Zoology

Why Snow Leopards have such Big Tails



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Martha Leonard's image for:
"Why Snow Leopards have such Big Tails"
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The scene took my breath away. For three years photographers from the Discovery Channel's "Planet Earth" had stalked the elusive, reclusive, endangered snow leopard to film it in its natural habitat in the high mountains of Central Asia. At last their persistence paid off. Rare footage showed a snow leopard chasing a mountain ibex. A study of grace and beauty, her three foot tail streaming behind her, the cat flew after her prey, often jumping as much as 50 feet. She caught it, but the ibex wrestled itself free-that time.

The snow leopard is one of the pantherine cats and related more closely to a cheetah than a leopard. That is one of the reasons for the long tail, along with a rounded skull and long legs. All these traits sustain the snow leopard for the rugged, ragged, unstable surfaces over which it roams. The two and one half to three foot length of the tail, unusually long for the cat family, aids the snow leopard in balance as it negotiates the uneven ground. The extra fur on the tail provides additional balance in weight, not to mention warmth. Imagine the snow leopard curled like any domestic cat, with this furry tail covering its nose and eyes during periods of extreme cold. No doubt some of the fur from that same tail is used to line the den for the birth of two to four cubs, too.

Everything about the snow leopard blends into the cold, windy, snowy environment it calls home. The mottled gray and white fur blends in with rocky, snow-covered surroundings. It's nostrils are enlarged to better breath high mountain air. It's feet are extra large and furry to serve as snowshoes. The crowning glory, however, is that long, luxurious, lovely tail.

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More about this author: Martha Leonard

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