Snow leopards live in harsh, snowy, rugged alpine regions in central and south Asia. They can be found at elevations between 3,000 to 4,500 metres.
Adults are solitary and only interact with other leopards during the breeding season.
These big cats have enormous furry paws, which act as snowshoes by spreading their body weight more evenly across the snow. They also help muffle the sound of their movement and protect their toes from the biting cold.
Their long, thick tails are used as a balancing aid when chasing prey.
Snow leopard walking down a snow covered slope in Hemas National Park, Ladakh, India © Ben Cranke/Nature Picture Library/Getty
Coping with the cold
A snow leopard’s nose is well adapted to deal with the cold – a short but wide nasal cavity heats the freezing air prior to it reaching the lungs.
These cats are able to jump as far as 15m and can take down prey three times their weight.
Unlike most other felines, snow leopards are unable to roar because they have different, less developed vocal chords than other leopards and big cats.
Snow leopard in Tibet © Thomas Kitchin Victoria Hurst/Getty
Because they are such elusive creatures people living within their range and studying them often refer to them as the ‘ghosts of the mountains’.
Threats and decline
There are only about 6,000 individuals left in the wild. Snow leopard numbers have declined by 20 per cent in the last 20 years due to to poaching and habitat loss. Snow leopards were previously classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List, but were reclassified as Vulnerable in 2017.