The Snow Leopard Range

Meet the Ghost of the Mountains

This elusive denizen of the mountains of Central and South Asia, the snow leopard (panthera uncia) inhabits parts of 12 countries: Afghanistan, Bhutan, China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Russian Federation, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

Its geographic range, 60 percent of which is in China, runs from the Hindu Kush in eastern Afghanistan and the Syr Darya through the mountains of Pamir, Tian Shan, Karakorum, Kashmir, Kunlun, and the Himalaya to southern Siberia, where the range covers the Russian Altai, Sayan, Tannu-Ola mountains and the mountains to the west of Lake Baikal.

It is found in the Mongolian and Gobi Altai and the Khangai Mountains. In Tibet it is found up to the Altyn-Tagh in the north. This beautiful and charismatic great cat is largely solitary and lives at low to very low densities in mountainous rangelands at elevations from 540 to more than 5,000 meters above sea level.

The snow leopard is listed as globally Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List and the species is listed (as Uncia uncia) on Appendix I of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora), which prohibits international trade in the animal and its parts and products except under exceptional, non-commercial circumstances. All snow leopard range countries except Tajikistan are parties to CITES but the process for Tajikistan to join is underway.

The Convention on Migratory Species deems the snow leopard a “concerted action species,” thus obliging the six range countries (India, Mongolia, Pakistan, Russian Federation, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan) party to this convention to conserve and restore its habitat. The snow leopard is also protected by national laws in all of the 12 countries in which it is found.

The estimated size of the snow leopard’s distributional range is about 1.8 million km2, with the largest share in the Tibetan plateau of China, followed by Mongolia and India. There is, however, a great deal of uncertainty about the snow leopard’s current distribution, as there is about the size of the total snow leopard population, which is roughly estimated at between 4,000 and 6,500 individuals.

Some national estimates are very outdated and up-to-date estimates of area of occupancy and population size are urgently needed.