Snow Leopard

Snow Leopard

[ Panthera Uncia ]

Quick Facts

HEIGHT: Approximately 24 inches tall at the shoulders and 6-7.5 feet from head to tail tip.
WEIGHT: 60-120 lbs with males generally larger than females
WILD DIET: mainly rely on hoofed mammals and the young of larger mammals like elephants and rhinos; will also Blue sheep, Ibex, Argali sheep, Marmots, hares, and large birds
ZOO DIET: Nebraska Premium Canine diet (beef) and pork.  They also enjoy beef shank bones with the meat still on the bone.
DISTRIBUTION: Snow leopards are found in 12 countries throughout the mountains of Central Asia. China contains 60% of snow leopard habitat.
HABITAT: Snow leopards inhabit harsh and secluded mountainous terrain.
Mountaintop Diners
The high, rugged mountains of central Asia are the snow leopard’s natural habitat. They prey on herbivores such as sheep and goats. As global warming continues to take its toll, snow lines recede, forcing snow leopards to take refuge higher up the mountains. Because of the scarcity of vegetation on those higher planes, goats and sheep are unlikely to venture there, making food scarce for the snow leopard.

Night Moves
Snow leopards are most active at night and tend to move quietly. Their mountaintop habitats provide excellent camouflage for a surprise ambush. Studying their remarkable characteristics help us understand and care for them. A snow leopard’s thick fur grows longer in winter for added protection. Their unique paws are entirely covered in fur and are wide enough to act as snowshoes. Although they do not roar, they do moan, and growl. And to their cubs, mates, and keepers, they make a reassuring puffing sound through their nostrils, which is called “prusten” or “chuffing.”

In Search of Food
Both legal and illegal hunting for meat and trophies are other contributing factors in diminishing the snow leopard’s prey. Their movement into the mountains is not the only reason for their endangered status. Sometimes their desperate, yet reckless movement out of the mountains is the most detrimental…as a result, their need to find food leads them to forbidden places, such as ranches in economically strapped communities. They are killed in retribution for preying on much-needed livestock. Other human-driven activities such as poaching, for either medicinal purposes or for their hides, and illegal captures for private collections, are also greatly affecting their population.

Salad, please?
During mating season, they are known to eat more plant material. In fact, they eat more vegetation, such as twigs, grass, and leaves than any other feline. But when feasting on livestock, they take their time, sometimes taking 3 to 4 days to finish, leaving only a clean carcass behind.

In-house Snow Leopards
Their lives intersected here at Brookfield Zoo. Sarani is a female snow leopard (born in 2010) from Tatphaus Park Zoo in Idaho. In October, 2011, she arrived around the same time as Sabu, a male (born in 2010) from Cape May County Park Zoo in New Jersey. They can be seen playing in their outdoor habitat at Fragile Forest-Big Cats.

Numbers are Troubling
In our commitment to animal care, we joined efforts with these zoos from Idaho and New Jersey, both of which are accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. It is our goal to help manage the world’s snow leopard population. Currently, they are listed as an endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). It estimates that the current wild population is anywhere between 3,500 and 7,000.

Get Involved

Conservation Fund of the Chicago Zoological Society