Snow Leopard Trust
Researchers estimate that there are only between 3,500 and 7,000 snow leopards left in the wild. These solitary endangered cats face a multitude of threats to their existence: illegal hunting, loss of prey, loss of habitat, lack of effective conservation protection, and conflict with local communities and herders needing to protect their livestock.
As a participant in the Snow Leopard Species Survival Plan (SSP), Zoo New England is a member of the Snow Leopard Trust’s Natural Partnership Program (NPP), contributing funds to support research and programs aimed at protecting snow leopards and their natural habitat.
Stone Zoo is home to this exquisite cat, and when you encounter the snow leopard's beauty up close, you’ll understand immediately why they must be protected.
2016 Update from the Field
Here are a few significant Snow Leopard Trust highlights from 2016:
- Researchers recently captured the elusive big cat on camera in the Kyrgyz Ala-Too Range (“Snowy Mountains” in Kyrgyz). These photos are an encouraging sign for an innovative new conservation approach being tested in Shamshy: the co-management of a former hunting concession as a nature reserve by conservationists, the government, and the local community. More
-The Snow Leopard Trust (SLCF) team initiated a wildlife survey in the Bharmour region of Himachal Pradesh. This region is a potential snow leopard habitat.
-In August, the First Xinjiang Tianshan SLCF (the Second Snow Leopard China Forum 2016) took place in Urumqi, Xinjiang. The forum focused on the conservation of snow leopard habitats and population in Xinjiang, as well as monitoring standards.
-Since 2012, SLCF has supplied rangers with GPS units and binoculars, making them better equipped (perhaps a first for protected areas in Mongolia). Snow leopard camera trapping efforts are now in progress across most of the National Park’s mountain areas: Aitan Uul, Nemegt, Gilbent, Sevrerei, Zoolon Nuruu, Bayamtsagaam Uul, Baruum Saikhan, Dund Saikhan, and Zuun Saikhan.
-SLCF, in partnership with INTERPOL, organized a training workshop for rangers of all Protected Areas of Kyrgyzstan. This training was preceded by a workshop to start building a strategy to combat illegal wildlife trade in Central Asia, with participation from government and non-government organizations from Russia, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan.
Snow leopards (Panthera uncia) inhabit the mountains of 12 Central Asian countries, where they are able to brave harsh conditions thanks to physical characteristics such as short forelimbs and large paws for negotiating rocky and snowy terrain, long thick fur, and a long, thick, furry, and flexible tail that provides extra warmth when wrapped around the face and body.
But despite their remote habitat, snow leopards face multiple threats in the form of poachers seeking their fur and bones, a decline in their prey, human encroachment on their habitat, retribution killings by herders looking to protect their livestock, and mining activity in the mountains involving dangerous chemicals and explosives. Snow leopards are classified as an endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN).
The Snow Leopard Trust is the premiere organization working to protect the snow leopard from extinction by better understanding their behavior and habitat, collaborating with those who live and work near the habitat to create a better balance between conservation and community needs, and seeking resources to sustain long-term conservation programs. Zoo New England has been a proud member of the Trust’s Natural Partnership Program for nearly 16 years, contributing funds to support the organization’s highest priority conservation projects, including a long-term ecological study of snow leopards and their habitat in Mongolia and conservation education programs in India.
Snow Leopards at Stone Zoo
There are about 600 snow leopards living in zoos around the world. Among them are Kira Victoria and Harry, who can be seen roaming the Himalayan Highlands exhibit even on the coldest of winter days. Their Stone Zoo habitat is a naturalistic setting dominated by large rocky outcroppings. As with other large cats, you may hear them hiss, growl, moan, yowl or purr, but snow leopards do not roar.
Snow leopards are stocky, medium-sized cats, weighing between 60-120 pounds and measuring anywhere from 39-51 inches long—excluding their tails, which can grow to be almost as long as their bodies. Their smoky-gray fur, patterned with dark gray or black open rosettes can render them almost invisible in their rocky habitat.
They are secretive and lead largely solitary lives, except for mothers who are rearing cubs. Snow leopards are most active at dawn and dusk.
In the wild, snow leopards can live to be 13 years old. In zoos, their lifespan can be as long as 22 years.
For more on snow leopards, visit our Stone Zoo Animals page.
What you can do
- You can also support snow leopard conservation by supporting Zoo New England, which helps us continue our conservation work and care for the snow leopards at Stone Zoo.
- Zoodopt a snow leopard (shown at right), and bring home a little of the Zoo! Zoodoption helps us provide excellent food, care and enrichment for all of our animals.
- The Snow Leopard Trust occasionally has volunteer opportunities that interested people can do remote from the organization’s Seattle headquarters.