Snow leopards 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 poaching and climate change are now threatening its 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 very successful predators, able to kill prey up to three times their own weight. But poaching and conflict with people have reduced their numbers. They're suspected to have declined by at least 20% in under two decades – although estimating populations is tricky because these cats are so elusive!
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 favourite prey are mountain sheep and goats. Without the snow leopard there may be too many of these herbivores, which would overgraze the sparse alpine plants on the mountains, leaving no food for other wildlife.
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.