambush (guarding prey at the tracks, solonetses, watering places, hiding on the rocks). When there are several tens of meters to potential mining, the snow leopard jumps out of the hiding place and jumps over to 6-7 meters quickly and quickly overtakes it. At a miss, not catching prey at once, the irbis pursues it at a distance of no more than 300 meters, or does not pursue at all. The large ungulate snow leopard tries to grab at the throat, and then suffocate or break the neck. After killing an animal, the snow leopard drags it under a rock or other shelter, where it begins to eat. Remains of prey usually throws, occasionally remains near it, driving away vultures and other scavengers. At the end of summer, in the autumn and at the beginning of winter, snow leopards often hunt by families of 2-3 individuals, which are formed by a female with her cubs. In hungry years they can hunt near settlements and attack pets. Birds mostly catch on the night. It hunts goats of any age, but mostly on females and young (which catches mainly in early summer). Throughout its range, the snow leopard is the peak of the food pyramid and almost does not experience competition from other predators. At one time an adult snow leopard can eat 2-3 kg of meat.
Data on the reproduction of the species are few. Sexual maturity occurs at 3-4-year-old age. The estrus and the breeding season occur at the end of winter or the very beginning of spring. The female gives birth, as a rule, once in 2 year. Pregnancy lasts 90-110 days. The lair arranges in the most inaccessible places. Cubs, depending on the geographic area of the range, are born in April-May or May-June. The number of cubs in the litter is usually two or three, much less often four or five. According to other sources, the birth of 3-5 cubs in one litter is common. Probably, larger broods are possible, since there are cases of meetings of groups of snow leopards from seven individuals. The male does not take part in the upbringing of the offspring. Cubs are born blind and helpless, but already in about 6-8 days are beginning to see. The weight of the newborn snow leopard is about 500 grams at the length of up to 30. See Newborn snow leopards have pronounced dark pigmentation spots, which are few, especially small ring, but there are large solid black or brown spots on the back, as well as short longitudinal bands on its back. The first 6 weeks are fed by mother's milk. By the middle of summer, the kittens are already accompanying the mother on the hunt. Finally, to an independent life, young snow leopards are ready for the second winter. The maximum known lifespan in nature is 13 years. Life expectancy in captivity is usually about 21 a year, but the case when the female lived 28 years is known.