Snow leopard | WWF China

Snow leopard



Overview

The snow leopard is one of WWF’s global flagship species and is the most numerous of China’s big cats. It inhabits one of the harshest environments on earth, dwelling in the high, cold, barren, mountains of Inner Asia from the Himalaya and the Tibetan Plateau to the Pamirs, Tian Shan, Altai and the mountain ranges of the Gobi Desert and central Mongolia. The total population of the snow leopard throughout its 13 range countries is now believed about 4000 individuals with about half found in China, primarily in the interior of the Tibetan Plateau and on the northern slope of the Himalaya.

As the top predator in the high mountains of Inner Asia, the snow leopard plays an important ecological role in controlling the populations and health of the wild ungulate species it preys on. While the Asiatic brown bears that overlap the snow leopard’s range subsist largely on pikas, marmots, scavenged meat and plant matter, the snow leopard subsists almost entirely on large animals caught live, frequently sick or injured animals. Protecting the snow leopard, its prey species, and its habitat is critical to protecting broader eco-regions as well, such as the high altitude grasslands and wetlands of the Yangtze Source Region. Read more.

Main Threats

The major threat is increasing human population pressure on the grasslands and pastures of the Tibetan Plateau and the high mountain valleys of Xinjiang

In addition, snow leopards are also at risk from poachers, who can sell their skins for upwards of several thousand dollars in the large booming cities of eastern China. Snow leopard bones are also increasingly being used as a replacement for more expensive tiger bone in traditional Chinese medicine, while live snow leopard cubs, often orphaned by poachers, are also captured and sold to circuses and public and private zoos, and have been know to fetch up to 20,000 dollars each.

WWF China's work that supports snow lepard conservation

WWF China began a concerted effort to protect snow leopards on the Tibetan Plateau in 2006, with a ground- breaking human-wildlife conflict survey conducted in the southern Chang Tang region of Tibet. This survey revealed an extremely high rate of conflict between livestock herders and snow leopards.

The survey has since been followed by further detailed surveys in selected areas and the widespread distribution of educational materials. These materials contain information about snow leopard ecology and how herders can reduce and prevent loss of livestock to snow leopards, such as by avoiding herding in snow leopard habitat, putting roofs on their livestock corrals, and guarding their sheep better.

WWF has also established two trial wildlife-conflict compensation funds that provide the poorest families in areas covered with partial compensation (about 25 percent) for livestock lost to snow leopards. The compensation system also provides an excellent channel for disseminating information on how to prevent conflict with snow leopards.

Goal

WWF China plans to replicate its successes in protecting the snow leopards of Tibet in the Yangtze Source of Qinghai Province. The overall goal of this work is to eventually reach all snow leopard range areas of the Tibetan Plateau with the message of the need to protect these uniquely beautiful endangered animals.