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Snow Leopards

Snow Leopard Trust

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 3,920 and 6,390 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.

SLT Updates from the Field

From the Snow Leopard Trust:

  • For the fourth year in a row, we can say with very high confidence that ZERO snow leopards have been killed in areas where we work on the ground.
  • Through community-based conservation programs, we reach around 5,500 families in five key range countries. The areas our partner communities help us keep safe for snow leopards add up to around 10% of the cat’s estimated global range. We estimate that these community-protected areas are home to between 400 and 600 snow leopards. 
  • In 2016, after years of grassroots campaigning, the parliament of Mongolia declared Tost a State Nature Reserve. In 2017, the government ratified the Reserve’s boundaries, putting the parliament’s decision into action. This year, another key step was taken, as the government has bought back the last remaining mining licenses in the area. Now, Tost is officially safe from the threat of mining.
  • In Kyrgyzstan, we discovered the first snow leopard cubs in the Shamshy Wildlife Sancturary. We’ve negotiated with the government to expand the protected area by more than fifteen times, adding two more former hunting concessions to it next year! This massive area will be free of any hunting and will provide a safe haven for wildlife for generations. In 2019, we’ll start working with local communities, authorities, entrepreneurs and investors to help the communities in this area jumpstart the local economy based on green, sustainable enterprise, driven by wildlife conservation.
  • We’ve also begun a fascinating new phase of research: besides snow leopards, we’ve also started tracking wild ibex and domestic goats this year with GPS collars. This will allow us to understand the complex dynamics between predator, prey and livestock in the ecosystem.

Read more here.

Snow Leopards at Stone Zoo

There are about 600 snow leopards living in zoos around the world. Among them are Stone Zoo's snow leopards, 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.

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.” 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.

Learn more about snow leopards.

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.