David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation

Snow Leopard Facts

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Snow leopards are notoriously difficult to study.

They are so secretive that they are revered as symbols of myth and folklore across much of their range. David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation (DSWF) has supported and funded pioneering research and study of these elusive big cats, through our conservation partners on the frontline. Here are some snow leopard facts you may not have known.

David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation
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snow leopards left in the wild

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Countries in which snow leopards are found

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is the amount of Himalayan habitat snow leopards could lose due to climate change

Where do Snow Leopards Live?

Snow leopards have evolved and adapted to live in some of the harshest environments on Earth, including the Himalayas. They can traverse the steep and treacherous slopes of the mountain ranges of Central Asia with ease.

Snow leopards are found in 11 countries: China, Bhutan, Nepal, India, Pakistan, Russia, Mongolia, Afghanistan, the Kyrgyz Republic (formerly known as Kyrgyzstan), Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

Snow Leopard Trust
David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation

How Many Snow Leopards are Left in the World?

It is estimated that the snow leopard population is between 3,500 and 6,500 animals – making them officially ‘vulnerable to extinction’. Unfortunately, many snow leopard populations are segmented and isolated, restricting their ability to grow, or even survive long term.

That’s why the work we’ve supported and funded to create wildlife corridors between protected areas in Mongolia is so vital.

How long do snow leopards live?

Snow leopards in the wild live for an average of 10-13 years. Dagina, our super-mum, snow leopard ambassador is approaching 14 years old, and has had four known litters of cubs.

 

What do Snow Leopards Eat?

Given that the snow leopard’s range extends over much of Central Asia, their diet can vary greatly. The three most important snow leopard prey species are blue sheep (also known as bharal), Asiatic ibex, and argali (wild sheep). They also prey on Himalayan tahr and markhor, emphasising the importance of wild goats and sheep to their survival.

However, snow leopards are also opportunists. They have been observed hunting small mammals, ranging from Himalayan marmots to pika, voles, Siberian hamsters, rats, and even flying squirrels. Intermediate prey, such as the Cape hare and smaller deer species – including white-bellied musk deer and Siberian roe deer, are also taken where available. In Pakistan, snow leopard faeces have even been shown to include rhesus macaques and wild boar. 

In some instances, snow leopards do also take domestic animals including sheep, goats, camels, horses, and young yaks. However, even in the most heavily impacted areas, domestic animals still typically account for less than 20% of snow leopard diet – showing a clear preference for wild prey.

Ultimately, snow leopards are effective apex predators that can take a broad range of prey.

Why are Snow Leopards Endangered?

Snow leopards face a multitude of threats to their survival. The greatest of these, in the long term, is climate change. Retreating glaciers and permafrost degradation are changing the landscapes they call home, contributing to the loss of shallow surface water such as springs, streams, and ponds. In turn, alpine meadows are turned into more arid steppe grasslands and the treeline creeps steadily further up. These specific changes impact the snow leopard and its prey, shrinking their available habitat, with a direct correlation on population numbers.

Snow leopards are also targeted by poachers for the illegal wildlife trade, as there is a significant demand for their pelts and parts in Asian black markets. Furthermore, snow leopards are also poisoned and killed by herders looking to protect livestock.

Dennis Conner
Snow leopard resting

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