Snow leopards live in the high, rugged mountains of Central Asia. While their habitat range covers 2 million km2 (approximately the size of Greenland or Mexico), there are only between 4,000 to 6,500 snow leopards left in the wild.
Their habitat extends through twelve countries: Afghanistan, Bhutan, China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. China is one of the most influential countries for our conservation efforts, as it contains as much as 60% of all snow leopard habitat areas.
In the Himalayas, snow leopards are usually found between 3,000 and 5,400 meters above sea level. In Mongolia and Russia, these cats are found at lower altitudes of 1000 meters. At the snow leopard’s typical elevation, the climate is cold and dry, and only grasses and small shrubs can grow on the steep mountain slopes.
Snow leopards prefer the broken terrain of cliffs, rocky outcrops, and ravines. This type of habitat provides good cover and clear views to help them find, and sneak up on their prey.
Each individual snow leopard inhabits a defined home range. Because these cats are not as aggressively territorial as other species, home ranges can overlap. The amount of space each snow leopard needs differs between landscapes. Researchers think that this depends on the availability of prey. In areas where prey is abundant, cats inhabit home ranges as small as 30-65 km2. In areas where there is less prey, snow leopards need more land in use for hunting and their home ranges may be over 1,000 km2.
Snow leopards are nomadic, and constantly move around their home ranges to hunt and leaving markings that prevent other cats from moving in. These cats often travel along ridge lines and cliff bases, and choose bedding sites with good views over the surrounding terrain.
Snow leopards have also been known to make long treks out of their home ranges, covering great distances in a short period of time. With habitat mapping technology, we documented a snow leopard travel across 27 miles of open desert in a single night!