Snow Leopards

Overview

Snow leopards are one of the most mysterious species on the planet, and are referred to by locals as 'mountain ghosts'. There are between 4,000 - 7,000 snow leopards living in the wild today. Their exact numbers are unknown because they are extremely secretive, and live in some of the harshest environments on the planet.

Range

Snow leopards live in 12 countries in Asia and inhabit extreme landscapes approximately 3,000-5,400 meters above sea level. Nearly 15% of the snow leopards presumed historic range is no longer inhabited by these cats.

Panthera in Action

Panthera is currently partnering with the Snow Leopard Trust in the first long-term ecological study of snow leopards in Mongolia. This study is using state-of-the-art GPS satellite collars, camera traps, and collecting genetic data, to better understand the basic ecology of these elusive cats and develop urgently needed conservation actions.
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    [value] => 60
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60 Number of snow leopard skins confiscated in Chinese markets between 2003-2008.
12 Number of countries in Asia in which snow leopards are found.
60 The vast majority of the snow leopard's habitat, as much as 60%, is found in China.

A Species Under Threat

Camera trap photo of a snowleopard, Ladakh, IndiaSnow leopards (Panthera uncia) are one of the most enigmatic wild cats. They live and travel in solitude over vast distances of isolated and rugged mountain range in central Asia, and are supremely adapted to thrive in some of the harshest conditions on the planet. Adding to their elusive nature, snow leopards are the one big cat that cannot roar. Seldom observed in the wild, or at best a fleeting apparition, snow leopards have appropriately earned the title ‘Ghost of the mountains’.

The long-term outlook for snow leopards - a flagship species of the mountain ranges of Asia - isuncertain at best. Sadly, as few as 4,000 to 7,000 snow leopards may remain in the wild. Snow leopards are believed to have been extirpated from as much as 15% of their historic range, and though they are legally protected in the twelve countries in which they are found, they are listed as “Endangered” on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.

Snow leopard habitatSnow leopard range encompasses 2 million square kilometers spread across twelve central Asian countries. The big cats are currently found in Afghanistan, Bhutan, China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan; with 60% of their habitat occurring in China alone.

 

The main threats to the snow leopard's survival are:

  • The capture and killing of snow leopards for the illegal wildlife trade market. Snow leopard body parts can sell for thousands of US dollars, as their distinctive fur is highly coveted, as well as their bones, for traditional Asian medicine,
  • Hunting due to conflict with herders who live in fear of losing livestock, and
  • Habitat loss and fragmentation due to the conversion of land for agricultural purposes, primarily livestock grazing.

How We’re Helping

Panthera's Snow Leopard Program Executive Director with a collared snow leopardDespite their declining numbers, hope remains for wild snow leopards. Panthera’s Snow Leopard Program, led by Executive Director Dr. Tom McCarthy, employs a multi-pronged approach toward advancing conservation of the species across its entire geographical range.  

 

Through scientific research and the development of enhanced and novel techniques for monitoring low-density snow leopard and prey populations in remote rugged habitat, Panthera is contributing a wealth of ground-breaking scientific knowledge on how best to conserve this secretive and poorly understood species.

Dr. Tom McCarthy shows radio telemtry to partnersApplying the robust data our scientific studies yield, Panthera is driving national conservation policy in snow leopard countries, by working with local governments and a broad range of stakeholders to help create both regional and national action plans that are assured of impacting snow leopard conservation at the highest possible levels. Working on the ground in snow leopard habitat, Panthera and our local partners engage communities, seeking to encourage stewardship and minimize human-wildlife conflict through innovative programs.

Panthera’s approach is based on three fundamental principles:

  • Identify the geographic gaps and opportunities where Panthera can contribute to a range-wide approach in conserving the species.
  • Undertake the basic science on the species’ ecology to inform conservation policy on landscape scales, addressing issues such as connectivity and fragmentation. Work with existing partners to achieve greater coordination and effectiveness, and generate new partnerships and projects to address existing gaps.

Panthera’s reach currently extends to seven of the 12 snow leopard countries, and we expect to expand over the next few years to engage all 12 snow leopard range states.

Read Panthera’s Snow Leopard Brochure

Read Panthera's Snow Leopard Report Card: The State of the Snow Leopard.

Please click here to read Panthera’s statement in response to recent questions about collaring snow leopards.

snow leopard Programs

Camera trap image of a snow leopard "mountain ghost", Ladakh, India Snow Leopard Program | Conserving Mountain Ghosts

Panthera on the Ground

Dr. Tom McCarthy processes a sample of snow leopard scat in Mongolia’s Altai Mountains. These samples are analyzed by our partners at the Global Felid Genetics Program, run through the American Museum of Natural History, and provide critical information about genetic relatedness between regional snow leopard populations.

How you can help snow-leopards right now: