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A snow leopard’s 40-inch-long tail helps the big cat balance while climbing treacherous mountains.

Klein and Hubert/Minden Pictures

STANDARDS

CCSS: 6.SP.A.1, MP1, MP3, MP6

TEKS: 6.13B

Snooping on Snow Leopards

Using cameras, GPS collars, and more, scientists count elusive snow leopards

Seeing a wild snow leopard in person is something you never forget. Koustubh Sharma was 3 feet away when he first encountered one. Big, round eyes looked at him in surprise. “He turned away and quietly fled up the mountain like a ribbon,” says Sharma. He’s a field biologist for the Snow Leopard Trust, a nonprofit organization devoted to saving the endangered species.

Snow leopards try to avoid humans as much as possible. It’s hard to spot them because their black-spotted fur blends into rocky backgrounds, making a perfect camouflage. Plus, they live at high altitudes in remote areas of Central and South Asia.

So how can scientists like Sharma study these elusive creatures? They spend weeks camping and trekking through mountains. Using technology and math, scientists track the snow leopards and gather information about them (see Studying Snow Leopards).

Snow leopards are striking animals. Biologist Koustubh Sharma still remembers the first time he saw one in the wild. The animal was only was 3 feet away from Sharma. He saw the surprise in its big, round eyes. “He turned away and quietly fled up the mountain,” says Sharma. Sharma works for the Snow Leopard Trust, a nonprofit organization that works to save the endangered species.

Snow leopards try to avoid humans as much as possible. They live in the mountains in remote parts of Central and South Asia. Their camouflaged coat makes them hard to spot in these rocky areas. The black spots on their fur help them blend in.

So how can scientists like Sharma study these sneaky creatures? They spend weeks hiking through mountains where the leopards live. They use technology and math to track the animals and learn about them (see Studying Snow Leopards). 

It’s so challenging to find snow leopards in the wild that no one knows exactly how many are left. Estimates range from 4,000 to 8,000! The number of snow leopards in an area relates to the health of the ecosystem. “If you have snow leopards, it means the entire mountain ecosystem is functional,” Sharma says.

In 2018, 12 Asian nations started a census to get a more accurate snow leopard population estimate. It’s called Population Assessment of the World’s Snow Leopards, or PAWs, and the first census will take five years to complete. Sharma hopes the numbers in the report spur people to protect snow leopards and their habitat. “That’s the beauty of mathematics,” he says. “You can use it as a common language to convey messages.”

Because it’s so hard to find snow leopards in the wild, no one knows exactly how many are left. Scientists think it’s anywhere from 4,000 to 8,000! But knowing the number is important. It tells scientists how the whole area is doing. If snow leopards can survive in the mountains, so can other living things, says Sharma.

In 2018, 12 Asian countries decided to count snow leopards more accurately. They started an official census. It’s called the Population Assessment of the World’s Snow Leopards, or PAWS. The first one will take five years to complete. Sharma hopes the count will help people protect snow leopards and their habitat. “That’s the beauty of mathematics,” he says. “You can use it as a common language to convey messages.”

Determine whether the following questions are statistical or non–statistical. Record your work and answers on our answer sheet.

Determine whether the following questions are statistical or non–statistical. Record your work and answers on our answer sheet.

How many camera traps were set up last year to study snow leopards?

How many camera traps were set up last year to study snow leopards?

❑ Statistical 

❑ Non-statistical 

❑ Statistical 

❑ Non-statistical 

How many snow leopards did each of 5 camera traps photograph?

How many snow leopards did each of 5 camera traps photograph?

❑ Statistical 

❑ Non-statistical 

❑ Statistical 

❑ Non-statistical 

How does the air temperature surrounding a collared snow leopard change over the course of the day?

How does the air temperature surrounding a collared snow leopard change over the course of the day?

❑ Statistical 

❑ Non-statistical 

❑ Statistical 

❑ Non-statistical 

How many species of prey were found in one snow leopard’s scat?

How many species of prey were found in one snow leopard’s scat?

❑ Statistical 

❑ Non-statistical 

❑ Statistical 

❑ Non-statistical 

Pick one of the statistical questions here. What data would you need to answer it?

Pick one of the statistical questions here. What data would you need to answer it?

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