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Unique Safari held to explore Snow Leopards in high mountains.

By ISLAMABAD, January 13, 2011 (Balochistan Times): A private tour operator is organising Snow Leopard Safari in the mighty mountains of Gilgit-Baltistan to enthral the visitors with rare scenes of this wild animals descending into the dense forests at altitude of 1,200- 2,000 m (3,900 to 6,600 ft). It would perhaps be the first ever programme to explore the countys wildlife species in the tall mountains ranges in the north. Snow leopards prefer broken rugged terrain and travel without difficulty in snow up to 85 centimetres (33 in) deep, although it prefers to use existing trails made by other animals. Himalayan Holiday, which is holding this ever-remembering event, would take the wildlife lovers from Islamabad to Gilgit, where the journey starts by jeeps to Ramghat via Partabpul and Bunji. BBQ dinner and joyous sun set on Nanga Parbat would wind up the day one. Next day starts with hike to Neelidar, going as high as about 600 meters in 5 hours to discover the Snow Leopards roaming freely in their habitats. Third days hiking leads to Akalotamo where the local guides tell the visitor places for filming of fantastic scenes of big cats playing, preying jumping and resting. Day four would get the visitor to another enchanting destination of Misikhandgah. An individual snow leopard lives within a well defined home range, but does not defend its territory aggressively when encroached upon by other snow leopards. Home ranges vary greatly in size, like other cats, snow leopards use scent marks, scent to indicate their territory and common travel routes. These are most commonly produced by scraping the ground with the hind feet before depositing urine, but they also spray urine onto sheltered patches of rock. Snow leopards are crepuscular, being most active at dawn and dusk they are known for being extremely secretive and well camouflaged. The diet of the snow leopard varies across its range and with the time of year, and depends on prey availability. In the western Himalayas it preys mostly Himalayan blue sheep, Markhor, ibex and smaller prey consists of marmots, woolly hares and birds such as the snow cock and chukar. It is not averse to taking domestic livestock which brings it into direct conflict with humans. Snow leopards have not been reported to attack humans, and appear to be among the least aggressive of all the big cats. As a result, they are easily driven away from livestock, they readily abandon their kills when threatened and may not even defend themselves when attacked. Snow leopards prefer to ambush prey from above, using broken terrain to conceal their approach, and can leap as far as 14 meters. They will actively pursue prey down steep mountainsides, using the momentum of their initial leap to chase animals for up to 300 meters. Snow leopards usually breed in winter January to mid March and have a gestation period of 90-100 days, so that the cubs are born between April and June. The mother gives birth in a rocky den lined with fur shed from her underside. Litter sizes vary from one to five cubs but two or three is more usual. The cubs are blind and helpless at birth with a thick coat of fur, and weigh from 320 to 567 grams (11 to 20.0 oz). The eyes open at around seven days, and the cubs can walk at five weeks and are fully weaned by ten weeks. Also when they are born they have full black spots and turn into rosettes as they grow up. The cubs leave the den at around two to four months of age, but remain with the mother until they become independent after around 18-22 months. Once independent, they may disperse over considerable distances, even crossing wide expanses of flat terrain to seek out new hunting grounds. This likely helps reduce the inbreeding that would otherwise be common in their relatively isolated environment. Snow leopards normally live for 15-18 years, but in captivity they can live for up to 21 years. Estimated population of snow leopards in Pakistan is 420 to 500 with their habitat stretching over 80,000 Sq miles in Skardu, Astore Bunji (Nanga Parbat region), Khunjran Borogil and Chitral.

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Publication:Balochistan Times (Baluchistan Province, Pakistan)
Date:Jan 13, 2011
Words:707
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