50+ Facts About Snow Leopards
Scientific Name: Panthera uncia (formerly Uncia uncia)
Size: 2 ft (0.6 m) tall; 3-5 ft (0.91–1.51 m) from head to base of tail
Weight: 60–120 lbs (27–54 kg)
Diet: Carnivore (typically blue sheep and mountain ibexes)
Habitat: Mountains of Central Asia (from India to Russia)
Lifespan: Typically 15–18 years (up to 25 years)
IUCN Conservation Status: Vulnerable (population still declining)
Population, Habitat, and Range
1. The scientific name for the snow leopard is Panthera uncia. Previously classified in the genus Uncia, recent genetic testing has resulted in a taxonomical shift to the genus Panthera, which consists of other true big cats like lions, tigers, leopards, and jaguars.
2. In 2016, an estimated 4,500–8,000 snow leopards are left in the wild—much larger than previously thought (4,000–6,500 in 2003).
3. Their population is still considered to be declining, although they have been upgraded from Endangered to Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (last assessed Nov. 2016).
4. China is said to hold 60% of the snow leopard population—mostly along its far western border and across the Himalayas (see table below).
5. Their preferred habitat consists of rocky and rugged terrain in alpine territories. In the summer, they live at an altitude of 9,800–19,700 ft (3,000–6,000 m)—above the tree lines. In the winter, they can be found as low as 4,000 ft (1,200 m).
6. The rocks and snow provide an excellent background and environment for them to hide in.
7. Although concentrated mostly in Central Asia, they have a widespread distribution and can be found in countries like India, Nepal, Bhutan, Pakistan Afghanistan, China, Mongolia, Kazakhstan Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Russia.
8. They prefer living in ridges, cliffs and rock outcrops. These locations are convenient because they provide camouflage for stalking and sneaking up on prey.
Estimated Snow Leopard Population by Country
Biology and Unique Features
9. Although they share a similar name and appearance with the common leopard (Panthera pardus), genetic studies have suggested that snow leopards are more closely related to the tiger (Panthera tigris).
10. Despite the genetic similarities with tigers, snow leopards cannot roar. Instead, they chuff, growl, hiss, mew, and wail.
11. Snow leopards are smaller than other true big cats, weighing only about 27–54 kg.
12. They measure about 91–151 cm long and stand at almost 2 ft tall at the shoulders.
13. They are stocky but muscular and have short limbs—all adaptations for traversing mountainous terrain and hunting their prey.
14. The female is about 30% smaller than the male.
15. Their fur is white/gray with black spots and rosettes throughout their body. The belly tends to be mostly white. They have dense fur, with hairs ranging from 2–5 in long.
16. One of its unique and distinguishing features is its long, furry tail, which helps it walk, run, and leap through the rough terrain. It can also use its tail to blanket its face when resting.
17. They also have specially adapted paws that act like snowshoes to prevent the from sinking in deep snow.
18. Because of their cold, mountainous habitat, they've developed shorter ears for less heat dissipation. They also have wide nostrils to efficiently warm the air as it passes through, increasing the oxygen content of the thin air.
19. They are not known to be aggressive toward humans, although they will defend their territory and cubs.
20. Often described as shy creatures, adults are mostly solitary and are rarely seen out in the open.
Snow Leopards Playing in the Snow
21. As they travel, they scent mark their territory and travel routes, often by scratching themselves on rocks or spraying urine.
22. They are crepuscular, meaning they are most active during dusk and dawn.
23. Adult males tend to be independent and solitary, only socializing during mating season, while adult females tend to stay with their cubs.
24. In areas where prey is abundant, they are closely packed within a range of 30–65 km. In contrast, in flat terrain, where prey may be less abundant, snow leopards are distributed over an area of 1,000 km.
25. They tend to travel along areas with little or no shrubbery—for example, the Tibetan Plateau—which contains many ridges and rocky cliffs that offer protective covering.
26. Unlike other big cats, the snow leopard is a non-aggressive animal that when threatened by another predator, may choose to back away, leaving its well-earned kill to be finished by the invader.
27. When they sense human presence, they become nocturnal animals to avoid unnecessary encounters with humans that may be a threat or danger.
28. Reports of attacks on humans are rare, although they may become aggressive to defend themselves or their cubs when threatened.
29. They stalk their prey from higher grounds, preferring to attack from above. They can be seen chasing prey down steep slopes.
30. They use the gray, broken rocks along the mountainside as cover and camouflage.
Hunting and Diet
31. Snow leopards are the only known opportunistic predators among big cats, meaning they will hunt and eat whatever is most readily available.
32. They can hunt prey up to three times their bodyweight.
33. Their common prey include Himalayan blue sheep, mountain ibexes, markhors, and argali. They prefer bigger prey but will also hunt birds, marmots, voles, and rabbits.
34. Snow leopards tend to hunt alone, although when mating, they can hunt as pairs.
35. Larger prey provide enough food for a family, or for an adult male to feed on over several days.
36. After hunting down an animal, some drag their food into snow tunnels for storage and safe keeping.
37. They eat slowly and a kill may last for 2–3 days.
38. Although their diet is mostly meat, they do supplement with grasses and twigs.
39. When wild prey are scarce, they may hunt domestic livestock, prompting farmers to kill snow leopards.
40. On average, snow leopards hunt and kill a large prey every 8–10 days.
Mating, Cubs, and Lifespan
41. Snow leopard mating season falls in the January–March window.
42. Both males and females will scent mark to leave breadcrumbs leading to their territory, and the addition of pheromones indicates they are ready to mate.
43. Their courtship behavior is complex and prolonged, involving increased calls and visual displays, in order to guarantee their commitment to each other—at least during the brief mating period. They will also hunt together at this time.
44. Some studies in captivity suggest that snow leopards mate for life, although this behavior has not been confirmed in the wild.
45. After mating, female searches for a well-sheltered rock crevice as a safe location for giving birth without having to be alert all the time.
Snow Leopard Mating Rituals
46. After a gestational period of 3–4 months, snow leopards give birth to a litter of 1–5 cubs (on average two cubs).
48. Females are left to raise the cubs on their own, with the males leaving after mating.
47. Cubs weigh about 0.75–1.5 lbs at birth.
48. Cubs do not open their eyes until they are 7 days old, and do not begin walking until they are 5 weeks old.
49. During the time spent with their mothers, cubs learn how to stalk and hunt prey.
50. The young cubs live with their mother until two years of age—about the time females reach sexual maturity. Males reach sexual maturity at around four years of age.
51. After leaving their mother, siblings often stay together for a few more months.
52. In the wild, the life expectancy of snow leopards is 8–10 years, although they typically live to around 15–18 years. In captivity, their lifespan increases to 20–25 years.
Threats and Conservation
53. Although their conservation status was recently upgraded from Endangered to Vulnerable, their numbers are still declining due to declining prey populations, increased livestock overgrazing (which contributes to the decreased prey populations), hunting by farmers to protect livestock, and poaching for fur and organs (used in traditional medicine).
54. In 2013, the Global Snow Leopard Forum (GSLF)—which includes the nations that encompass the snow leopard's range—was formed to ensure that governments are taking proactive measures to protect the snow leopards and their environment.
55. Today, many national and international agencies exist to conserve the snow leopard population and habitat. These include the Snow Leopard Trust, Snow Leopard Conservancy, Snow Leopard Project, Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union, and the World Wild Fund for Nature.
56. Conservation projects involve raising awareness about their conservation status and educating local governments and citizens about the need to protect these cats. Farmers have been asked to leave land for the snow leopard's prey species to graze and to stop hunting the big cats.
57. An estimated 4,500–8,000 snow leopards are left in the world, with 600–700 in zoos. Population estimates are difficult to attain because of their extreme habitat and elusive nature, resulting in large ranges in population numbers.
- 15 amazing snow leopard facts. Discover Wildlife. Retrieved on December 27, 2018.
- Key Snow Leopard Facts. Snow Leopard Trust. Retrieved on December 27, 2018.
- Snow Leopard. Feline Conservation Federation. Retrieved on December 29, 2018.
- Snow Leopard. National Geographic. Retrieved on December 28, 2018.
- Where Do Snow Leopards Live? And Nine Other Snow Leopard Facts. World Wildlife Foundation. Retrieved on December 28, 2018.