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Yalung, the fourth snow leopard collared in Kangchenjunga Conservation Area, May 2017 © Sanjog Rai / WWF-Nepal

Yalung, the fourth snow leopard collared in Kangchenjunga Conservation Area, May 2017 © Sanjog Rai / WWF-Nepal

Snow leopard

The magnificent snow leopard that stalks the mountains of Central Asia is one cool cat. It needs to be to survive at altitudes above 3,000 metres.

 

Known as the Ghost of the Mountains, it leads a mostly solitary and mysterious existence but is beautifully equipped for its rugged territory. A dense spotted coat provides excellent camouflage and insulation against the cold, and the leopard's generous tail – measuring almost 1 metre in length – aids balance on the steep slopes while also doubling as a warm wrap. Its thick padded feet act like furred snowshoes and distribute weight evenly over the snow as the leopard negotiates its challenging terrain.

Powerful hind legs enable the snow leopard to leap fifteen metres in pursuit of prey such as blue sheep, Argali sheep, ibex, marmots and hares. It’s a strong and stealthy hunter and can bring down animals up to three times its own size.

However, life in the mountains is increasingly harsh. Habitat loss, illegal poaching, conflict with mountain graziers and the impacts of climate change have reduced snow leopard populations to somewhere between 4,000–6,000 individuals.

 


What we're doing

WWF's work to protect the snow leopard focuses largely on its sole predator – humans – who routinely kill them in retaliation for attacking livestock and for their body parts. Many killings in remote regions go undetected, but as many as four leopards are thought to die every week. Through education, support for rural development and the policing of illegal wildlife trafficking, we are focused on finding ways for mountain communities to co-exist with snow leopards.

 

Snow leopard (Uncia uncia) in snow © Klein & Hubert / WWF

© Klein & Hubert / WWF


Why it matters 

Snow leopards play a critical role in their ecosystem as top predators. Their health reflects the health of their high-altitude domain.

Without snow leopards, the mountain sheep and goats they prey upon would overgraze alpine plants, leaving little for other wildlife to eat. The same environment also provides food and other resources for people – namely medicines, and wood for shelter and fuel. By protecting the snow leopard, we are helping to safeguard its entire habitat and the many people who rely on it.

Snow leopard on rocky mountains © Klein & Hubert / WWF

© Klein & Hubert / WWF

 

 

Panthera uncia

Species Bio

Common Name

Snow leopards

Scientific Name

Panthera uncia, Uncia uncia

Stats

Habitat: Cold high mountains of Central Asia
Population: Estimated 4000–6400 individuals
Weight: 30-55 kg
Head-body length: 90–130 cm; Adult shoulder height: ~60 cm; Tail length: 80–100 cm

Status

Vulnerable (IUCN Red List)

Did you know?

Unlike other big cats, the snow leopard cannot roar.


Threats

Snow leopards have a large home range and are sparsely distributed across 12 countries in Central Asia. They are endangered in all of them. Although counting this elusive species is difficult, we suspect that populations have declined by as much as 20% in the past two decades.

Conflict with humans, as a result of snow leopards attacking livestock (sheep, goats, horses and yak calves), poses an immediate threat. These animals now comprise as much as 58% of the snow leopard's diet because illegal hunting has robbed them of what they normally eat – like the Argali sheep prized by local villagers for their meat and medicinal uses. These sheep have all but disappeared from north-eastern China, southern Siberia and parts of Mongolia, so leopards have been forced to switch diets.

Illegal poaching of snow leopards, for their coveted fur and bones, has also contributed to population declines.

Increased grazing and human settlements (including the associated roads and mines) have encroached on the habitat of the snow leopard, causing population losses and fragmentation.

In recent years, climate change has emerged as a major threat to snow leopards and their fragile mountain habitat – between the tree line and snow line. As the Earth's temperatures rise, trees can survive at higher altitudes, thereby over-running the leopard's preferred habitats. A WWF study (Forrest et al. 2012) predicts about 30% of snow leopard habitat in the Himalaya may be lost due to a shifting tree line and consequent shrinking of the alpine zone.


What you can do to help

 Send a message to the twelve leaders of the snow leopard countries to take stronger action in saving these endangered cats.
 Make a symbolic snow leopard adoption to help us protect this endangered species.

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Snow leopard in snowy landscape © naturepl.com / Reinhard / ARCO / WWF

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Save snow leopards

Sign our petition to secure the snow leopard’s future before it’s too late!

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Snow leopard on rocky mountains © Klein & Hubert / WWF

Species

Adopt a snow leopard

They are powerful, captivating and incredibly vulnerable to poaching and loss of prey and habitat.

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