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Snow Leopards and Climate Change

Overview

This assessment is one in a series resulting from a WWF study that assesses the vulnerability of numerous species to the effects of climate change. For each species, we also recommend climate-adaptive management strategies. View other species in the series.

Snow leopards (Panthera uncia) may be quite resilient to the direct impacts of climate change in the near term: they are able to tolerate a wide range of temperatures, they have minimal freshwater requirements and they have a high dispersal ability.

However, the snow leopard’s small population size coupled with significant knowledge gaps about the species make this big cat potentially vulnerable to a changing climate. Additionally, snow leopards are susceptible to the indirect impacts of climate change. The effects of climate stressors on humans, and subsequent changes in livelihoods, may exacerbate the ongoing human impacts on snow leopards, including poaching and habitat encroachment. Climate effects on snow leopard prey may also have a negative impact.

Priorities for climate-informed snow leopard conservation should include ensuring access to a secure prey base; gaining a better understanding of snow leopard biology, particularly regarding genetics and disease; creating conditions for human populations in the snow leopard’s range to better adapt to the impacts of climate change; and continuing to focus on reducing current threats, such as poaching, retaliatory killings and habitat degradation.

Determining species vulnerability

The study identified the key vulnerabilities of a species based on four factors:

Sensitivity: the inability of the species to persist, as is, under changing climatic conditions.

Adaptive capacity: the ability of the species to respond to changes in climate.

Exposure: the extent of climatic change and variation that the species encounters and is projected to encounter.

Other threats: any other relevant threats, as well as the human responses to climate change that exacerbate these threats.

Snow leopard range map © WWF Snow leopard range