Snow leopards have evolved to live in some of the harshest conditions on Earth. Their white-gray coat spotted with large black rosettes blends in perfectly with the steep and rocky mountains of Central Asia.
total estimated 4,080-6,590
cold high mountains
The snow leopard’s powerful build allows it to scale great steep slopes with ease. Its hind legs give the snow leopard the ability to leap six times the length of its body. A long tail provides balance and agility and also wraps around the resting snow leopard as protection from the cold.
For millennia, this magnificent cat was the king of the mountains. The mountains were rich with their prey such as blue sheep, Argali wild sheep, ibex, marmots, pikas and hares. Snow leopards are found in 12 countries—including China, Bhutan, Nepal, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Russia, and Mongolia—but their population is dropping.
Overlapping heavily with snow leopard habitat, the Third Pole encompasses the snow-covered mountains surrounding the Tibetan Plateau. The Pole’s thousands of glaciers and regular snow melt form the headwaters for 10 of Asia’s biggest rivers, which bring drinking water, power and irrigation directly to 210 million people, while these river basins indirectly support more than 1.3 billion people.
Climate change poses perhaps the greatest long-term threat to snow leopards. Impacts from climate change could result in a loss of up to 30 percent of the snow leopard habitat in the Himalayas alone.
Snow leopards are often killed by local farmers because they prey on livestock such as sheep, goats, horses, and yak calves. The animals which snow leopards would typically hunt—such as the Argali sheep—are also hunted by local communities. As their natural prey becomes harder to find, snow leopards are forced to kill livestock for survival.
The snow leopard habitat range continues to decline from human settlement and increased use of grazing space. This development increasingly fragments the historic range of the species.
What WWF Is Doing
WWF’s work focuses on reducing human-leopard conflict and rural development, education for sustainable development, stopping mining in fragile snow leopard habitat, and the control of the illegal wildlife trade.
Stopping Illegal Trade
WWF supports mobile antipoaching activities as a way to curb the hunting of snow leopards and their prey. Together with TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, we work to eliminate the illegal trade of snow leopard fur, bones and other body parts.
Working with Communities
WWF understands there are extraordinary opportunities for conservation to help local people and wildlife live and prosper together. In the Eastern Himalayas, WWF works with local communities to monitor snow leopards and reduce the retaliatory killing of them through innovative local insurance plans.
WWF also works with goat herders in Mongolia to build awareness about the plight of the snow leopard and reduce the killing of snow leopards as retaliation for killing livestock. Through the Land of Snow Project, WWF aims to secure key areas of snow leopard habitat in Mongolia.
In October 2012, WWF began a four-year project to conserve snow leopard habitat, promote water security, and help communities prepare for climate change impacts in Central Asia. The USAID-funded, $4.7-million Conservation and Adaptation in Asia’s High Mountain Landscapes and Communities project will conduct field activities in and build alliances among six of the snow leopard’s 12 range countries: Bhutan, India, Nepal, Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan, and Pakistan. The project will run through September 30, 2016.
The most basic needs—for both humans and animals—are food, water and shelter. When basic needs are threatened, conflicts arise. In the high mountains of Asia, WWF seeks to reduce human-wildlife conflict through projects like the USAID-funded Conservation and Adaptation in Asia’s High Mountain Landscapes and Communities.