Snow Leopard (Panthera uncia)
Snow leopard in Afghanistan by USAID Afghanistan [CC BY-SA 2.0] via Wikimedia Commons
2017 Status update: Endangered to Vulnerable

The beautiful smokey grey Snow Leopard (Panthera uncia) occurs in the high snowy mountains of Central Asia. Known as the 'ghost of the mountains' this elusive wild cat is difficult to study in its rugged terrain, and numbers are estimated between 4000 and 6500. The Snow Leopard has one of the longest tails of all cats, used for balance when hunting and wrapped around the cat for warmth when sleeping. They have an unusual eye color of grey to green compared to most wild cats that have yellow to gold eyes. Although recently upgraded to Vulnerable status, Snow Leopard populations continue to decline.

Panthera Lineage

1. Tiger (Panthera tigris)

2. Lion (Panthera leo)

3. Jaguar (Panthera onca)

4. Leopard (Panthera pardus)

5. Snow Leopard (Panthera uncia)

6. Clouded Leopard (Neofelis nebulosa)

7. Sunda Clouded Leopard (Neofelis diardi)

Key Facts about Snow Leopards

~ One of the longest tails of all cats ~

~ Grey to green eyes ~

~ Inhabits snowy mountains ~

Snow Leopard (Panthera uncia) Classification

Snow Leopards belong to the big cat genus Panthera and the full taxonomy or scientific classification of the Snow Leopard species (Panthera uncia) is as follows:

Kingdom: Animalia   (animals)

Phylum: Chordata   (vertebrates)

Class: Mammalia   (mammals)

Order: Carnivora   (carnivores)

Suborder: Feliformia   (cat-like)

Family: Felidae   (cats)

Subfamily: Pantherinae   (big cats)

Genus: Panthera   (big cats)

Species: Panthera uncia (Snow Leopard)

Subspecies (to be confirmed):

Panthera uncia irbis

Panthera uncia uncia

Panthera uncia uncioides

The scientific name for Snow Leopard is Panthera uncia which is also known as the binomial name, species name, latin name, biological name and zoological name. Some use the term 'botanical name' however that is only applicable to the plant kingdom (botany) and not the animal kingdom (zoology).

Adult male snow leopard (Panthera uncia) in habitat

Snow leopard (Panthera uncia) Subspecies

Snow Leopard Lower Classifications

Snow Leopards are usually described as a monotypic species (no subspecies) although some subspecies of Snow Leopard (previously Uncia uncia) have been proposed in the past:

  • Uncia uncia uncia - Mongolia and Russia
  • Uncia uncia uncioides - Western China and Himalayas

The last Felidae taxonomy revision in 2017 continued to recognize the Snow Leopard as a monotypic species pending further genetic studies.

Subspecies Papers Since 2017

May 2017: Janecka et al. (2017) recognize three Snow Leopard subspecies based on a comprehensive genetic assessment:

  • Panthera uncia irbis (Northern group)
  • Panthera uncia uncia (Western group)
  • Panthera uncia uncioides (Central group)
Jan E. Janecka et al. Range-Wide Snow Leopard Phylogeography Supports Three Subspecies. Journal of Heredity, published online May 4, 2017; doi: 10.1093/jhered/esx044

 

Snow Leopard Conservation

In 2017 the global conservation status of Snow Leopards was changed from Endangered to Vulnerable, primarily as estimates exceeded the Endangered threshold of 2500 mature adults. The populations appear to have stabilized yet there are still many threats across its vast range.

The following organizations are all fighting to conserve our mysterious Snow Leopards, increasingly threatened due to loss of prey base, persecution and illegal trade:

Snow Leopard Trust

Snow Leopard Conservancy

Snow Leopard Program - Panthera

Please support these organizations with their important work if you can. No matter the size of your contribution, every bit helps!

Snow leopard (Panthera uncia) female and juvenile

Snow leopard (Panthera uncia) walking through snow

Snow Leopard Facts and Information

The following websites have well researched and authoritative information on Snow Leopards:

 

2019 Big Cat Documentary:

Preview The Secret Lives of Big Cats filmed using high tech starlight and thermal imaging night cameras to capture previously unrecorded behavior. The series includes seven episodes on the secret lives of Lions, Tigers, Jaguars, Leopards, Snow Leopards, Pumas and Cheetahs. Produced by CuriosityStream.

Snow Leopard Tours Asia

The following organizations offer tours to places in Asia where you are likely to see Snow Leopards in their natural habitat. These companies offer small group experiences, support conservation projects, and indicate their trips are environmentally and ethically responsible:

Always bear in mind that sightings of any particular animal in its natural environment are not guaranteed and the experience of guides will greatly enhance your success.

Snow Leopard Expedition

Snow Leopard Art Prints by Barbara Keith

Images copyright Barbara Keith

Snow Leopard Art Print by Barbara Keith
Snow Leopard and Ghost Print by Barbara Keith
Up Close Snow Leopard by Barbara Keith Art Print
Up Close Snow Leopard by Barbara Keith Art Print
Snow Leopard Art - Dazzler by Barbara Keith
Snow Leopard Print - Dazzler by Barbara Keith