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Snow Leopard

Snow Leopard Caught on Camera Trap Photo
A camera trap set up in the Sast Valley of Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor captured a snow leopard striking a curious pose. WCS researchers hope to help create a protected area in this remote region.
Snow Leopard Photo
The snow leopard is a mountain specialist, able to pursue and catch fleet-footed sheep, goats, and other prey down cliff faces and across rocky outcrops.
Julie Larsen Maher ©WCS

The snow leopard is well adapted to the harsh, mountainous habitats where it makes its home. This beautiful, elusive mammal has the thickest coat of any big cat, and its padded feet function like insulated boots. Snow leopards live a solitary existence and make their dens in rocky caverns or sheltered crevices. These carnivores prowl over steep terrain of cliffs, gullies, and rocky outcrops in search of their preferred prey: mountain goats and sheep, deer, marmots, and small mammals.

Snow leopards have large home ranges, spanning from 50 to more than 2,000 square miles in some areas. They live high on Asian mountain ranges extending from Russia to India. Despite the remoteness of its habitat, this spotted cat, weighing between 55 and 165 pounds, is increasingly susceptible to human-made threats. Only an estimated few thousand snow leopards remain in the wild.

Fast Facts

Scientific NamePanthera uncia
  • Snow leopards advertise their presence by scraping boulders and dirt patches with their claws.
  • This acrobatic cat can leap 20 feet or more when pursuing prey.
  • Snow leopards use their long, bushy tails to balance themselves while traversing steep mountainsides.

“The snow leopard is a mysterious creature of strength and beauty, whose presence can rarely be proven but whose loss would leave a hole not just in the fragile ecosystems of the great mountain chains of Central Asia, but in our collective imagination and soul.”
– Peter Zahler, Assistant Director of WCS-Asia


Major threats to the snow leopard species include overhunting of the leopard’s prey, such as wild mountain goats and sheep, and the direct poaching of snow leopards for the fur trade. This powerful cat is also hunted is for its bones, which are used in traditional Chinese medicine. Snow leopards and humans are living in closer proximity than ever before, as people settle further into snow leopard habitat. Livestock herders increasingly view the cat as a threat to their livelihood, with many killing snow leopards suspected of preying on their domesticated sheep or goats.

WCS Responds

The snow leopard’s cryptic nature, large home ranges, and small population densities make this cat hard to study. Beginning with Dr. George Schaller's work in Pakistan and Nepal in the 1970s, WCS was a pioneer in snow leopard research and bringing the species’ plight to international attention. Today WCS continues to be a leader in saving these majestic felines. In 2000, WCS co-sponsored an International Snow Leopard Conference in Beijing, where research biologists and government officials from 11 of the cat’s range states shared information and discussed conservation priorities.

WCS has also studied and worked to protect the species in Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and China. Some of our field projects include creating public education campaigns to stop the purchase of snow leopard pelts, hosting training workshops, and providing ongoing support for government officials and community rangers who aim to stop poachers. WCS also works with local communities to help them preserve snow leopards and their prey species and assists governments in the design and management of protected areas for snow leopards.

WCS Projects

Snow Leopards at the Bronx and Central Park Zoos

From Central Park to Central Asia, WCS is a world leader in the care and conservation of snow leopards. In 1903, the Bronx Zoo became the first zoo in the Western Hemisphere to exhibit these rare spotted cats. Today, the Bronx and Central Park Zoos are home to the most important collection of snow leopards in North America.

From the Newsroom

Saving More Than Just Snow LeopardsFebruary 1, 2014

After many years of hard work and trial and error, real successes are being seen in snow leopard conservation, in the Pamir Mountains of Afghanistan and in northern Pakistan, among other places, as communities come together to manage their land and wildlife, and neighboring countries find ways to cooperate across borders. WCS Asia Program deputy director Peter Zahler and George Schaller, WCS senior conservationist and Panthera VP, explain.

The Rougher Side of CashmereJuly 24, 2013

A new study by WCS reveals that the proliferation of the cashmere garment industry poses dangers to wildlife, including snow leopards, wild yak, Tibetan antelope, gazelles, and kiang, pictured here.

Big Cats in CrisisDecember 11, 2012

WCS recently celebrated a groundbreaking achievement: collaring snow leopards for the first time in Afghanistan. USA Today reports on this effort--documented by National Geographic--and the larger challenges facing big cats around the world.  

The Snow Leopard RisesAugust 7, 2012

For the first time in Afghanistan, snow leopards have been fitted with satellite tracking collars. After affixing collars, performing dental exams, and taking DNA samples, WCS conservationists and Afghan veterinarians released the cats in healthy condition. Incredible footage aired by CBS lets us tag along on this groundbreaking mission. 

Tracking Afghanistan's Elusive Snow LeopardsJuly 17, 2012

For the first time in Afghanistan, snow leopards have been fitted with satellite tracking collars. After affixing collars, performing dental exams, and taking DNA samples, WCS conservationists and Afghan veterinarians released the cats in healthy condition. Since being released, these cats have traveled more than 77 miles each.


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