Snow leopard: Everything you need to know about the ghosts of mountains

Male snow Leopard

Unlike their relatives including lion, tiger, cat, etc. snow leopards can’t roar so their prey can’t hear them till they face them. These are also called ghosts of mountains; however, their scientific name is Pantera unica and also known as the Ounce. Although there are two different species of leopards morphologically, genetic differences between these species are yet to be confirmed that’s why they are considered as a monotypic species.


A 9 month old snow leopard

Snow leopards have a whitish tail with small black spots on the head and neck. These spots become large rosettes on the flank and back region. The belly of snow leopards is clear and they have a bushy tail. This type of appearance helps them to completely disappear in their surroundings. The colour of eyes may vary from pale green to grey.  The nasal cavity is large in comparison with its muzzle. Ears are small and round to minimize the loss of heat in a harsh environment. They have broad pads that help them to distribute their weight on unstable rocky surfaces, long fatty tails also take part in maintaining the balance of the animal. They can reach up to a height of 60 cm with a length of 90 to 130 cm. Males can weigh 45 to 55 kg while females’ weight varies from 35 to 40 kg.

Distribution and habitat

Snow leopards are distributed in mountainous regions of central and southern Asia. They are found in large parts of the eastern and western Himalayas, Karakoram, Tibetan Plateau and some other regions of this strip. They can be seen above an elevation of 3,500 feet so they are usually found at an elevation of 3,500 to 6,500. The worldwide population of snow leopards is estimated to be 4,000 to 6,500.

Due to drastic changes in weather and human involvement in their habitat, their population is constantly decreasing and they are listed as vulnerable on the list of IUCN Red List. Their current population is estimated to be reduced by 10% at the end of 2040. Snow leopard area is continually reducing due to human involvement in their habitat. Although hunting of snow leopards and human involvement have been reduced to a significant level by different animal welfares however, they are still in the red list.

Snow leopards in India

In India, snow leopards are found in the western Himalayas including Jammu and Kasmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim, Spiti valley, and Arunachal Pradesh. The total Population of snow leopards in India is estimated to be around 450-500. The population status of the snow leopard is decreasing in India due to the illegal trading of animals and different parts of the animal.

Snow Leopard Safari in India

Due to their fur, snow leopards are difficult to spot in their natural habitat however, they can be spot under the guidance of experts in conserved areas.  There are several places in western and southern India where you can enjoy a snow leopard safari. Hemis National Park, Dachigam National Park, Great Himalayan National Park, Pin Valley Park, Gangotri National Park, Valley of Flower National Park, Nanda Davi National Park, Govind Pashi Vihar National Park, Khangchendzonga National Park, and Namdapha National Park are the best places to locate a Snow Leopard. There is a place above the Spiti Valley named the tiny hamlet of kibber, got a special reputation for Snow Leopards. The local community of Kibber is partnered with Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF) and protecting these amazing cats. Therefore, wildlife lovers from all around the world come to Spiti Valley to spot this beautiful creature.

Prey and Diet

Male Ibex through the snow

Male Ibex

As we know, the snow leopard is a carnivore so its diet mostly consists of wild animals present in that area where they live. They mostly opt for an animal weighing 36 to 76 kg. Their prey includes Himalayan blue sheep, Siberian ibex, White belied musk deer, markhor, wild goat, markhor, and argali. Although they hunt on these animals, however, they also prey on small animals like Himalayan marmot, grey dwarf hamster, Turkestan rat, rhesus macaque, pika, vole species, and masked palm civet. They can chase their prey up to 300 m and after killing them, they keep them in safe locations. A snow leopard can consume a single Himalayan Blue Sheep for two weeks. Although their main diet is composed of meat, however, they can also eat a significant amount of vegetation, including grass and twigs. Usually, they prey alone, however, preying in pairs has also been seen with a successful ratio. Pairs are mostly mating pairs.

Behaviour towards Human

 Due to increased interaction with human and domestic animals, snow leopards also attack domestic sheep and goats. However, they can easily be driven away from the livestock as they are very shy animals and abandon their kills without defending themselves. Attack of snow leopard on humans has not been reported yet.


A female Snow Leopard and her three cubs

A female Snow Leopard and her three cubs

Snow leopards become mature at the age of two to three years and can live up to 15 to 18 years in the wild. Their oestrus remains for five to eight days during which mating is necessary. In mating season snow leopard mat with its partner 12 to 36 times a day in usual felid posture. Snow leopards usually mate in the late winter so that their cubs may get enough nutrition at the time of birth. The gestation period lasts for 90 to 100 days and two to three cubs are born between April and June when there is enough vegetation and prey.

Cubs are born with a thick coat on their body and blind eyes. Their normal weight varies from 320 g to 560 g. Female keep them safe in the den. Cubs open their eyes at an age of seven days. Snow leopard cubs can walk at the age of 20 – 25 days. Mother usually wean them after 10 weeks and cubs leave their den at an age of 3 to 4 months. Cubs separate from their mother after 20 months of age. Although they may interact sometimes after separation, however, they are independent after the first separation.

Wildlife photo safaris are great for amateur, professional and non-photographer, it’s not about only taking a picture , it is also about observing the behaviour… If you wish to join me on my next workshop, please feel free to contact me

A Little bit about me, of course!!

My name is Dalida Innes, I am originally from France and I live in Sydney Australia. My true loves are wildlife, landscape, travel photography and everything between. I travel as often as I can and try to see the best of the world. I enjoy my encounters with nature, this often takes me to incredible places where I meet fantastic people.

Adventurous spirit with camera in hand, I try to capture moments of wonder and serenity.

I am self-taught have a sincere passion for all things photographic.

Capturing images for me is like freezing the time and by looking back over my photos, I can get back to this whenever I need. I try to get that precise moment that your eye doesn’t have time to remember.

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