Snow Leopard


Introduction

The elusive and largely solitary Snow leopard (Panthera uncia) inhabits remote, arid and rugged mountainous areas of Central and South Asia, and is generally found above the tree line at altitudes ranging from above 2700 metres to 5000 metres above sea level. Snow leopards have large home ranges of up to 1000 square kilometres. Their distribution generally reflects the availability of prey, which consist of large ungulates including the Asiatic Ibex, the Argali sheep, and other animals. In places where they coincide with human activities, they may also prey on livestock, leading to conflict and retaliatory killings.

Where they can be found

The snow leopard´s current range is estimated to extend over 1.8 million km2, and includes mountainous regions of 12 countries of Central and South Asia: Afghanistan, Bhutan, China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Russian Federation, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Snow leopards are estimated to number between 2,500 and 10,000 mature individuals, and are listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Snow leopards are also listed under Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES). CITES prohibits the international trade of Appendix I species, apart from exceptional cases. All snow leopard range countries are signatories to the convention.

Why they are important

As a top predator (apex) species, Snow Leopards play an important role in regulating the populations of its prey (mainly ungulates) and in doing so, maintaining healthy, high mountain landscapes. Due to their large home ranges, Snow leopards are an “umbrella species”, meaning that protecting the Snow Leopard and its habitats can have positive effects for the conservation of other species including the grey Wolf, Eurasian lynx and others, as well as the habitats they inhabit.

How they are threatened

Much of the Snow Leopard’s range overlaps with traditional pastoralism and agro-pastoralism. Expanding human populations and growing livestock herds in some areas have led to the degradation of pastureland and wildlife habitats, resulting in increased competition for food and decline of ungulates on which the Snow Leopard preys. In some places, livestock depredation has led to significant human-wildlife conflict and retaliatory killings. Other threats include the illegal hunting and trade of Snow leopards and their prey, and increasing fragmentation of habitat due to infrastructure development including mining.

Climate change is expected to aggravate existing threats, principally by affecting the distribution and abundance of prey species, and by altering human uses of the landscape, which could include further degradation of existing pastures and encroachment into more remote and high-altitude areas, leading to further competition of livestock with prey species, and increased human-wildlife conflict.

How Vanishing Treasures is addressing the problem

The Vanishing Treasures programme focusses on the Central Asian countries of Tajikistan and the Kyrgyz Republic, to better understand the direct impacts of climate change on Snow leopards and their prey species, as well as current and possible future vulnerabilities and responses of pastoral communities to climate change.

This new knowledge will then be used to implement pilot solutions on the ground with the aim to lessen or avoid human-wildlife conflict, sustainably manage pasture resources and promote alternative livelihood activities, and reduce communities’ vulnerability to climate change.