Snow leopards are shy, elusive cats known for their solitary nature. Because of this, it can be challenging for scientists to identify patterns of snow leopard behavior. But with cutting edge technology and focused research efforts, we can begin to paint a clearer picture of just what it means to be a wild snow leopard.
Snow leopards are most active at dawn and dusk, which is called a “crepuscular activity pattern” by scientists. However, this behavior can change depending on human presence. In areas where there are very few people, snow leopards may be active throughout the day. If humans are living nearby a snow leopard’s home range, they may become primarily nocturnal (active at night).
Snow leopards regularly patrol home ranges that can cover hundreds of square kilometers, and like most species of cats, they tend to travel alone. Sometimes a male and female might be seen together during mating season, or we might see a mother with her young cubs. Once the cubs are about 2 years old, they begin to disperse from their mother and set out on their own.
In order to communicate across such distances, these cats leave markings on the landscape that other snow leopards will find. They scrape the ground with their hind legs and spray urine against rocks. Called snow leopard ‘sign’, even feces can act as a signal to other cats.
Snow leopards tend to mark along topographic features such as ridgelines or the base of cliffs. These markings enable snow leopards to locate each other and identify the boundaries between home ranges. Scent marking in particular may also help the cats locate mates during the breeding season.
Snow leopards make sounds similar to those made by other large cats, including a purr, mew, hiss, growl, moan, and yowl. However, snow leopards cannot roar due to the physiology of their throat, and instead make a non-aggressive puffing sound called a ‘chuff’.
Snow leopards are not aggressive towards humans. There has never been a verified snow leopard attack on a human being. Even if disturbed while feeding, a snow leopard is more likely to run away than try to defend the site. Snow leopards might become aggressive during an encounter between two males or if a female’s cubs are being threatened.