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Snow Leopard Trust
David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation

Threats to Snow Leopards

Snow leopards have evolved to be the apex predator of their environment, especially adapted to the challenging alpine landscape they call home. Like any keystone species, they are the core component in maintaining balance and harmony within the fragile ecosystems they dominate.

Snow leopards are listed as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. And the biggest threat to them, is us, and our impact on their habitat.

Learn more about snow leopards on our facts page.

David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation
Snow Leopard Trust

Why are snow leopards endangered?

Scientists believe that between as few as 3,500 – 6,500 snow leopards remain in the wild today.

David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation Snow Leopard

However, their secretive and elusive nature, combined with the extreme and remote terrain in which they live, makes surveying and studying them challenging. The numbers could be fewer, and the reality more devastating than we think.

This is why David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation (DSWF) supports and funds frontline conservation work at the forefront of snow leopard research. The projects we have partnered with are spearheading new initiatives to give us a greater understanding of snow leopard populations and behaviour. In fact, ‘Dagina’ – our snow leopard ambassador, (available for adoption here) is one of the most studied of her kind. 

Just our very presence can upset the predator-prey dynamics that have evolved over millions of years. Herds of livestock out compete native species for grazing, pushing them out and reducing their numbers. Humans also hunt the wild game snow leopards rely on, forcing the big cats to predate on domestic animals instead. Then, when they do, they can become the target of retaliatory killings.

The long, lavish fur of snow leopards has long been prized by indigenous hunters and peoples, as much for its warmth as its beauty. But over the last century, they have become the target of international criminal gangs and syndicates, as well as poachers. Along with their skins, their bones and parts are also in high demand for unethical and unsubstantiated traditional medicine black markets across Asia.

How Habitat Loss Threatens Snow Leopards

Climate Change

It is estimated that snow leopards could lose up to 30% of their range across just the Himalayas in the next decade. As their world shrinks, so does their access to prey and the number of viable snow leopard territories decreases respectively. In addition, prey numbers will also drop in relation to loss of habitat, further impacting how many snow leopards their environment can naturally support.

Mining and Land Development

Mining and land development in snow leopard habitats also pose serious, specific threats to the survival of snow leopard populations in the wild.

Snow leopards are shy, highly sensitive animals that rely on mountain ecosystems for their survival. Large scale development and mining activities devastate these pristine environments. First, in the destruction of huge areas of earmarked land, and secondly, through chemical and runoff discharge into the soil and watercourses. This can see huge upheaval in prey populations, impacting snow leopard numbers directly.

Illegal Wildlife Trade 

The illegal wildlife trade has created an unsatiable demand for snow leopard pelts and parts that cannot be sustained and is quickly leading them towards the brink of extinction. 

It has been estimated that some 20% of snow leopards are killed for their fur, which is still used for rugs and luxury décor and supplied to black markets throughout Asia and the Americas.

Furthermore, as with other big cats, their bones and parts are highly prized ingredients in superstitious remedies and unsubstantiated medical practices in Asian traditions. The unstable snow leopard population cannot endure the continued and ceaseless demand of this trade, which continues to drive their numbers down.

Human-Wildlife Conflict

As humans explore and encroach further into snow leopard strongholds, they become forced to live alongside us. Unable to comprehend how their world has changed, they can turn to killing livestock in the place of the blue sheep, markhor, and other wild game the domestic animals displace. The herders face dire consequences to their livelihoods when they lose an animal, and often retaliate the only way they feel they can – by killing offending leopards. 

DSWF is working to mitigate this human-wildlife conflict, using education and support programmes to make human-carnivore co-existence a reality. You can read more here.

You can support our work to save endangered animals from extinction by adopting today.

David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation

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