Saturday, March 24, 2007

A Year in the Life of a Snow Leopard: Spring

Editor's Note: This is the third in a four-part series of articles about the lives of wild snow leopards at different times of year.
Spring is chilly and snowy at the high elevations—between 3,000 and 5,400 meters above sea level—where snow leopards live. Spring (and early summer) is also the season in which snow leopard cubs are born.

Females who became pregnant during the winter mating season will seek out a warm, protected place to give birth. Snow leopards are so secretive that scientists know very little about these hidden den sites, but based on the behavior of captive snow leopards, the dens are probably rocky caves lined with the mother’s soft fur.

Female snow leopards are pregnant for around three to three and a half months, and cubs are small and helpless when they are born. They don’t even open their eyes until they are seven days old! Usually two or three cubs are born in each litter. Very rarely, snow leopards in captivity have given birth to up to seven cubs at a time. In the wild, it might be hard for a mother cat to feed and successfully raise more than two or three cubs at a time.

For the first few months of their life, cubs remain in the den while the mother snow leopard hunts, but she comes back to the den frequently to nurse the cubs. They eat their first solid food at around two months old. By late summer, the cubs will be following their mother around the high mountain slopes. They will stay with their mothers, however, until they are 18-22 months of age. For this reason, female snow leopards mate only every other year. Females who gave birth last spring will be teaching their year-old cubs to hunt.

For more information about snow leopards and how they live in the wild, go to Cat Facts: catfactsclassroom/catfacts/ snowleopardspring

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