Snow Leopards

The Endangered Ghosts of the Mountain

How many snow leopards are there?

• Due to the secretive nature of the snow leopard, exact numbers are not known.

• It is estimated that around 3,500 to 7,000 wild snow leopards exist in the mountains regions of central Asia.

• This ranges from approximately 2,500 in China to 30 in Uzbekistan.

• In addition, there are between 600 and 700 snow leopards in zoos around the world.

What are these cats like?

• Snow leopards are solitary and elusive by nature and, therefore, scarcely seen in the wild.

• Their fur is very thick to help them preserve heat as they live in extremely cold conditions.

• The colour and design of their fur (grey or black uneven spots against an off-white or yellowish background) provides excellent camouflage against the rocky slopes.

• As you would expect, given the snowy conditions in which they live, snow leopards have very large paws. Their long tails, measuring almost the length of the rest of their whole body, are used to help them balance.

• Snow leopards do not roar as you would expect from wild cats. They do, however, mew, hiss, growl, moan, yowl, and puff through their nostrils.

• Snow leopards weigh about seven or eight times more than a domestic cat.

Where do they live?

• Snow leopards live at high altitude (usually between 3,000 and 5,500 metres above sea level), in the rocky mountain ranges of Central Asia, extending across twelve countries: Afghanistan, Bhutan, China, India, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

• Steep cliffs and rocky outcrops are their preferred terrain as this type of habitat is good for hunting in terms of providing cover and enabling them to stalk their prey.

• Snow leopards have defined territories although these can overlap as they are not as territorially defensive as other species – especially between males and females. An average home range of a male cat is thought to be about 100km2, but we’ve seen much larger ranges as well.

• The most common prey for a snow leopard is wild sheep and goats, however, this varies dependent on its specific home territory.

What threats do they face?

• Poaching: snow leopards are hunted for their precious fur and other body parts. Although killing and/or trading snow leopard parts is illegal worldwide, there is still a black market. The current extent of snow leopard poaching is unknown.

• Retaliation killings: Snow leopards often live near herder communities and will occasionally prey on domestic livestock. For these herders, who typically live on less than £2 per day, the loss of a goat or sheep can be devastating; and they sometimes view retaliation killings as their only option to protect their livelihood.

• Loss of habitat and prey: With economic pressures increasing, the snow leopard's mountain habitats have come under pressure. These cats need vast, connected home ranges with sufficient wild prey - both have become scarce in the last decades.

• Emerging threats: Large-scale developments such as mining or hydroelectric construction are putting additional pressure on these cats. They are losing additional habitats, and important corridors that allow them to migrate between mountain ranges are often made impassable. Climate change is adding to the problem, as vegetation and temperature in the fragile mountain ecosystems of Central Asia are changing.