toggle menu

In photos:

In photos: The Ghost of the Mountains

09 Aug 2017


  • snow leopards
  • asia
  • illegal wildlife trade

The elegant snow leopard is one of the world’s most elusive cats. Sparsely distributed across twelve countries in central Asia, they prowl the high, rugged mountain landscapes.

Snow leopards play a key role in their ecosystem as top predators. They’re also an important indicator of the health of their high-altitude habitat. If snow leopards thrive, so will countless other species.

Sadly, there may be as few as 4,000 snow leopards left. At least four of these cats are killed every week due to habitat loss and poaching.

Help save these magnificent cats by sending a message to the leaders of the countries where snow leopard roam. Sign the petition here.


Snow leopard cub (Panthera uncia) hidding © David Lawson / WWF-UK

Snow leopards are shy, elusive cats known for their solitary nature.

Snow leopard (Uncia uncia) walking in snowy landscape © Klein & Hubert / WWF

A dense spotted coat provides excellent camouflage and insulation against the cold.

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

The leopard's generous tail which measures to almost one metre in length, aids balance on the steep slopes. It also doubles up as a warm wrap.

Measuring Yalung\

Its thick padded feet act like furry snowshoes and distribute weight evenly over the snow as the leopard negotiates its challenging terrain.

Snow leopard (Panthera uncia) bounding through snow © / Andy Rouse / WWF

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.

Snow leopard in snowy landscape © / Reinhard / ARCO / WWF

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.

Snow leopard (Panthera uncia) cub yawning, lying on snow © / Andy Rouse / WWF

Unlike other big cats, the snow leopard can’t roar due to the physiology of its throat… however, they can purr and mew!

Female snow leopard and cub (Panthera uncia) © David Lawson / WWF-UK

For about two or three months, newborn cubs remain in their well-protected den, shielded from predators. Their mother stays close during that time, frequently returning to the den to nurse her cubs.

Close up of Yalung, the fourth snow leopard collared in Nepal, May 2017 © Sanjog Rai / WWF-Nepal

WWF is installing camera traps, conducting surveys and satellite tracking snow leopards to learn more about their movements and behaviour. This information will help efforts to conserve these beautiful big cats.

Snow leopard caught on sensor camera, Nepal © WWF-Nepal

Due to the elusive nature of snow leopards, this photo is a rare sighting, captured by a sensor camera in 2016 in Nepal.

Recommended reading

Snow leopard on rocky mountains © Klein & Hubert / WWF


Adopt a snow leopard

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

Read more