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Snow Leopard

Overview

Snow leopards have evolved to live in some of the harshest conditions on Earth. Their white-gray coat spotted with large black rosettes blends in perfectly with the steep and rocky mountains of Central Asia.

  • Status
    Endangered
  • Population
    total estimated 4,080-6,590
  • Scientific Name
    Panthera uncia
  • Length
    2-5 ft.
  • Habitats
    cold high mountains

The snow leopard’s powerful build allows it to scale great steep slopes with ease. Its hind legs give the snow leopard the ability to leap six times the length of its body. A long tail provides balance and agility and also wraps around the resting snow leopard as protection from the cold.

For millennia, this magnificent cat was the king of the mountains. The mountains were rich with their prey such as blue sheep, Argali wild sheep, ibex, marmots, pikas and hares. Snow leopards are found in 12 countries—including China, Bhutan, Nepal, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Russia, and Mongolia—but their population is dropping.

Map data provided by IUCN.

Snow Leopard Cubs a Sign of Hope

Camera trap images of two snow leopard cubs tussling and tumbling in eastern Russia indicate a potential resurgence of a once-decimated population.

snow leopard cubs

Why They Matter

  • The snow leopard is highly elusive and an exact count is hard to come by. There are believed to be fewer than 7,000 in the wild and these numbers continue to decline. Snow leopards are symbols for the wild places they inhabit. As a top predator, their presence is an important indicator of the health of their environment.

Threats

  • Population total estimated 4,080-6,590
  • Extinction Risk Endangered
    1. EX
      Extinct

      No reasonable doubt that the last individual has died

    2. EW
      Extinct in the Wild

      Known only to survive in cultivation, in captivity or as a naturalised population

    3. CR
      Critically Endangered

      Facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the Wild

    4. EN
      Endangered

      Facing a high risk of extinction in the Wild

    5. VU
      Vulnerable

      Facing a high risk of extinction in the Wild

    6. NT
      Near Threatened

      Likely to qualify for a threatened category in the near future

    7. LC
      Least Concern

      Does not qualify for Critically Endangered, Endangered, Vulnerable, or Near Threatened

Snow Leopard Habitat

The Ukok Plateau natural park provides critical habitat for the snow leopard and many other endangered species, including the argali mountain sheep, dzeren antelope, black stork and steppe eagle.

The sole predator of snow leopards? Humans. Hunting, habitat loss and retaliatory killings are the main reasons this big cat is now listed as an endangered species.

Climate Change

Climate change poses perhaps the greatest long-term threat to snow leopards. Impacts from climate change could result in a loss of up to 30 percent of the snow leopard habitat in the Himalayas alone.

Retaliatory Killings

Snow leopards are often killed by local farmers because they prey on livestock such as sheep, goats, horses, and yak calves. The animals which snow leopards would typically hunt—such as the Argali sheep—are also hunted by local communities. As their natural prey becomes harder to find, snow leopards are forced to kill livestock for survival.

Habitat Fragmentation

The snow leopard habitat range continues to decline from human settlement and increased use of grazing space. This development increasingly fragments the historic range of the species.

What WWF Is Doing

Sheep and goat herd in Mongolia.

WWF’s work focuses on reducing human-leopard conflict and rural development, education for sustainable development, stopping mining in fragile snow leopard habitat, and the control of the illegal wildlife trade.

Stopping Illegal Trade

WWF supports mobile antipoaching activities as a way to curb the hunting of snow leopards and their prey. Together with TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, we work to eliminate the illegal trade of snow leopard fur, bones and other body parts.

Snow Leopard

Working with Communities

Herder and his wife, Mongolia

WWF understands there are extraordinary opportunities for conservation to help local people and wildlife live and prosper together. In the Eastern Himalayas, WWF works with local communities to monitor snow leopards and reduce the retaliatory killing of them through innovative local insurance plans.

WWF also works with goat herders in Mongolia to build awareness about the plight of the snow leopard and reduce the killing of snow leopards as retaliation for killing livestock. Through the Land of Snow Project, WWF aims to secure key areas of snow leopard habitat in Mongolia.

Projects

  • Conserving Snow Leopards, Securing Water Resources, and Benefiting Communities

    In October 2012, WWF began a four-year project to conserve snow leopard habitat, promote water security, and help communities prepare for climate change impacts in Central Asia. The USAID-funded, $4.7-million Conservation and Adaptation in Asia’s High Mountain Landscapes and Communities project will conduct field activities in and build alliances among six of the snow leopard’s 12 range countries: Bhutan, India, Nepal, Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan, and Pakistan. The project will run through September 30, 2016.

Experts

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