Snow leopard (Uncia uncia) is a keystone species, typically found at an elevation of 3,000-4,000m. They are the icons and vital components of the biologically rich yet often neglected alpine ecosystems of Central and South Asia. The species is often found in open coniferous forests and high altitude pastures. However, given the rapid degradation of its habitat, the species has an estimated global population of less than 2,500 mature breeding males. Thereby, the snow leopard has been categorized as an endangered species (IUCN Red list, US Endangered Species Act, CITES).
Snow leopards have long, thick fur, and their base colour varies from smoky gray to yellowish tan, with whitish under parts. They have dark grey to black open rosettes on their bodies, with small spots of the same color on their heads and larger spots on their legs and tails. Unusually among cats, their eyes are pale green or grey in colour.
Snow leopards show several adaptations for living in a cold, mountainous environment. Their bodies are stocky, their fur is thick, and their ears are small and rounded, all of which help to minimize heat loss. Their paws are wide, which distributes their weight better for walking on snow, and have fur on their undersides to increase their grip on steep and unstable surfaces; it also helps to minimize heat loss. Snow leopards’ tails are long and flexible, helping them to maintain their balance, which is important in the rocky terrain they inhabit. Their tails are also very thick due for storage of fat and are very thickly covered with fur which allows them to be used like a blanket to protect their faces when asleep.