Snow leopards caught on film: What you don't know about the elusive creature

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Big Cat Week on Nat Geo will showcase one of the most gorgeous animals in existence with the episode "Snow Leopard of Afghanistan." Snow leopards are difficult to document, so this rare glimpse into their lives will be extraordinary. Here a few unique facts about these truly unique creatures.

The snow leopards of Afghanistan were tagged for the first time in 2012

Snow leopards can be very difficult to track down and not only because they tend to live in remote areas. They are also very shy, making them difficult to spot in the wild. Since they are endangered, their low numbers make them that much harder to find, as well. But conservationists can't help the animals if they don't learn about them, so it is critical to fit them with tracking collars in the various regions throughout the world where they do exist. By doing so, they can help protect what habitat they have left and figure out what problems they face in regard to poachers.

Snow leopards are made for cold weather

With a name like "snow leopard," it's no surprise that they are built for cold weather. The details of what makes them so cold-weather friendly are the surprising part. Snow leopards have a thick coat and large furry paws for walking comfortably through the snow, and the fur on their bellies is about five inches thick. The most amazing quality, however, is their beautiful elongated tail. Snow leopards' tails are long enough to cover their noses and mouths when the temperature dips to an extremely low level. The tail also helps snow leopards balance when climbing steep, icy, mountain slopes.

Snow leopards live in the high-altitude mountains of Central Asia

Snow leopards live in some of the most remote areas of the planet. Consequently, they take up vast territories in those regions, which they defend with scent marking and fecal deposits. They are found mostly in the high-altitude mountains of Central Asia. Because of their harsh environment, they have probably never been as common as some of their relatives, although they are still greatly reduced in numbers. They can be found in high-altitude areas of regions such as Mongolia, China through Russia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and Nepal.

Their beauty makes them vulnerable

Unfortunately, being one of the most beautiful animals on the planet makes the snow leopard especially vulnerable to humans. Their luxurious fur coats are prized by those willing to kill these scarce creatures just for their pelt. As with many big cats, their body parts are also valued in traditional Chinese medicine.

They are an intermediate species

Along with the clouded leopard, the snow leopard is thought by many scientists to be an intermediate species between big and small cats. Unlike many of their big cat cousins, the snow leopard cannot roar and feeds in a crouched position. The snow leopard also has some physical attributes that seem to be a cross-section of both large and small cats, such as the shape of its skull, muzzle, forehead, and chin.