The snow leopard: elegant and elusive species:
Affected by: Habitat loss and fragmentation , Climate change , Human wildlife conflict , Illegal wildlife trade
The elegant and well-camouflaged snow leopard is one of the world’s most elusive cats. Thinly spread across 12 countries in central Asia, it’s at home in high, rugged mountain landscapes. But habitat deterioration, habitat loss, poaching and climate change are now threatening their survival.
The snow leopard has a beautiful, spotted coat, thick enough to insulate them from the cold. Their wide, fur-covered feet distribute their weight over soft snow, like natural snowshoes.
Snow leopards are solitary creatures, and skillful predators, able to kill prey up to three times their own weight in challenging terrain. It’s been found that poaching and retaliatory killing (as a consequence of a snow leopard killing livestock) are sometimes linked, and the attitudes and support from local communities living in these remote mountain areas are critical to the success of snow leopard conservation.
Where snow leopards live
Snow leopards are sparsely distributed across 12 countries in central Asia, from southern Russia down to the Tibetan plateau, including Mongolia, China, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Nepal.
They’re usually at home in high, rugged mountain landscapes at heights of over 3,000 metres – and climate change may shrink their available habitat.
Why snow leopards are so important
Snow leopards are top predators in their environment, and their prey include mountain sheep and goats. Without the snow leopard, the ecological balance would be disrupted. For example, herbivore populations would increase, resulting in changes to the vegetation, also affecting other wildlife that live in these areas.
The same landscape also provides food and other important resources for the many people who live there – including medicine and wood for shelter, heat and fuel. So by protecting the snow leopard, we’re benefitting the whole natural environment in these areas and the people who rely on it.
Challenges affecting snow leopards