Despite the fact that the snow leopard belongs to the big cats, it is extremely docile and non-aggressive towards humans. This behavior is extremely unusual for big cats, and might seem implausible to some. In order to deal with that, we compiled a list of solid evidence on this page.
Quotes from researchers
Helen Freeman, who was an animal behaviorist and world’s leading snow leopard researcher, noted the peaceful disposition of the snow leopard numerous times. She once wrote:
“The snow leopard is as good-tempered as a house-cat and as playful as a kitten. It is peace-loving.”
In another paper, she quoted a fellow researcher:
“In captivity it is far the tamest and gentlest of the large carnivora, not excepting the puma. Unlike the latter, it is a sleepy, quiet animal, like a domestic cat. The specimen shown here belonged to a lady in India, who kept it for some time as a pet. It was then brought to the zoological gardens, where it was more amiable and friendly than most cats. The writer has entered its cage with the keeper, stroked it and patted its head, without it in the least ruffling its good-temper.”
The wild cat researchers Mel and Fiona Sunquist also wrote about the snow leopard in one of their books:
“Snow leopards are known to become exceptionally tame and gentle in captivity, and they often form close bonds with their caretakers.”
Source: Mel Sunquist, Fiona Sunquist, “Wild Cats of the world”, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2002. ISBN: 0-226-77999-8
The peaceful nature of the snow leopard was also noted by the Soviet researchers V. G. Heptner and A. A. Sludskii:
“At the same time, the snow leopard is very timid towards humans. Even if it is wounded, it attacks its hunter exceptionally rarely. […] The timidity of this predator can be judged by the following examples. In the late summer a snow leopard entered a sheepfold […]. Alerted by the noise, the herder’s wife ran to the fold, grabbed the animal by its tail and screamingly started to pull it away from the killed sheep. The snow leopard did not try to defend itself and was killed by the herders who quickly gathered to the scene. […] There are known cases where a caught adult snow leopard allowed people to enter its cage and pet it after only a few days of captivity. Snow leopards caught at a young age quickly become completely tame.”
Source: http://www.snowleopardnetwork.org/bibliography/Geptner_1972.pdf, quote was translated from Russian
Eyewitness accounts and photographic evidence
In this blog entry, two tourists describe their visit of an Asian zoo with snow leopards. The keepers let them in directly to the snow leopards during feeding. The animals were apparently very anxious and refused to eat, but did not show any aggression. This is especially noteworthy, as most big cats would likely have attacked the visitors in the same situation.
There also are some Russian accounts, e. g. this one:
This news article is about a snow leopard that entered a home in India and was noticed by the inhabitants. Not only it didn’t flee – the humans actually had a hard time driving it out! It is mentioned that the snow leopard did not like the attempts of the inhabitants to kick it out from the house, but there is no mention of an attack or even mere aggression.
An especially amazing encounter with a wild snow leopard is described here:
Here, a wild snow leopard followed a local who walked his dog – not to hunt him down, but out of curiosity. The animal did not show any aggression towards the human, and only growled once when the local’s dog barked at it. The villager, scared by the snow leopard, threw a lit firecracker at it, but the snow leopard did not react to it. This is very remarkable, as wild animals normally are afraid of loud noises. The snow leopard started pacing back and forth near the human and came as close to him as 1.5 meters. Fortunately, the man had a disposable camera with him and made several pictures, which are shown on the page. Note that they show the true distance to the animal, as disposable cameras do not have zoom.
In this short video, a wild snow leopard is resting with its prey a few tens of meters away from several humans. Note that the humans are standing close to some kind of structure. This indicates that the snow leopard came to them, or at least to the human structure, and not the other way around. Apparently, the snow leopard is not bothered by the humans and does not view them as a threat to its kill.
There also is a longer video in Chinese:
This short documentary movie shows a wild snow leopard being caught by researchers while crossing a desert. Unfortunately, we do not speak Chinese and cannot tell what the researchers are saying. However, there are several moments in the video that show the character of the snow leopard without the need for words:
- 3:45: the snow leopard lies in the trunk of a vehicle without any restraint or barrier between it and the researchers, and calmly drinks water offered by the humans.
- 6:00: the scientists are trying to feed it. Despite the fact that it was crossing a desert and surely hadn’t had much to eat, it refused the food.
- 12:38: the snow leopard managed to break free, but instead of attacking the humans around it, as a leopard (Panthera pardus) would, it tries to flee and is easily caught.
- 17:20: the researchers let a live rabbit into its cage, but the snow leopard leaves it completely alone. This suggests that the hunting instinct of the snow leopard is rather weak.
- In the course of the video, the scientists take the snow leopard out of the cage several times, e. g. to take a blood sample. They apparently do it without anesthetizing the animal. Instead, they pin it down with their hands and restrain it. Even a housecat will often fight when restrained like this, while the snow leopard almost doesn’t resist at all.