The snow leopard inhabits remote alpine and sub-alpine zones in Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Bhutan, China, India, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan and Russia.
The snow leopard is currently fragmented in its distribution, which consists of long, narrow mountain systems and scattered island habitat. It prefers steep, dry, rocky terrain with cliffs and rocky outcrops between 3,000 and 4,500 meters (9,800-14,800 feet) high. It may go higher or lower in different parts of its range. It is an excellent climber and prefers traveling along major ridgelines, gullies and broken cliffs.
Snow leopards are rarely sighted because of their remote habitat and shy and elusive character. Solitary snow leopards (and researchers) use claw scrapes and rakings, feces, and scent sprays to identify snow leopards in an area.
These cats have home ranges of varying size depending on prey density. In Nepal %u2013 where prey density is high %u2013 snow leopards may inhabit smaller home ranges, whereas in Mongolia, where habitat is marginal, larger home ranges have been documented. Snow leopards are solitary unless mating or raising cubs. Depending on location, they are most active at dawn and dusk or at night. They are opportunistic feeders, but prey mostly on wild goats and sheep (including ibex (Capra siberica) and blue sheep (Pseudios nayaur). They also feed on small prey items such as marmots, hares and birds, and may take livestock if they are encountered in their range.
A cursory 1992 world estimate for snow leopards was 4,510 to 7,350. The population is continuing to decline and is close to being extirpated in parts of Inner Mongolia. Populations are increasing in conservation areas and preserves in Pakistan, Nepal and southern Tibet China.
The snow leopard is listed as Critically Endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) and listed as Endangered on the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA). This species is also listed on Appendix I of the Convention on the Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES).
The snow leopard was hunted for fur and as a trophy and was already rare by 1970. Today, the snow leopard is threatened by illegal hunting for fur, as well as for body parts and bones for traditional medicine. They are threatened by loss and fragmentation of habitat due to the encroachment of humans and livestock, loss or displacement of prey (including the effects of large-scale marmot and pika poisoning programs), and lack of adequate protection. Snow leopards are also killed for preying on livestock.
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