2009-05-13 13:20:46 GMT2009-05-13 21:20:46 (Beijing Time) Xinhua English
LANZHOU, May 13 (Xinhua) — No decision has been made if a snow leopard captured in a northwestern Chinese village will be released into the wild, an animal researcher said Wednesday.
The big cat wandered into a village at the foot of Qilian Mountain in Zhangye City, Gansu Province, on April 29, prompting fearful villagers to seek police help. Police and animal protectionists shot the wild animal with a tranquilizer gun and put it in an iron cage amid worries that it might hurt people.
The animal was then handed over to the Gansu Endangered Animal Research Center. The snow leopard, female, is 70 to 80 centimeters long and weights around 40 km, said Li Yan, a researcher at the center, adding that the animal is in good condition.
Li said the researchers were baffled by why the elusive and solitary animal came down from the high mountains.
He ruled out three possibilities as reasons: human damage to its habitat, food shortage and waning ability to hunt due to illness or age.
Snow leopards are usually nocturnal and live in mountains more than 3,000 meters above the sea level. They are white, yellowish, or smoky-gray with dark-gray to black spots and rosettes, the Snow Leopard Trust said on its Web site.
The animal is listed as “endangered” in China, the same level given the giant panda. An estimated 3,500 to 7,000 wild snow leopards roam the mountains of central Asia, in addition to 600 to700 more in zoos around the world, according to the agency.