|Scientific Name:||Panthera uncia|
|Species Authority:||(Schreber, 1775)|
Felis uncia Schreiber, 1775
Uncia uncia (Schreber, 1775)
|Taxonomic Notes:||Placed in the genus Panthera according to genetic analysis (Johnson et al. 2006, Eizirik et al. submitted). It is most closely related to the Tiger Panthera tigris, having diverged over 2 million years ago (O'Brien and Johnson 2007), although the relative positions of these two species within Panthera have not yet been established with confidence (Eizirik et al. submitted). Two subspecies have been classically described (McCarthy et al. 2003), but genetic analysis of intraspecific variation in the Snow Leopard has not yet been done.|
|Red List Category & Criteria:||Endangered C1 ver 3.1|
|Assessor(s):||Jackson, R., Mallon, D., McCarthy, T., Chundaway, R.A. & Habib, B.|
|Reviewer(s):||Nowell, K., Breitenmoser-Wursten, C., Breitenmoser, U. (Cat Red List Authority) & Schipper, J. (Global Mammal Assessment Team)|
Listed as Endangered under C1. Snow Leopards are suspected to have declined by at least 20% over the past two generations (16 years) due to habitat and prey base loss, and poaching and persecution. Losses to poaching were most severe in the former Russian republics in the 1990s (Koshkarev and Vyrypaev 2000, McCarthy et al. 2003, Theile 2003). While conditions have improved there (T. McCarthy pers. comm. 2008), poaching and illegal trade is likely to continue in large parts of snow leopard range given growing demand from China. Over-stocking of the fragile high-altitude grasslands with livestock is widespread throughout snow leopard range, leading to declines in the wild prey base, and an increase in retributive killing when snow leopards turn to livestock (McCarthy et al. 2003, Jackson et al. in press).
The global Snow Leopard population is estimated at 4,080-6,590 (McCarthy et al. 2003: Table II). IUCN Guidelines (IUCN 2006) define population as the number of mature individuals, defined as “individuals known, estimated or inferred to be capable of reproduction.” While in general this refers to all reproductive-age adults in the population, the Guidelines also “stress that the intention of the definition of mature individuals is to allow the estimate of the number of mature individuals to take account of all the factors that may make a taxon more vulnerable than otherwise might be expected.” Two factors which increase felid vulnerability to extinction are their low densities (relative to other mammals, including their prey species) and relatively low recruitment rates (where few animals raise offspring which survive to join the breeding population, which has been documented in a number of felid populations). Low densities means that relatively large areas are required for conservation of viable populations; it has long been recognized that many protected areas are too small to conserve viable snow leopard populations (Nowell and Jackson 1996, Jackson and Hunter 1997, McCarthy et al. 2003). Low recruitment rates also require larger populations and larger areas to conserve viable populations, as well as mortality reduction in non-protected areas to maintain population size through connectivity. The IUCN Guidelines advise that “mature individuals that will never produce new recruits should not be counted.” Low recruitment rates indicate that fewer adults than would be expected produce new recruits. Defining population size as the total estimated number of reproductive age adults in the taxon would also not take into account that many occur in subpopulations which are too small or too threatened for long-term viability. Instead, the number of mature individuals is defined as equivalent to the estimated effective population size.
Effective population size (Ne) is an estimator of the genetic size of the population, and is generally considered representative of the proportion of the total adult population (N) which reproduces itself through offspring which themselves survive and reproduce. Ne is usually smaller than N, and based on four felid demographic studies, it is roughly estimated at 50% (Nowell et al. 2007). The global snow leopard effective population size is suspected to be fewer than 2,500 (50% of the total population, or 2,040-3,295).
The Snow Leopard is restricted to the high mountains of Central Asia, with core areas including the Altai, Tian Shan, Kun Lun, Pamir, Hindu Kush,
Native:Afghanistan; Bhutan; China (Gansu, Qinghai, Sichuan, Tibet [or Xizang], Xinjiang, Yunnan - Regionally Extinct); India (Himachal Pradesh, Jammu-Kashmir, Sikkim, Uttaranchal); Kazakhstan; Kyrgyzstan; Mongolia; Nepal; Pakistan; Russian Federation; Tajikistan; Uzbekistan
|Range Map:||Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.|
The Snow Leopard Survival Strategy (McCarthy et al. 2003, Table II) compiled national snow leopard population estimates, updating the work of Fox (1994). Many of the estimates are acknowledged to be rough and out of date, but the total estimated population is 4,080-6,590, as follows:
|Habitat and Ecology:||
Snow Leopards are closely associated with the alpine and sub-alpine ecological zones, favoring steep terrain well broken by cliffs, ridges, gullies, and rocky outcrops (McCarthy et al. 2003). However, in Mongolia and Tibet they may occupy relatively flat or rolling terrain as long as there is sufficient hiding cover (Jackson et al. in press) In the Sayan mountains of Russia and parts of the Tien Shan range of China, they are found in open coniferous forest, but usually avoid dense forest. They generally occur at elevations of 3,000-4,500 m, except for at their northern range limit, where they are found at lower elevations (900-2,500 m) (McCarthy et al. 2003). Low temperatures and high aridity makes its habitat among the least productive rangeland systems in terms of graminoid biomass, with prey populations consequently occurring at relatively low densities (Jackson et al. in press).
The cat’s principal natural prey species are bharal or blue sheep (Pseudois nayaur) and ibex (Capra sibirica) whose distribution coincides closely with snow leopard range. Snow leopards also prey on marmot (Marmota spp), pika (Ochotona spp.), hares (Lepus spp.), small rodents, and game birds. Considerable predation is reported on domestic livestock. Annual prey requirements are estimated at 20 to 30 adult blue sheep, with radio-tracking data indicating such a kill every 10 to 15 days. A solitary leopard may remain on a kill for up to a week (Jackson et al. in press)
Snow Leopard home ranges overlap widely between the sexes, and are reported to vary from 10 to 40 km² in relatively productive habitat in Nepal (Jackson and Ahlborn 1989). By comparison, home ranges are considerably larger (140 km² or greater) in Mongolia, where terrain is relatively open and ungulate prey densities lower (McCarthy et al. 2005). Densities range from 0.1 to 10 or more individuals per 100 km² (Jackson et al. in press).
Major threats to the Snow Leopard include prey base depletion, illegal trade, conflict with local people, and lack of conservation capacity, policy and awareness. The Snow Leopard Survival Strategy assessed primary threats by region as follows (McCarthy et al. 2003):
Himalayan region (Tibetan Plateau and other southern China, India, Nepal and Bhutan): reduction of natural prey due to competition with livestock, killing of snow leopards in retribution for livestock depredation, lack of trans-boundary cooperation, military activity, and human population growth or poverty.
Karakhorum and Hindu Kush (Afghanistan, Pakistan and southwest China): habitat degradation and fragmentation, reduction of natural prey due to illegal hunting, killing of snow leopards in retribution for livestock depredation, lack of effective law enforcement, lack of institutional capacity and awareness among local people and policy makers, and human population growth or poverty.
Commonwealth of Independent States and western China (Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Xinjiang province of China): reduction of natural prey due to illegal hunting, poaching snow leopards for trade in hides or bones, lack of trans-boundary cooperation, military activity, and human population growth or poverty.
Northern range (Russia, Mongolia, and Altai and Tien Shan ranges of China): poaching snow leopards for trade in hides or bones, lack of appropriate policy and effective enforcement, lack of institutional capacity and awareness among local people and policy makers, and human population growth or poverty.
Snow Leopard habitat undergoes extensive agro-pastoral land use, both within and outside protected areas. Conflict with local communities over livestock depredation is amongst the most important threats to the species its range.
The inherently low wild ungulate density in the snow leopard’s range, owing to relatively low primary productivity, is further exacerbated by prey declines due to hunting for meat and competition with livestock. A declining prey base reduces habitat quality for snow leopards and escalates livestock depredation. Competition with livestock for forage is one of the most widespread causes of prey base decline (Jackson et al. in press); reduction of the wild prey base because of hunting by people is also significant in parts of snow leopard range (McCarthy et al. 2003).
Snow Leopards are capable of killing all domestic animals except perhaps for fully-grown male yak. Although herders take steps to reduce the risk of depredation (Jackson et al. in press), livestock populations are a locally abundant food source for snow leopards and make up to 58% of their diet in some areas. The relative abundance of livestock vs. wild prey is a reasonable predictor of the level of livestock depredation by snow leopards (Bagchi and Mishra 2006).
Snow Leopards are killed in retribution for livestock depredation, but also for commercial purposes, and poaching for illegal trade represents a significant threat. Pelts appear to be the main snow leopard produce in demand, but there is also evidence of demand for live animals for zoos and circuses. Other body parts found in trade include bones (used especially in Chinese medicine as a substitute for tiger bone), as well as claws, meat and sexual organs of male cats (Theile 2003). Illegal trade increased in the 1990s in the economically depressed, newly independent Central Asian states that emerged from dissolution of the Soviet Union (Koshkarev 1994, Koshkarev and Vyrypaev 2000). Illegal trade appears to be increasing rapidly with China’s growing economic power, for example, in neighbouring Mongolia (Wingard and Zahler 2006). In Afghanistan, a new market has emerged which is difficult to police due to ongoing military conflict (Habibi 2004).
The general lack of awareness at both local and national levels for the need to conserve wildlife and especially predators, further hinders conservation efforts. Up to a third of the snow leopard’s range falls along politically sensitive international borders, complicating trans-boundary conservation initiatives. Military conflict is taking place across much of the snow leopard's range, causing immense damage to wildlife through direct loss of species and destruction of habitat, losses to landmines, the demands of displaced peoples for food and fuel, and the encouragement of trade in wildlife (Jackson et al. in press).
Included on CITES Appendix I (as Uncia uncia). Is legally protected from hunting by national legislation across most of its 12 range states (McCarthy et al. 2003). Afghanistan has recently afforded the Snow Leopard legal protection, after listing the species on the country’s first Protected Species List in 2009. This bans all hunting and trading of Snow Leopards within Afghanistan.
The Snow Leopard Survival Strategy (McCarthy et al. 2003) recommends the following conservation measures:
Theile (2003) recommends the following measures to reduce the threats of poaching and illegal trade:
The Snow Leopard Network (SLN 2008) unites individuals and organizations (including the International Snow Leopard Trust, the Snow Leopard Conservancy, and others) for coordination, cooperation and information sharing. An International Conference on Range-wide Conservation Planning for Snow Leopards held in Beijing, China in March 2008 identified important areas for Snow Leopard conservation (Snow Leopard Conservation Units) and provided a framework for the development of national action plans. Four countries have existing national action plans (Mongolia, Pakistan, Nepal and Russia: McCarthy et al. 2003), and India has developed Project Snow Leopard, a national governmental program for Snow Leopard conservation, although it has not been adequately funded (Anonymous 2007).
|Citation:||Jackson, R., Mallon, D., McCarthy, T., Chundaway, R.A. & Habib, B. 2008. Panthera uncia. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.2. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 24 July 2014.|
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