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snow leopards

Snow Leopards

Snow Leopard Conservation

Zoo New England is a Conservation Partner with the Snow Leopard Trust, working together to protect this flagship species from extinction.

The Snow Leopard Trust (SLT) is the oldest and largest organization working to better understand leopard behavior and habitat. The Trust is active in all seven provinces in Mongolia, which is home to the second largest snow leopard population in the world. SLT collaborates with those who live and work near snow leopard habitats to create a better balance between conservation and community needs, and seeks resources to sustain long-term conservation programs. 

In this conservation partnership, Zoo New England and SLT are working together to implement Mongolia’s Global Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Protection Program strategy through improved collaboration with herder communities in South Gobi, Mongolia.

This project directly benefits herder families, particularly women and children in rural Mongolia, through additional income and educational opportunities. SLT’s handicrafts program has been shown to increase women's sense of well-being, empowerment, and decision-making for the environment. Conservation Contracts, livestock insurance and predator-proof corrals are additional program initiatives that help alleviate farmers’ conflict with snow leopards and increase social acceptance. The project also directly involves local government and wildlife managers (rangers) through collaborative surveys, information-sharing and long-term planning and monitoring.

The Threats

Researchers estimate that there are only between 4,000 and 8,000 snow leopards left in the wild. These apex predators inhabit the mountains of 12 Central Asian countries, where they are perfectly adapted to thriving in harsh conditions. 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. While listed as "vulnerable" by IUCN, snow leopards are likely declining across most of their range, and less than 2% of their range has been adequately sampled for population abundance.

Updates from the Field: 2022

Here's a look at the Snow Leopard Trust's accomplishments in 2022:

• GPS Data:
SLT successfully fitted three snow leopards and three ibex, the primary prey species of snow leopards, with GPS collars. Using collaring, SLT can study snow leopard movements and predation patterns, determining how snow leopards and ibex move in relation to one another, and make informed recommendations on more sustainable grazing practices.

• Population Surveys & Camera Traps:
Since 2009, SLT has conducted snow leopard abundance surveys using camera traps, providing vital information for Mongolia’s contribution to PAWS (Population Assessment of the World’s Snow Leopards). SLT analyzed images from 43 camera traps, revealing 239 snow leopard “photo capture events.” This is the highest number of photo capture events for this area so far compared to 44 -190 in 2009 - 2020. Researchers have reached a preliminary estimate of Mongolia’s snow leopards of 953. A final estimate is pending, but this is an important step in understanding the baseline for the region’s snow leopard populations.

• Community Partnerships:
Mongolia's Nemegt community chose to engage in SLT’s Snow Leopard Enterprises handicrafts program. Fifteen women completed training and began making handspun yarn for Mongolia’s domestic market, earning extra income for their families to help mitigate economic costs of livestock losses. This community will soon develop and sign a Snow Leopard Enterprises Conservation Contract that protects snow leopards and other wildlife within Nemegt’s community responsible area.

Source: Snow Leopard Trust’s 2022 Long-Term Ecological Study Annual Report

Snow Leopards at Stone Zoo

Even on the coldest of winter days, our snow leopards can be seen roaming the Himalayan Highlands exhibit. 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.

With their thick, cream-colored coats and gray-black spots, snow leopards camouflage so well within their rocky habitat high in the Himalayas that they are known as the “ghosts of the mountains.” With the ability to leap down heights of 60 feet, snow leopards are said to be the most agile of the “big cats.” 

What you can do

Snowleopard Zoodopt

  • Zoodopt a snow leopard! 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.