Snow Leopard

Mountain Ghosts

Solitary in nature, and wanderers of the high steppes, snow leopards are elusive and difficult to study.

Panthera uncia


Snow leopards range from 46 – 121 pounds and stand about 24 inches at the shoulder. Their long and powerful hind limbs help them leap up to 30 feet, which is six times their body length.

Snow leopards have light green or gray eyes, unusual for big cats, who usually have yellow or gold eyes.  Their light coated is dotted with black spots, and each cat’s coat pattern is unique.

They have very large paws that act as snowshoes and keep them from sinking into the snow. Their paws are also completely fur-covered, protecting them from the cold.


Snow leopards live in the high mountains of Central Asia.  They are found in parts of Afghanistan, Bhutan, China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Russian Federation, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Usually found at elevations of 3,000 to over 5,000 meters, their habitats range from grasslands and shrublands to their preferred steep, rugged terrain1.

1McCarthy, T., Mallon, D., Jackson, R., Zahler, P. & McCarthy, K. 2017. Panthera uncia. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2017: e.T22732A50664030.


The Snow Leopard is listed as Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. It is estimated that there are only 3,920-6,390 snow leopards remaining1, with population numbers in decline.

Snow leopards are extremely difficult to monitor over time. Attempts at counting them are greatly hampered by their shyness and naturally low densities, activity patterns, and wide-ranging movements.


1McCarthy, T., Mallon, D., Jackson, R., Zahler, P. & McCarthy, K. 2017. Panthera uncia. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2017: e.T22732A50664030.

Threats to the Snow Leopard

Snow leopards suffer from low natural density and large home ranges. The main ongoing threats fall into three broad areas: 1) competition with livestock, habitat degradation and declines in prey; 2) depredation by snow leopards on livestock and retaliatory killing; 3) illegal trade in furs, bones and other body parts1.

Complacent guarding, poorly constructed night-time pens, favorable stalking cover and insufficient wild prey all contribute to livestock loss. Loss rates of snow leopards vary widely from less than 1% to 3%, but the annual economic impact of livestock depredation may range from $50 to nearly $300 per household. This is significant given annual per capita cash incomes of $250-$400. Herders are especially angered by events of surplus killing when a snow leopard enters a corral and kills up to 50 or more sheep and goats in a single instance. Herders naturally want to retaliate by killing the offending cat2.

Poaching and illegal trading in the snow leopard’s exquisite fur and highly valued body parts (used in traditional Asian medicine) is a significant and increasing threat. Trade centers in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Mongolia all appear to be linked with the growing Chinese consumer market2.

Although the snow leopard is officially protected in all of its range countries, the laws have been rarely enforced due to lack of awareness, an insufficient political will to uphold regulations, or a shortage of funds and trained personnel2.

1McCarthy, T., Mallon, D., Jackson, R., Zahler, P. & McCarthy, K. 2017. Panthera uncia. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2017: e.T22732A50664030.
2Snow Leopard Conservancy

How GCF is Helping the Snow Leopard

Global Conservation Force is partnering with The Snow Leopard Conservancy (SLC) and The Rocky Mountain Cat Conservancy to bring unmanned aerial systems to snow leopard field conservation. The Snow Leopard Conservancy has been extensively involved in snow leopard conservation efforts and population research for almost 20 years.  They have worked to help establish community-based eco-tourism to aid as an alternative source of income to offset the financial burden snow leopards may place on households.  The SLC has developed livestock predator-proofing programs for herders as well as being a leader in radio-tracking and trail camera monitoring.  With all of the groundbreaking data that’s being collected, there are still many disadvantages to the current technology.

This drone will fly daily research routes, to study the distribution of predator-to-prey ratios, and help rangers keep an eye on these elusive mountain cats. Due to the conditions of the snow leopard range, this drone will allow rangers to reach the snow leopard habitat within minutes, instead of hours, or even days.