© naturepl.com / Andy Rouse / WWF A pair of Snow leopards


Snow leopards, also known as the ‘ghosts of the mountains’ for their puzzling elusiveness, are among the least known big cats of the world. Sadly, their populations are in decline.

About Snow Leopards

Snow leopards are the only species of big cat that inhabit the cold deserts of High Asia. With their smoky-grey fur coats making them practically invisible, snow leopards have adapted to life in remote, frigid alpine landscapes with snowshoe-like paws and dense, woolly fur. They use their tails — which are nearly as long as their bodies — to balance on the extremely rugged terrain and protect themselves from the cold by wrapping them around their bodies.

The snow leopard’s highly secretive behaviour, sparse population and extremely remote habitats means they are rarely spotted in the wild. It is no wonder they are often referred to as the “ghost of the mountains.” No one knows exactly how many snow leopards there are, because less than three per cent of the snow leopard’s range has been systematically surveyed. However, most conservationists believe the population amounts to as few as 4,000 animals spread across 1.8 million square kilometers and 12 countries in south and central Asia.

Snow Leopard Facts

Snow Leopard Female Snow leopard with cub.

Snow Leopard


Scientific Name:

Panthera uncia



Vulnerable A wildlife species that is likely to become endangered if nothing is done to reverse the factors leading to its extirpation or extinction.


Up to 55 kg


Up to 2.5 m long


Approximately 4,000 to 6,500


Alpine and sub-alpine regions


South and central Asia


Blue sheep (naur), himalayan ibex, and small mammals

Did You Know?

As opportunistic predators, snow leopards can kill prey up to three times their own weight.

Why are snow leopards important?

Snow leopards are considered a barometer of the health of the mountain ecosystem because of their wide range and position at the top of the food chain. The mountains where snow leopards live provide water to much of Central Asia, so the conservation of their habitat plays a role in ensuring water security.

Snow leopards are true environmental ambassadors with the potential to bring several countries together to act collectively for conservation across one of the most ecologically fragile landscapes on the planet. They are also revered by Indigenous people and are an icon of cultural heritage of many local communities.

Since the snow leopard’s range includes top trekking and tourism destinations, promotion of eco-tourism in these areas offers extraordinary opportunities to benefit some of the world’s poorest communities

© David Lawson / WWF-UK Young Snow Leopard

Snow Leopard Threats

The charismatic snow leopard was once the monarch of the mountains, but today they are facing multiple threats to their survival.


Humans are their sole predator. Wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC and WWF report that an average of one snow leopard is killed each day. They’re hunted for their bones to be used in traditional medicine and for their fur to be worn as a status symbol. They may be killed by local farmers in retaliation for attacks on livestock. 

Habitat Loss

Until recently, much of the snow leopard’s habitat was inaccessible and thus protected from development pressures. However, due to the construction of new roads, growing human populations, increased mining operations and the opening of major infrastructure pathways through these habitats, this is starting to change quickly.

Climate Change

It is estimated that snow leopards will lose more than a third of their territory as the climate gets warmer and wetter. As the Earth warms, tree lines are moving upwards, encroaching on snow leopards’ preferred habitats.

What WWF-Canada is Doing

WWF has been supporting snow leopard conservation initiatives for years, working in most snow leopard range countries. WWF has ongoing snow leopard programs in 14 of the 20 priority landscapes identified by the Global Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Protection Program (GSLEP).

WWF is currently engaged in:

  • Training and equipping personnel to understand ecological requirements of snow leopards for their long-term survival.
  • Supporting landscape planning and management to mitigate the threats of unsustainable development and adapt to climate change.
  • Working with local communities to implement snow leopard-friendly animal husbandry practices to reduce the retaliatory killing of snow leopards by herders.
  • Strengthening institutional capacity and community engagement to address poaching of snow leopards and stop the trafficking of their parts.
  • Advocating for a high-level of political support by range country governments to ensure the effective implementation of conservation action plans.
© David Lawson / WWF-UK Snow Leopard

What You Can Do

Snow leopard populations are in decline and their habitat is shrinking. With your gift, you can help protect some of the world’s most vulnerable species and the habitats they call home.

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