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 up to 6,000 snow leopards in the wild across 12 countries, but its numbers are gradually declining, with hunting and habitat loss just some of the reasons that it is endangered.
 
  • common name

    Ounce, Snow Leopard Irbis, Léopard Des Neiges, Once, Panthère Des Neiges(Fr) Leopardo Nival, Pantera De La Nieves (Sp)

  • scientific name

    Panthera uncia, Uncia uncia

  • habitat

    Cold high mountains

  • status

    IUCN: Endangered C1 CITES: Appendix I

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  • population

    Estimated 4000 - 6500 individuals

  • weight

    Female weight: 35-40 kg Male weight: 45 - 55 kg

  • height & length

    Head-body length: 90 - 130 cm; Adult shoulder height: ~60 cm; Tail length: 80 - 100 cm

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

Physical description

Snow leopard is a relative species to more widely seen Leopard (Panthera pardus).  It is in the same size range as leopard.

Snow leopards are highly adapted to their natural habitat of cold high mountains. With their whitish-, yellowish- or smokey-grey fur, patterned with dark grey rosettes and spots, they can perfectly camouflage against the mountainous rocky terrain. 

The fur has long hair with dense, woolly underfur to protect them against the cold environment. Snow leopards molt twice a year, but the summer coat differs little from the winter in density and length.

Snow leopards have long tails, up to 1 m in length, that helps in keeping balance and as an additional protection against the cold to wrap around the body when the snow leopard is resting.

Size

Head-body length: 90 - 130 cm
Adult shoulder height: about 60 cm
Tail length: 80 - 100 cm
Female weight: 35-40 kg
Male weight: 45 - 55 kg

What do snow leopards eat?


Snow leopards typically prey on blue sheep, Argali wild sheep, Siberian ibex, Asiatic ibex, marmots, pikas, hares, Tibetan snowcock and chukor partridge. Their sole predator is humans.

Priority species

Snow leopard is a priority species. WWF treats priority species as one of the most ecologically, economically and/or culturally important species on our planet. And so we are working to ensure such species can live and thrive in their natural habitats.
Snow leopard in Altai Sayan / ©: D.Tseveenravdan / WWF Mongolia
Snow leopard in Altai Sayan
© D.Tseveenravdan / WWF Mongolia

Priority region

Where does the snow leopard live?

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.


View Snow leopard range in a larger map

How many snow leopards are left?

Click on the image to enlarge the graph


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

What are the main threats to the snow leopard?

The snow leopard is endangered throughout its 12 range states in Asia and is listed as 'endangered' in IUCN's Red List of Threatened Species.

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 to 58% of the snow leopard's diet.

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

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

The habitat of the snow leopard continues to decline as inreased grazing and human settlements fragment the historic range of the species.

Habitat

Biogeographic realm
Palearctic

Range states
Afghanistan; Bhutan; China (Gansu, Nei Mongol - Presence Uncertain, Qinghai, Sichuan, Tibet [or Xizang], Xinjiang, Yunnan - Regionally Extinct); India (Himachal Pradesh, Jammu-Kashmir, Sikkim, Uttaranchal); Kazakhstan; Kyrgyzstan; Mongolia; Nepal; Pakistan; Russian Federation; Tajikistan; Uzbekistan

Geographical location
Mountain regions of Central and Southern Asia

Ecological region
Boreal forest, Temperate shrublands and grasslands, Subtropical and tropical high altitude shrublands and grasslands, Rocky areas
 / ©: WWF-Nepal
Snow leopards are endangered and at risk of losing their habitats from climate change
© WWF-Nepal

Video: The Elusive Snow Leopard

Rare snow leopard footage from India's remote corner

This footage is from the first ever camera trap images of a snow leopard (Uncia uncia) taken a few kilometers from the Line Of Control (the military control line between the Indian and Pakistani-controlled parts of Jammu & Kashmir). Two adult snow leopards were identified from pictures captured in Feb. 2012 using infrared cameras.

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 and mining in the area.

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 mobile 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 of snow leopard fur, bones and other body parts.

Some WWF projects that support this work:

WWF research team monitoring snow leopard presence in the Altan Khokki range, Khar Us Nuur National ... / ©: Hartmut Jungius / WWF-Canon
WWF research team monitoring snow leopard presence in the Altan Khokki range, Khar Us Nuur National Park, Mongolian Altai, Mongolia.
© Hartmut Jungius / WWF-Canon

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How you can help

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Virtual Gifts

Virtual Gifts / ©: 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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