/ ©: National Geographic Stock /Steve Winter / WWF

Snow leopard

An expert at navigating the steep and rocky alpine regions of Central Asia, the snow leopard is recognizable by its long tail and almost-white coat, spotted with large black rosettes.

There are fewer than 6,400 snow leopards in the wild across 12 countries, and their numbers are declining, with hunting and habitat loss just some of the reasons that it is endangered. Climate change also poses a long term threat to its survival.
 / ©: David Lawson / WWF-UK
Snow leopard (Panthera uncia)
© David Lawson / WWF-UK

Physical description

Snow leopards are highly adapted to their natural habitat in the cold high mountains of Central Asia. Their thick fur patterned with its dark grey rosettes and spots is the perfect camouflage for their mountainous rocky terrain, allowing them to stalk their prey.

Their beautiful coats are made up of long hairs with a dense, woolly underfur to protect them against the cold. Their coats change with the seasons – from a background of thick, white fur to keep them warm and camouflaged in winter, to a fine yellow-grey coat in the summer.

The pattern of spots is unique to each individual snow leopard.

Snow leopards have longer tails than other big cats. They can be up to 1 m in length and help the leopards to balance on steep, rocky slopes. They also provide additional protection against the cold since the leopards can be wrap them around themsleves while they are resting.
 

Why they matter?

Snow leopards are solitary creatures that usually hunt at dawn and dusk. They’re stealthy predators, able to kill prey up to three times their own weight.

Snow leopards’ favoured prey are herbivores - such as blue sheep, Argali wild sheep, Siberian ibex and Asiatic ibex - that graze on alpine plants. Without the snow leopard, there would be too many herbivores, which would overgraze the habitat, leaving no food for other wildlife.

The snow leopard’s habitat also provides important resources for local communities – from food and medicine to wood for shelter, heat and fuel. As well as water sources for hundreds of millions of people downstream. So by helping to protect the snow leopard, we’re helping to conserve its environment for the benefit of people and nature. 

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Snow leopard in Altai Sayan / ©: D.Tseveenravdan / WWF Mongolia
Snow leopard in Altai Sayan
© D.Tseveenravdan / WWF Mongolia
 / ©: WWF / KLEIN & HUBERT
Snow leopard (Uncia uncia).
© WWF / KLEIN & HUBERT

Key Facts

  • common name

    Snow Leopard, Panthère Des Neiges (Fr), Pantera De La Nieves (Sp)

  • scientific name

    Panthera uncia, Uncia uncia

  • habitat

    Cold high mountains

  • status

    IUCN: Endangered C1 CITES: Appendix I

  • population

    Estimated 3,920 - 6,390 individuals

  • weight

    Adult male: 45-55 kg

  • height & length

    Adult length 90-130 cm; Shoulder height 60 cm; Tail length 80-100 cm

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Snow Leopards are valuable indicator of environmental health – their declining numbers is a sign that the places they live are also threatened. With only up to 7500 individuals left in the wild it is up to India, Nepal, and Bhutan to take the lead and create a regional conservation framework that helps protect the future of this iconic species and the Eastern Himalayas.

Tariq Aziz, Leader of WWF’s Living Himalayas Initiative

Population and distribution



NB. Due to their elusive nature, it is difficult to obtain accurate population figures.
 

Main threats

The snow leopard is endangered throughout its 12 range states in Asia.

Human conflict is a key factor affecting the survival of the snow leopard. Snow leopards are often killed by local farmers because they prey on livestock such as sheep, goats, horses and yak calves. In some areas, domestic animals can make up over 50% of a snow leopard's diet.

The reason for the snow leopard's increased reliance on domestic animals for meat is due to the decline in the numbers of their natural prey. Animals they would typically eat, such as the Argali sheep, are also hunted by local communities.

Much of the population decline is also attributed to poaching for their fur and for bones which are used in Chinese medicines.

Habitat loss is also a major threat with increased human and livestock pressure degrading and fragmenting habitat across their historic range. Climate change also poses a real threat due to its expected impact on the snow leopard's habitat.

Habitat

Range states
Afghanistan; Bhutan; China; India; Kazakhstan; Kyrgyzstan; Mongolia; Nepal; Pakistan; Russia; Tajikistan; Uzbekistan

Geographical location
Mountain regions of Central and Southern Asia

Ecological regions
Boreal forest, temperate shrublands and grasslands, subtropical high altitude shrublands and grasslands, rocky areas
 / ©: © Klein & Hubert / WWF
Research by WWF scientists shows that 30 percent of the endangered snow leopard's habitat in the Himalayas may be lost if greenhouse gas emissions continue their steady increase.
© © Klein & Hubert / WWF
 / ©: WWF Mongolia
Snow Leopard in the wild
© WWF Mongolia
 

Rare snow leopard footage

This remarkable footage was compiled from the first ever camera trap images of a snow leopard taken a few kilometers from the Line Of Control (the military line of control between the Indian and Pakistani-controlled parts of Jammu & Kashmir). The footage comes from the Indian side of the line.

Two adult snow leopards were identified from pictures captured in February 2012 using infrared cameras. This unprecedented footage shows on of those beautiful cats.

What WWF is doing

WWF's work to protect the snow leopard focuses on rural development, education for sustainable development, and the control of the illegal wildlife trade.

We work with communities to help manage and reduce conflict between snow leopards and people. For example, we’ve helped build leopard-proof livestock pens, and we’ve set up compensation schemes for farmers who lose livestock to snow leopards. 

In Mongolia, WWF works with the increasing number of goat herders to build awareness about the plight of the snow leopard and reduce the killing of snow leopards in retaliation for killing livestock.

WWF supports anti-poaching activities as a way to curb the hunting of snow leopards and their prey species (e.g., ibex, argali, and marmots) and works to eliminate the illegal trade in snow leopard fur, bones and other body parts.

We are also campaigning to limit the extent and impact of climate change, which is one of the most serious emerging threats to the future of snow leopards.
WWF research team monitoring snow leopard presence in the Altan Khokki range, Khar Us Nuur National ... / ©: Hartmut Jungius / WWF
WWF research team monitoring snow leopard presence in the Altan Khokki range, Khar Us Nuur National Park, Mongolian Altai, Mongolia.
© Hartmut Jungius / WWF
 / ©: © Kamal Thapa/WWF Nepal
The snow leopard was captured using a modified Aldrich foot snare equipped with satellite/VHF trap transmitters, which is a tried and tested means. The snow leopard came to no harm during the capture.
© © Kamal Thapa/WWF Nepal

How you can help

 / ©: National Geographic Stock / Michael Nichols / WWF
© National Geographic Stock / Michael Nichols / WWF

Did you know?

    • Snow leopards are solitary animals, it is rare to see two snow leopards together. Therefore, there is no term for a group of snow leopards.
    • Unlike other large cats, snow leopards cannot roar. They can mew, growl, yowl and prusten. 
    • They can jump as much as 50 feet (15 meters).
    • Snow leopards mate in late winter, between January and mid-March. Males and females stay together for a short period and males do not participate in rearing the cubs.
    • The gestation period is 98 - 104 days and the litter size can be between 1 - 5 cubs, though 2 - 3 is more usual.

    Download factsheet on Snow Leopard 24 KB doc
  • Population status

    Estimated population of the snow leopard is around 4,080-6,590, according to the IUCN Red List. Populations by country are roughly* as follows:

    Afghanistan: 100-200?
    Bhutan: 100-200?
    China: 2,000-2,500
    India: 200-600
    Kazakhstan: 180-200
    Kyrgyzstan: 150-500
    Mongolia: 500-1,000
    Nepal: 300-500
    Pakistan: 200-420
    Russia: 150-200
    Tajikistan: 180-220
    Uzbekistan: 20-50

    * Due to the elusive nature of the species, it is difficult to obtain accurate population figures.

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