Warming temperatures and a shifting climate are not only affecting humans, but may be producing serious ramifications within the animal kingdom as well — resulting in a threatening territory overlap of predatory species.
Researchers have recently revealed footage documenting the first coexistence of snow leopards and common leopards on the Tibetan Plateau in the Qinghai province dating back to July 2016.
Snow leopards (Panthera uncia) inhabit the rocky alpine habitats of Central and Eastern Asia. They are currently regarded as an endangered species by the IUCN with only 3,000-6,000 members remaining in existence. Snow leopards tend to reside solitarily within large individual territories at higher altitudes, ranging between 6,000 and 16,000 feet in elevation.
The common leopard (Panthera pardus) is a more adaptable animal with vast woodland habitat preference boasting a wider population distribution than its paler relative. However, these cats are still regarded as a threatened species by the IUCN due to poaching and habitat destruction.
Both species prefer to hunt and feed on similar types of animals, including hoofed wild and domestic livestock in addition to small mammals. They are opportunistic feeders that depend more on territory space than persistence of specific prey.
The documented crossover of snow leopards in woodland regions and common leopards wandering higher up the mountainsides is attributed to the “ascending treeline” factor — scientific proof that rising temperatures are resulting in the growth of woodland areas at increasingly higher elevations.
The imminent concerns of habitat overlap are highlighted by the increasing loss of limited snow leopard territory and their already threatened ecological state.
The common leopard is capable of adapting to higher elevations and could essentially force the snow leopard further up the mountainsides in response to lack of ample living space or food sources.
The more worrisome consideration is the possibility of conflict between the two species when co-existence becomes unsustainable.