Nearly extinct snow leopards discovered in northeastern Afghanistan
Conservationists turn efforts to maintaining leopard population in natural habitat
In one of the few areas largely unaffected by the near decade-long war in Afghanistan, a "surprisingly healthy" population of rare snow leopards has been discovered in the remote northeastern stretches of the nation.
Snow leopards have long thick fur, and their base color varies from smoky gray to yellowish tan, with whitish underparts. They have dark gray to black open rosettes on their body with small spots of the same color on their heads and larger spots on their legs and tail.
"This is a wonderful discovery -- it shows that there is real hope for snow leopards in Afghanistan," Peter Zahler, the group's deputy director says. "Now our goal is to ensure that these magnificent animals have a secure future as a key part of Afghanistan's natural heritage."
The organization said the discovery "gives hope to the world's most elusive big cat, which calls home to some of the world's tallest mountains."
The nigh-extinct snow leopard faces threats from poachers, shepherds and those who capture the cats for illegal trade. Their populations have declined by as much as 20% over the past 16 years.
Snow leopards have long thick fur, and their base color varies from smoky gray to yellowish tan, with whitish underparts. They have dark gray to black open rosettes on their body with small spots of the same color on their heads and larger spots on their legs and tail. Unusually among cats, their eyes are pale green or gray in color.
Snow leopards show several adaptations for living in a cold mountainous environment. Their bodies are stocky, their fur is thick, and their ears are small and rounded, all of which help to minimize heat loss. Their paws are wide, which distributes their weight better for walking on snow, and have fur on their undersides to increase their grip on steep and unstable surfaces; it also helps to minimize heat loss.
Researchers estimate between 4,500 and 7,500 snow leopards are left in the wild, scattered across Central Asia.
© 2011, Catholic Online. Distributed by NEWS CONSORTIUM
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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
Keywords: Snow leopards, Afganistsn, extinction, poachers
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