Snow Leopard Facts

Snow Leopard Facts

Why are snow leopards special? Snow Leopards are one of the most beautiful and mystical wild cats. They have a proud bearing and people are drawn to their unusual white/gray color. Snow leopards are also very elusive and few people have seen them in the wild. They are rare and endangered and live in some of the most extreme high altitude and cold climate on earth. Read and enjoy many astounding snow leopard facts on this page.

How many Snow Leopards are left in the wild? Researchers and conservationists estimate there are only between 3000 to 6000 snow leopards still surviving. They live in the rugged mountainous regions of 12 countries – Afghanistan, Bhutan, China, India, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz republic, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

Alcu injured by poachers trap. Kyrgyz Republic. Photo by NABU.

Why are snow leopards endangered? The snow leopard is listed as Endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN). The IUCN is an international organisation dedicated to conservation of animals and their habitat. It keeps an updated Red List of Threatened Species of all animals on our planet and their status in terms of numbers based on scientific research. It has listed snow leopards as endangered for many years. It is a sad fact that the biggest threat to snow leopards (like most other endangered animals) are humans. Humans have for centuries hunted them for their fur and their bones; fur to wear as coats and hats, and bones to be used in traditional medicines. Humans also destroy snow leopard habitat and food sources by killing the prey animals they need to feed on. When the natural wild prey animals are not available snow leopards will often kill and eat domestic livestock like sheep and goats belonging to villagers they share the mountains with. When this happens the villagers will in turn kill the snow leopard to protect their livestock, which is often the only resource standing between them and poverty.

Snow leopards are endangered

The future of snow leopards.

According to the IUCN Red List snow leopards are believed to have declined by at least 20% over the past 16 years due to habitat and prey base loss, as well as poaching and persecution. Losses to poaching were most severe in the former Russian republics during the 1990s. Conditions there have improved marginally for the animal but the illegal trade is estimated to be continuing as demand for body parts from China is growing. Some countries have designated snow leopard areas as National Parks. However often these are too small to conserve viable snow leopard populations, as there are not enough prey animals in the area for them to feed on.

Also it must be remembered, even if there is an estimate of snow leopard numbers still in the thousands, many live in such small populations, cut off from prospective mates by human populations, war zones and geography, that it is unlikely they will breed and reproduce.

Many conservation programs in the wild however, are working to halt the decline of the snow leopard. Find out how they work on this Blog on the Projects Page. Also check many conservation projects on each country’s page under the Projects Menu.

Snow leopard facts. Snow Leopards are well adapted for their severe environment. Snow leopards are smaller than the big cats and generally weigh between 28 and 55 kilos. The body length is around 75 to 130 cm with the tail length being almost the same length. The tail is long and thick and helps the cat keep itself warm as it wraps the tail around the body during sleep. Also the long tail helps each snow leopard keep balance and speed as it races down rocky inclines of mountains in pursuit of prey like wild sheep and goats.

Snow leopard fur with rosettes close up

Snow leopard fur with rosettes close up

The fur is beautiful, long and thick, the base color of which varies from smokey gray to yellowish tan, with whitish underparts. The dark gray to black round markings are called rosettes and these are also on the head and legs and tail. Each snow leopard’s markings are subtly different and this is one way that researchers can tell them apart. Sadly the beauty of this fur is one reason the animal is endangered as it is often hunted for its pelt to be made into coats, although this is illegal in all range countries.

Other ways that snow leopards are adapted for living in cold mountainous environments include their stocky bodies, thick fur and ears that are small and rounded, all of which help to minimise heat-loss. Their paws are very wide, this distributes their weight better for walking on snow, with fur on the underside to increase traction on unstable rock and shale surfaces.

Size of home territory. An individual snow leopard lives within a well-defined home range but doesn’t defend its territory aggressively when encroached upon by other snow leopards. Snow leopards are generally shy, even within their own species and will only seek out other snow leopards during mating season.

Home ranges vary greatly in size. In Nepal, where prey is abundant, there may be between 5 to 10 cats sharing an area of 100 square km. But in regions where prey animals are scarce 5 cats would need an area of 1,000 square km to find enough prey animals to live on.

More snow leopard facts about their natural habitat.

Snow leopard range countries. Map Snow Leopard Conservancy

Snow leopard range countries. Map Snow Leopard Conservancy

The snow leopard lives in the Himalayas, the mountains of Central Asia and the Mountains of Southwest China as well as the Tibetan plateau. Their range covers 12 countries – Afghanistan, Bhutan, China, India, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

Snow leopards typically inhabit rugged terrain such as steep slopes with bluffs, ridges broken by outcrops, and valleys interrupted by cliffs, with arid and semi-arid shrublands and grasslands.

They live at altitudes between 3000 – 4500 m (9800 – 14,800′) but has also been known to go above 5500 m (18,000′) in the Himalaya in summer.
In Mongolia and on the Tibetan Plateau, the snow leopard can be found in flat country, especially if rock ridges and ledges provide protective travel routes, and outcrops provide sufficient cover. During winter it will often descend to lower elevations in search of prey, but in summer it moves back up the mountain to the steepest and most remote terrain.

Some parts of its range, such as the massifs of the Gobi Desert of Mongolia, Tibet’s Chang Tang, and the northern rim of Ladoga, are virtually devoid of vegetation.

Birth Season – Mating usually occurs between late January and mid–March. Gestation period is between 13 and 15 weeks. Births usually occur in June or July and litters size can vary from 1 – 5 but usually 2 – 3. The cubs will open their eyes when they are about 7-9 days old.

Cubs Melb Zoo. Photo Adian Howard.

Cubs Melb Zoo. Photo Adian Howard.

Early Development – The cubs eat their first solid food when they are about 2 months old, and 2-3 months later begin to follow their mother when she goes hunting. They learn to hunt with the mother at least through their first winter and then leave the mother at 18 – 22 months of age. The young siblings might remain together briefly but then each will go its separate way.

Maximum reproductive age -some snow leopards have reproduced up to 15 years in captivity.
Maximum age – snow leopards have been known to live up to 21 years in captivity. In the wild however they will only live to about 9 or 10 yrs.

Himalayan marmots greeting. Photo Wikipedia

Snow leopard facts about diet -what’s to eat up here? –Biologist researchers like George Schaller have shown that snow leopards prey on whatever ungulates (that is sheep and goats) are available from wild pigs and markhor with their twisted horns to Himalayan tahrs, takins, and argalis. In Mongolia they also prey on wild Bactrian camels and gazelles. However, their staple prey, without which they could not survive in most areas, consists of blue sheep and ibex.

They will also eat marmots, a small mammal that looks a little like a cross between a meerkat and a rabbit. Until recently not much was known about specific diet but studies have shown blue sheep and marmots as the most important prey in summer, supplemented with deer, hares and an occasional bird.

Snow leopards eat ibex

Ibex. Photo Wikipedia

Snow leopards will also prey on livestock where it is not well protected. Other research suggests an adult snow leopard might need 20 – 30 adult blue sheep annually and kill a large prey animal every 10 – 15 days. When a snow leopard kills a large animal like an ibex it may take it many days to eat it.
Behavior -Snow leopards seem to be very adaptive as studies show in Nepal they’re generally crepuscular, that is, active around dawn until about 10 o’clock and then again in the late afternoon and evening. In Ladakh, in northern India, however, it seems the animal is more nocturnal because here it has to survive largely on domestic livestock and therefore needs to be wary of human retribution.

Intriguing snow leopard facts – the big cat that doesn’t roar. Snow leopards can’t roar because of their different vocal chords. Most zoo keepers working with the snow leopard use the word “prusten” for the sound the cat makes. It’s a German word meaning to puff and to blow. It’s a soft sound snow leopards make to each other and sometimes to keepers. In the wild they use it to communicate when meeting for mating. Some people also call it “chuffing”. See video of snow leopard Hercules from Big Cat rescue doing his “chuffing” talk to keepers. Video is called Snow Leopard Hello!

The National Geographic web page on snow leopards has an audio file where you can hear the sound a snow leopard makes. Check it out here.

Snow leopards Uncia Uncia

More intriguing snow leopard facts – a cat in a league of its own. While snow leopards share part of their name with the true leopard, scientists have come to the conclusion that the two aren’t closely related. The difference is in the skull structure of the snow leopard as well as the fact that their vocal chords are underdeveloped and they can’t roar like other big cats. Snow leopards have in the past been classified alone in the Uncia genus. Now however they have been shown to be related to tigers and are classified with Panthera. See snow leopards and tigers sister species story here.

Snow leopard facts and snow leopard myths.

The Snow Leopard Conservancy has researched and helped snow leopards for almost 3 decades. But they have also collected some beautiful stories and myths from the local people that share snow leopard habitat high up in the Himalayas. Read these mystical myths and legends on the Snow Leopard Conservancy website.

The most astounding snow leopard facts

Snow leopards facts 1. Village people in the Himalayas who share the snow leopard’s habitat call it the “ghost of the mountains” because they rarely see it.
Snow leopard facts 2. Snow leopards live alone most of their lives.
Snow Leopard facts 3. Snow leopards can walk over 30 kilometers per day.
Snow Leopard facts 4. Snow leopards have the longest tail of any cat.

{ 49 comments… read them below or add one }

faisalsoofi September 3, 2009 at 11:16 am

thankyou for putting all this information here, snowleopards are truly awesome creatures…..hats off to all those trying to save them and their habitat, we need them both

Sibylle September 3, 2009 at 11:28 am

and thanks for your support too. It will take a big collaborative effort to save these guys, their habitat and help the people who share their habitat too.

Darren September 11, 2009 at 12:06 am

The information provided here is completely amazing. If possible I would love some reccomedations on great books concerning Snow Leopards. Photography is the main aspect of what I’m looking for.

Sibylle September 11, 2009 at 12:42 am

thanks Darren, I’m glad you are interested in snow leopards. A lot of people specialise in photographing them in Zoos – see Steve Tracy on the Snow Leopard Trust website – http://www.snowleopard.org. He lives in Tokyo and the zoo there has a big breeding program and this website has lots of photos. In terms of books, there’s a new one by Sy Montgomery “Saving the Ghost of the mountains – an expedition among snow leopards in Mongolia”. Of course its hard to get pics of snow leopards in the wild but this book has some. I will be doing some posts on this book soon as I’m interviewing Sy at present,

Sibylle September 11, 2009 at 12:48 am

Darren, other books on snow leopards are-
George Schaller “Stones of Silence – Journeys in the Himalaya” photos of landscape and first photo of wild snow leopard ever!
Darla Hillard “Vanishing tracks – 4 yrs among the snow leopards of Nepal” – first ever wild captured snow leopards for radio collaring. A few photos.
Peter Matthiessen “The Snow Leopard” – lovely book about his journey but no photos.
Helen Freeman “Life, laughter and the pursuit of snow leopards”- Helen’s story of starting up the Snow Leopard Trust. No photos.
Hope this helps.

robert wragg December 27, 2009 at 10:13 pm

I was at the zoo a couple of weeks before read about the unfortunate deaths of the cubs and i thiught what beautiful creatures they are,

I am glad that i took some photos of the cubs and they parents and will treasure them next to the tigers which my favourite animals these have got to be the next it is a crying shame such creatures are killed for they beautiful coats and i am glad that people like you at the zoo are to look after them. Carry on the good work you do and hopefully will see you next year.

lanza!!!! i luv snow leopards March 15, 2010 at 6:53 am

hi i just have to say i love snow leopards they really are a beutiful animal when i see a photo of them my mind goes into the most peacfull state and makes me feel like i am in a state of mind wer ther is only peace love and harmony and yes i no that they are carnivores an all but when i look at one of them oh no its just to hard to explain any ways SAVE THE SNOW LEOPARDS xxoo to the people doing that LANA

NatashaL30 September 1, 2010 at 8:49 pm

i love snow leopards

NatashaL30 September 1, 2010 at 8:50 pm

i luv snow leopards, they are so cute

NatashaL30 September 1, 2010 at 8:51 pm

you rock snoe leopards i wish i could meet one

Jean Athy February 24, 2011 at 7:17 pm

Thank you for putting information about these awesome creatures on the web. As a 15 year student, I am doing a research about Snow Leopards for my science assignment this term. You guys are Truly amazing Trying to save this creatures. Oh, and thanks again!!

uday sharma March 16, 2011 at 10:13 pm

Lovely cat…

joshua mather July 26, 2011 at 11:32 am

my kids and i have seen the snow leopard footage on “planet earth” a number of times and find it fascinating. tonight we wanted to know what a snow leopard weighed.; they can supposedly drag a kill uphill at three times their own weight. impressive and thanks for the info.

Sibylle July 26, 2011 at 2:04 pm

Hi Joshua
yes that footage on “Planet Earth” is amazing and has been responsible for bringing the snow leopard to so many people’s attention, good on David Attenborough! Adult snow leopards weigh between 40 and 50 kg and the blue sheep etc they kill can easily weigh that much and often much much more, so they are amazing animals to be able to drag such an ungainly weight up sheer rocky cliffs. There are many reasons to admire these wonderful cats.

caoimhe November 11, 2011 at 3:10 am

i love snowleopards their so graceful mystical.

SandralinaHalliwell(Lina) December 3, 2011 at 6:57 am

Thanks for the information. It helped me alot on a report that i had to do!

jill December 5, 2011 at 7:04 am

thank you for the info it helped me with my research paper

Sibylle December 6, 2011 at 10:43 am

glad the information was of use and good luck with the research paper

Bruce December 14, 2011 at 8:24 am

I have been a long admirer of Snow Leopards. They are an incredibily beautiful creature and living in a very harsh environment. I am retired, and seeing a Snow Leopard is on
my “Bucket List.” I am not sure I am able to see one in their native habitat, but I am
wondering if it is possible to see one in a zoo. I live in Southern Michigan.Can you tell
me where it might be possible to see a Snow Leopard in a zoo, and where that might be? Thank you very much.

Sibylle December 15, 2011 at 9:51 pm

Hi Bruce
that’s a wonderful aim for your Bucket List, I’m sure you can make it happen. I know that Binder Park Zoo, in Battle Creek Michigan has snow leopards if that helps.

Bruce December 18, 2011 at 3:33 am

Thank you so very, very, much. The day after you posted about the Binder Park Zoo, I
saw my first Snow Leopard!! What a tremendous experience for me. I have lived in this
area for four years,and never even heard of this zoo. It is 45 miles from me! Much closer than going to Tibet, China, or Nepal! The zoo was closed for the season, but their is a window of five days at certain hours, for holiday viewers. I lucked out! Thanks again!! Merry Christmas!

Megan Grant January 4, 2012 at 4:14 am

I love snow leopards they are soo pretty, i first fell in love with them when i saw a advertisement about them and to my luck in school we had to write a report on an animal of our choice and i didn’t have to think twice i knew i was picking a snow leopard.. After i read it to my class hopefully they will know more about snow leopards and they might donate money or adopt a snow leopard!!!!

Megan Grant January 4, 2012 at 5:06 am

Can children atopt Snow Leopards or to you have to be over 18?

Sibylle January 4, 2012 at 6:19 pm

if you want to adopt a snow leopard please check with Snow Leopard trust ;-) would be great if you did :-)

Sibylle January 4, 2012 at 6:20 pm

that’s great, hope you get to visit these snow leopards again. Happy 2012.

Jennifer January 9, 2012 at 7:51 am

Hello, My name is Jennifer and i have always loved big cats since i can remember. Yet, my favorite big cat has always been the Snow Leopard. Whenever i have to do a project on an animal at school, this is the animal i always choose. Actually, i came on this site because i need to do a project on an endangered animal for science class. Thank You so much for the info. it really helped me. Even though im only 12 and in 7th grade.. i know the snow leopard is and forever will be, my favorite wild animal. :)
Jennifer <3

Sibylle January 9, 2012 at 4:41 pm

Hi Jennifer
I’m glad the info on this site helped you with your project. It’s great that you love snow leopards and I hope you keep up your interest in these beautiful cats,
warm regards from “Saving Snow Leopards” Blog

Norman January 16, 2012 at 12:19 am

Thx for the info i got an a star for my homework.They really are amazing creatures and I will do as much as I can to save them.

Maria January 19, 2012 at 2:30 am

They are so beautiful, but are very dangerous as well. iI saw related video, which shows their hunting: http://species.com/content/snow-leopard. But I really admire those people, who are trying to preserve this species

Divya Ramasamy February 28, 2012 at 11:38 pm

this helped me in my research

i love this website

i love snow leopards

i will save it

thank you

Andrew February 29, 2012 at 6:26 pm

how fast do snow leopards run?

annabell March 10, 2012 at 2:37 am

Dont kill or poach anymore of these precous cats

emma April 3, 2012 at 10:16 am

dont kill them

Lauren Louise May 3, 2012 at 4:57 am

i have had a school exam about snow leopards so thank you for putting up a of this information you helped big time omg i love you so much KEEP UP SAVING THEM YAY LOVE YOU XX

bg May 24, 2012 at 4:02 am

i totally LOVE Snow Leopards and whilst doing a school profect on them, i found that they are even more amazing than i thought before!!!! Also, this site has really helped me! Many thanks to whomever the creator of this website is! Lastly, with the help of this site, i even won the best leaflet competition! Many great thanks!

Snowleopard Lover August 20, 2012 at 10:23 am

I love Snowleopards! They are my favorite wild animal and I hate to see them get hurt! Please continue saving them because they are so important to so many people, and they are one of God’s wonderful creations! Thank you to everyone that wants to save these wonderful cats! This site can help people learn all about Snow leopards and maybe inspire people to do the right thing. :D

SAVE THE SNOW LEOPARDS!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Sibylle August 20, 2012 at 10:37 am

thanks for your support Madelyn, snow leopards are grateful:)

Kegan Hamm November 2, 2012 at 5:20 am

I would love to help save snow leopords

p-pieakafresh@nerd November 15, 2012 at 8:21 am

I love snow leopards to but, i need some help with info about because i’m doing an essay

Jennifer February 12, 2013 at 8:45 am

I think snow leopards should live! These little things being tortured by hunters. Poor things!

Sibylle February 12, 2013 at 10:52 am

thanks for your concern, Jennifer. Snow leopards urgently need help as you can see and your concern is appreciated.

alexandra March 22, 2013 at 6:34 am

thanks everyone for wanting to save snow leopards i love them also i am 9 years old.

Sibylle March 22, 2013 at 12:10 pm

that’s great Alexandra, we are glad you like snow leopards and are helping to tell the world about them.

cocha October 30, 2013 at 11:14 am

who is the scientist that is taking care of the snow leopard?

Dao Vo December 21, 2013 at 5:04 am

I luv snow leopards too, if I was an animal I would be a snow leopard because it’s beautiful and have awesome characteristics, don’t go extinct snow leopards!Luv U!!!!

Dao Vo December 21, 2013 at 5:06 am

And this website helped me with my written reports on endangered animals.

Aibek January 8, 2014 at 2:43 am

I feel at home here as we all love animals especially Snow Leopards. I have seen the Snow Leopard in the wild in 1979 in Kashmir where my family came from. The leopard was about 40 feet in front of us but i couldn’t see it as it was the same colour as the surrounding rocks – until it moved! Anyway there are Snow leopards there today but numbers have always been low. It is possible to see them but you need to track their prey as they’re bound to try to make a kill.

Mia January 9, 2014 at 12:44 pm

SAVE THE SNOW LEOPARDS

S February 3, 2014 at 1:13 am

What’s the main method to prevent the extinction of snow leopards. Just the main one please

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