Snow leopard conservation status moves from endangered to vulnerable

By Nikki Addison

Snow leopard conservation status moves from endangered to vulnerable
In a small victory for the snow leopard, the animal's conservation status has changed from endangered to vulnerable

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) have updated the snow leopard’s conservation status to vulnerable. The evasive snow leopard has been classified as endangered since 1972. Now, after three years of close monitoring by international experts, the big cat’s status has officially improved.

“To be considered ‘endangered,’ there must be fewer than 2,500 mature snow leopards and they must be experiencing a high rate of decline,” says Dr Tom McCarthy of big cat charity Panthera’s Snow Leopard Programme. “Both are now considered extremely unlikely, which is the good news.”

To earn a vulnerable status, a species must be declining by at least 10% over three generations, and there must be fewer than 10,000 breeding animals remaining.

Despite the snow leopard’s new classification, the animal is still at risk. “It does not mean that snow leopards are ‘safe’ or that now is a time to celebrate,” McCarthy continues. “The species still faces a high risk of extinction in the wild,  and is likely still declining – just not at the rate previously thought.”

Habitat destruction, poaching and global warming all factor into the decline of snow leopards. An organisation aiming to protect snow leopards, The Snow Leopard Trust, plans to argue the new classification, believing it will have negative effects on the animals.

Snow leopard stats, as seen on BBC

  • Snow leopards live in the peaks of central Asia
  • Their habitat covers more than 1.8 million sq km across 12 countries
  • They are usually found at elevations of 3,000-4,500m 
  • They are able to kill prey up to three times their own weight, and mostly feed on wild animals
  • Their spotted coats change with the seasons – from a thick, white fur to keep them warm and camouflaged in winter, to a fine yellow-grey coat in summer

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