Get to know the 'ghost of the mountains.'
High in the frigid mountains of central Asia, a snow leopard watches and waits.
Often referred to as the "ghost of the mountains," she stalks with a fierce intensity, her piercing eyes following her prey's every move. Without warning, she strikes. She springs into the air, lunging toward her next meal. Success!
It's a scene that used to play out on mountains across the continent but now, it's rare.
The snow leopard is critically endangered, and if something isn't done soon, this majestic creature found in the high jagged peaks of Afghanistan, Kazakstan, Russia, India, and China will surely vanish for good.
But first, let's get to know these cool cats.
Here are five interesting things to know about these incredible creatures.
1. They have serious appetites.
Snow leopards dine on blue sheep and ibex. The hungry cats can take down prey two to three times their weight! And you thought you were a beast when you splurged for guac.
2. Snow leopards have major hops.
They use their powerful legs to jump up to 50 feet. That's a whopping 10 times their length. To put that in perspective, the world record for a human long jump is 29 feet, 4.36 inches.
3. Their feet are built-in snowshoes.
Snow leopards have extra-wide paws. The evolutionary trait makes it easy to walk in snow, but it's pretty difficult to find cute shoes.
4. Unlike lions and Katy Perry, snow leopards don't roar.
They purr, growl, moan, and hiss occasionally but because of their small throats, these cats can't roar.
5. Snow leopards have furry tails they put to good use.
Who needs Gore-Tex when you have a long, fur-lined tail? Snow leopards wrap their tails around their more sensitive body parts to protect their skin from harsh weather. They also use them for balance.
But snow leopards and the places they call home are critically endangered.
The snow leopard population has dropped 20% in 16 years, and just 4,500 exist in the wild.
Rising temperatures have caused plants and trees to die off, which means the snow melt has made the land more inviting to farmers. Quite simply, snow leopards are running out of places to go.
This climate change won't just affect the big cats. More than 330 million people count on water from rivers that originate in snow leopard territory. Climate change could alter the flow of the water down the mountains, disrupting the lives of countless people across central Asia.
So it's important to act while we still can.
There's already a plan in place protect natural snow leopard habitats across 12 different countries including India, Nepal, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and China. Policymakers have signed on, but they haven't done a great job putting the agreement into practice.
Additionally, the World Wildlife Fund is on a mission to protect the great cat by pushing for action on climate change. WWF global snow leopard leader Rishi Kumar Sharma spoke about the dire consequences of inaction.
"Urgent action is needed to curb climate change and prevent further degradation of snow leopard habitat, otherwise the 'ghost of the mountains' could vanish, along with critical water supplies for hundreds of millions of people."
This is one more reason to get serious about climate change. And the time to act is now.
Snow leopards and the places they call home urgently need our help.
Unlike the "ghost of the mountains," we can no longer afford to watch and wait.