The snow leopard mostly dwells in the high mountains, above the tree line – but this endangered cat’s habitat is still closely linked to forests at lower altitudes: for forest ecosystems to be healthy, mountain ecosystems need to be healthy as well, and vice versa.

Today, forests cover more than 30% of the world’s land and contain more than 60,000 tree species, many as of yet unidentified. Forests provide food, fiber, water and medicines for approximately 1.6 billion of the world’s poorest people, including indigenous peoples with unique cultures. Forests account for 40% of all renewable energy that is currently being used, and they have a potential energy content that is ten times higher than the annual global primary energy consumption. They also make among the finest carbon sequestration devices known to humanity, and their ecosystem services are evaluated to be much higher than the cost of wood and non-timber produce that they provide. In short, forests matter a great deal to humanity. They share this critical role with another, closely linked ecosystem: the mountains. Forest ecosystems mostly receive their water supply from the high mountains, so the health of mountain ecosystems directly impacts the world’s forests. In turn, forests help stabilize slope and reduce erosion, influence climate, and provide food, shelter and other services to mountain communities and species alike.

Snow leopard landscapes are highly vulnerable to climate change. Photo: Li Juan

“Under the Global Snow Leopard & Ecosystem Protection Program, snow leopard range countries work to safeguard this cat’s mountainous habitat. But these high mountain ecosystems can’t thrive if the forests at lower altitudes don’t thrive as well”, says Koustubh Sharma, the International Coordinator at the GSLEP Secretariat. “Sometimes, even the ‘King of the Mountains’ himself, the snow leopard, ventures into the higher reaches of the montane forest, as documented recently by a camera trap in China’s Sanjiangyuan Nature Reserve.”

Snow leopards occasionally venture into the montane forests, but they prefer higher grounds generally. Photo: Shan Shui / Panthera / Snow Leopard Trust

Contact Information:

Dr. Koustubh Sharma: + 996-551-128-116, +91-987-1144-991, Secretariat of the GSLEP in Bishkek -tel. +996-(312) 56-41-95, The Global Snow Leopard and its Ecosystems Protection Program,