The snow leopard (Panthera uncia) is a rare big cat adapted to life in a cold, harsh environment. Its patterned coat helps it blend in with the steep rocky slopes above the tree line in the Asian mountains. The other name for the snow leopard is the “ounce.” Ounce and the species name uncia derive from the old French word once, which means “lynx.” While the snow leopard is close in size to a lynx, it is more closely related to the jaguar, leopard, and tiger.
Fast Facts: Snow Leopard
Scientific Name: Panthera uncia
Common Names: Snow leopard, ounce
Basic Animal Group: Mammal
Size: 30-59 inch body and 31-41 inch tail
Weight: 49-121 pounds
Lifespan: 25 years
Habitat: Central Asia
Conservation Status: Vulnerable
The snow leopard has several physical characteristics that are adapted to its environment. These traits also distinguish the snow leopard from other big cats.
The snow leopard’s fur camouflages the cat against rocky terrain and protects it from cold temperatures. The dense fur is white on the snow leopard’s belly, gray on its head, and dotted with black rosettes. Thick fur also covers the cat’s large paws, helping to grip slick surfaces and minimize heat loss.
The snow leopard has short legs, a stocky body, and an extremely long, bushy tail, which it can curl over its face to stay warm. Its short muzzle and small ears also help the animal conserve heat. While other big cats have golden eyes, the snow leopard’s eyes are gray or green. Also unlike other big cats, the snow leopard cannot roar. It communicates using mews, growls, chuffing, hisses, and wails.
Male snow leopards are larger than females, but they have a similar appearance. On average, a snow leopard’s length is between 75 and 150 cm (30 to 59 in), plus a tail that’s 80 to 105 cm (31 to 41 in) long. The average snow leopard weighs between 22 and 55 kg (49 to 121 lb). A large male may reach 75 kg (165 lb), while a small female may weigh under 25 kg (55 lb).
Habitat and Distribution
Snow leopards live at high elevations in mountainous regions of Central Asia. Countries include Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bhutan, Mongolia, and Tibet. In the summer, the snow leopards live above the tree line from 2,700 to 6,000 m (8,900 to 19,700 ft), but in the winter they descend to forests between 1,200 and 2,000 m (3,900 to 6,600 ft). While they are adapted to traverse rocky terrain and snow, snow leopards will follow trails made by people and animals if they are available.