Snow leopards (panthera uncia or uncia uncia) are big cats of the high mountains, originating on Earth. On Jalan (also known as Wildplanet) a population of uplifted snow leopards, called 'Irbis' (after the Mongolian word for snow leopard that found its way into many languages), can be found that descends from snow leopards originally been brought there from Earth by the Kirru over eight hundred years ago.
Genetic experiments performed by the Kirru on this Terran-origin snow leopard stock resulted in the uncia irbis, an uplifted, sapient subspecies of snow leopard which, until space-faring races 're-discovered' Jalan, existed nowhere else in Known Space.
Like their snow leopard ancestors, irbis are adapted for cold, high-altitude environments, with a thick furry coat and small, rounded ears to minimize heat loss. They have wide paws with thick protective pads on the undersides. Irbis have long, flexible tails, essential for maintaining balance in steep, rocky terrain. Their tails are also very thick due to storage of fats, and are covered with a thick layer of fur; like their unmodified ancestors, irbis can use their tail as a blanket to protect their faces when asleep in a harsh environment.
Unlike stock snow leopards, irbis are capable of both bipedal, digitigrade walking as well as walking on both 'hands' and feet. Their 'hands' are modified snow leopard forepaws, possessing an opposable thumb and retractible claws. Their structure sacrifices a small degree of fine motor movement usually occurring in human hands in return for strength, retaining most of the climbing and slashing power of their original genetic stock; they are, however, capable of grasping and manipulating objects. Additionally, their digestive tracts have been modified to allow for an omnivorous diet.
A percentage of irbis possess the Kirru version of the Terran-origin recom 'spacer' genetic modification; they will have increased resistance to radiation, suffer minimal physiological effects of microgravity such as muscle/bone loss, and tend to not suffer vestibular-related upsets such as Space Adaptation Syndrome. These irbis were the result of a program to produce irbis intended to accompany Kirru spacefarers in the event they regained space travel.
The habitats of the irbis are the mountain areas of Jalan. Irbis tend to live solitary lives, sleeping in caves, simple cottages, or outdoors. They get together in small groups, especially in mating season and when raising cubs, but there are no close-knit communities. To the other species, life of the irbis - even bipedal ones - is a bit of a mystery, though they can be quite friendly to guests if these adapt to their lifestyle. They are just shy to make contact actively.
Being well-adapted to cold climates, irbis avoid hot and humid areas. As their thick fur protects them well enough, they are most often unclothed. When walking bipedal - a matter of choice rather than biology - they occasionally wear shorts with pockets to hold any necessary items.
Irbis have not established space-travel, but get together with other species if they are in need of getting somewhere in space. Due to their reserved nature, they have a reputation of being difficult crewmembers, but actually their presence more often than not brings peace and relaxation to the spaceships, soothing the spirits of the rest of the crew.
The Irbis on Wildplanet and their Homeworld are © unci of Furscape. Contact hym for further information about the species, as well as possible TinyPlots around them.