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.
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)
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).
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.
Update 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:
Please support these organizations with their important work if you can. No matter the size of your contribution, every bit helps!
Snow Leopard Facts and Information
The following websites have well researched and authoritative information on Snow Leopards:
- Snow Leopard Status and Distribution Map - IUCN Red List
- Snow Leopard Detailed Information - IUCN Cat Specialist Group
- Snow Leopard Academic Literature pdf - IUCN Cat Specialist Group
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:
- Naturetrek - Snow Leopards
- Responsible Travel - Snow Leopard Tracking
- Natural World Safaris - Snow Leopard Experience
- Royle Safaris - Snow Leopard Adventure
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.