Snow leopard






Cheetah Jaguar Leopard Lion Puma Snow Leopard Tiger

Snow leopards (Uncia uncia) are often referred to by locals as “mountain ghosts” given their secretive nature and how rarely they are seen. One of the most enigmatic species on the planet, the snow leopard remains one of the least understood of the big cats.

IUCN Red List Status
Least concern Near threatened Vulnerable Endangered Critically endangered
Status on CITES Appendices
  ~ 2,500 – 5,500m
  Snow leopards inhabit extreme landscapes approximately 2,500 – 5,500 meters above sea level
Sixty percent of snow leopard habitat is found in China.   Snow leopard range spans 12 countries across 2 million km2


There are believed to be between 3,920 and 7,500 snow leopards living in the wild today. The exact number is unknown as they are extremely elusive and challenging to survey. However, new research, including camera trapping, is starting to indicate there may be more cats than previously thought.

The snow leopard is listed as “Vulnerable” on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.

Main threats

The capture and killing of snow leopards for the illegal wildlife market is a primary threat to the species’ survival. Live snow leopards or their body parts can sell for thousands of US dollars; their distinctive fur is highly coveted and their bones are used in traditional Asian medicine.

Snow leopards are also often killed by humans in retaliation for – or to prevent – preying on livestock, which increasingly populate snow leopard habitat.

Snow leopards are experiencing a loss of prey – primarily wild mountain sheep and goats – from both illegal and legal hunting by humans.

Climate change poses new challenges to snow leopards as well. Temperatures are on the rise across the mountains of Central Asia. The Tibetan plateau, home to more than half of the remaining snow leopards, has already become 3 degrees warmer in the last 20 years. The changes impact the entire ecosystem: vegetation, water supplies, animals – and they threaten to make up to a third of the snow leopard’s habitat unusable.

Conservation efforts

The snow leopard has been protected under Appendix I of  the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) since 1 July 1975 which means commercial international trade in snow leopard is prohibited.

There have been significant investments in the conservation of snow leopard. These include the establishment of new protected areas within the snow leopard range; anti-poaching measures; training and capacity-building; initiatives to reduce conflict with herders (e.g. strengthening livestock corrals, vaccination, handicrafts and alternative livelihoods, grazing set-asides), community engagement programmes; confiscation of firearms across China, and education programmes to raise awareness of the snow leopard. The Range-wide Priority Setting workshop in Beijing in 2008, the Global Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Protection Program and the revised version of the snow leopard Survival Strategy have all enhanced the global strategic framework for conservation of the species.

Illegal poaching, the main threat to Russia's snow leopard population, was recently alleviated, at least in several important areas, by concerted removal of wire-snares and the recruitment of former poachers as protected area rangers. Anti-poaching efforts in Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan have also been strengthened, thus addressing the main underlying threat that led to the drastic decline in numbers in several Central Asian states.