Snow Leopard

Snow leopard (<i>Uncia uncia</i>). rel=
Snow leopard (Uncia uncia).
© WWF / Chris Martin BAHR

Hunted extensively for its fur and bones

The Snow leopard (Uncia uncia) shares just its name with the common leopard but is not closely related to it. It is an endangered cat species which lives in the high, rugged mountains of Central Asia.

Snow leopards are medium-sized cats which can neither roar nor purr. They have white, yellowish, or smoky-grey fur patterned with dark-gray to black spots and rosettes. Their hide camouflages them against the rocky slopes, helping them sneak up on prey.

Their fur is dense and woolly to help the cats stay warm in the bitterly cold habitat. The fur on their bellies is up to 12 cm (nearly 5 in) long. Their thick furry tails, which are up to 1 m (40 in) in length and nearly as long as the rest of their bodies, are used as both as a balancing aid and to provide warmth.

Snow leopards are well known for their beautiful fur and agile movements. They are superb jumpers and can spring and pounce on their prey up to 45 ft away! They have been spotted at heights of 6,000 ft. Long, powerful hind limbs help the snow leopard leap up to 30 feet - 6 times its body length!

Your chances of seeing one in the wild
Snow leopards are sparsely distributed across 12 countries in Central Asia: China, Bhutan, Nepal, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Mongolia. China contains as much as 60% of the snow leopard's habitat. It is estimated that there are about 4,500-7,350 snow leopards left in total.

Snow leopards are listed as 'endangered' in IUCN's (World Conservation Union) Red List of Threatened Species. Much of the population decline is attributed to hunting for the much coveted fur and for bones which are used in Chinese medicines. Human conflict is another factor affecting its survival because it is known to kill sheep, goats, horses, and yak calves.

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