The snow leopard (Panthera uncia or Uncia uncia) is a moderately large cat native to the mountain ranges of Central Asia. The classification of this species has been subject to change, & as of 2000, it is still classified as Uncia uncia by MSW3. and CITES Appendix I. However, with more recent genetic studies, the snow leopard is now generally considered as Panthera uncia and classified as such by IUCN. Classically, two subspecies have been attributed, yet genetic differences between the two have not been settled. The snow leopard is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as globally Endangered (EN).
Snow leopards occupy alpine and subalpine areas generally 3,350 to 6,700 meters (10,990 to 22,000 ft) above sea level in Central Asia. McCarthy & Chapron (2003) compiled national snow leopard population estimates, updating the work of Fox (1994). Many of the estimates are acknowledged to be rough & out of date, yet the total estimated population is 4,150–7,350. However, the global snow leopard effective population size (those likely to reproduce) is suspected to be fewer than 2,500 (50% of the total population, or 2,040–3,295).
Snow leopards are slightly smaller than the other big cats but, like them, exhibit a range of sizes, generally weighing between 27 & 55 kg (60 & 120 lb), with an occasional large male reaching 75 kg (170 lb) & small female of under 25 kg (55 lb). They have a relatively short body, measuring in length from the head to the base of the tail 75 to 130 cm (30 to 50 in). However, the tail is quite long, at 80 to 100 cm (31 to 39 in), with only the domestic-cat-sized marbled cat being relatively longer-tailed. They are stocky & short-legged huge cats, standing approximately 60 cm (24 in) at the shoulder.
Snow leopards have long, thick fur, & their base colour varies from smoky gray to yellowish tan, with whitish underparts. They have dark grey to black open rosettes on their bodies, with small spots of the same color on their heads & larger spots on their legs & 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, & their ears are small & rounded, all of which assist to minimize heat loss. Their paws are wide, which distributes their weight better for walking on snow, & have fur on their undersides to increase their grip on steep & unstable surfaces; it moreover helps to minimize heat loss. Snow leopards’ tails are long & flexible, helping them to maintain their balance, which is very significant in the rocky terrain they inhabit. Their tails are moreover very thick due to storage of fat & are very thickly covered with fur which allows them to be used like a blanket to protect their faces when asleep.
The snow leopard has a short muzzle & domed forehead, containing unusually large nasal cavities that assist the animal breathe the thin, cold air of their mountainous environment.
The snow leopard cannot roar, despite possessing partial ossification of the hyoid bone. This partial ossification was previously thought to be essential for allowing the big cats to roar, yet new studies show the ability to roar is due to other morphological features, especially of the larynx, which are absent in the snow leopard. Snow leopard vocalizations include hisses, chuffing, mews, growls, & wailing.