Rare Treat: 3 Snow Leopards Frolic and Snuggle on Camera

The rare and elusive creatures were photographed in Qinghai province, in central China, using camera traps placed by Panthera, the global wild cat conservation organization, the Snow Leopard Trust and Shan Shui Conservation Center. China contains about 65 percent of the snow leopard habitat, according to Panthera.

The footage was captured outside Zhaxilawu monastery; the camera trap was placed there because the area had been a hotspot for wildlife, with a wild bear and another snow leopard spotted in the previous weeks. Tibetan monks have also been recruited as snow leopard allies, with monks patrolling the areas where the snow leopards prowl to prevent poaching, according to a 2013 study.

Though it's hard to tell from the video alone, the trio may be siblings, or possibly a mother and her two cubs, scientists from Panthera said. In the video, they roll around, yawn, stretch their feline limbs and nuzzle each other, before pausing to investigate the camera trap.

Snow leopards (Panthera uncia) are elusive cats that live in the forbidding, mountainous terrain of Asia, from Russia in the west to China in the east. Their white-speckled fur allows them to blend in with their craggy mountainous habitat, while their thick padded feet allow them to tromp silently but sure-footedly in the snow, hunting for prey.

About 4,000 to 7,000 snow leopards remain in the wild, according to Defenders of Wildlife, and the regal felines are listed as a threatened species by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

Originally published on Live Science.

Tia Ghose
Managing Editor

Tia is the managing editor and was previously a senior writer for Live Science. Her work has appeared in Scientific American, Wired.com and other outlets. She holds a master's degree in bioengineering from the University of Washington, a graduate certificate in science writing from UC Santa Cruz and a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Texas at Austin. Tia was part of a team at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that published the Empty Cradles series on preterm births, which won multiple awards, including the 2012 Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism.