Tiny and helpless at birth, snow leopard cubs are raised by their moms until they’re about 1 1/2 years old. After that, they have to fend for themselves.
Mating season for wild snow leopards is between January and mid-March. During this time, a male and a female will travel together for a few days and copulate. The cats will then part ways and become solitary once again, with the female taking full responsibility of raising any offspring.
The female is typically pregnant for 93-110 days before her litter is born in June or July. Usually 2 or 3 cubs are born at a time, and the diligent mother provides food and shelter for her young. This can be a challenge for even the most experienced snow leopard mother, especially during the lean winter months.
To give birth, female snow leopards retreat to sheltered den sites. In 2012, thanks to data from GPS collars, we found 2 active snow leopard den sites for the first time. We also discovered a third den site later that year, when it was no longer active. Another active site was found in 2013.
There were vast differences between the sites: Two dens were in areas with very little human activity, but were fairly easy to access. The other den site, however, was closer to human activities, but extremely well hidden and difficult to access.
A snow leopard grows quickly:
- Cubs are small and helpless when they are born, and do not open their eyes until they are about 7 days old.
- At 2 months old, cubs are ready to eat solid food.
- At 3 months old, they begin following their mother and start to learn important behavior like hunting.
- At 18-22 months old, cubs become independent of their mothers.
- Female snow leopards are ready to have their own cubs by age 2 or 3.
- Male snow leopards become sexually mature by age 4.
In captivity, snow leopards have been known to live for as long as 22 years. Life in the wild is much harder, so the life expectancy of wild snow leopards is less. To determine an approximate age, a tooth analysis was conducted on a wild snow leopard that had died of natural causes. He appeared to have been between 10 and 13 years old.