The snow leopard lives in the plateaus and high valleys of the major mountains of Central Asia, within the borders of Bhutan, China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Its geographical distribution extends from the Hindu Kush, in the north-eastern part of Afghanistan, up to China, where it is found on the mountainous reliefs of Xinjiang, on the Pamir, in the Altyn-Tagh and in the mountainous regions of Gansu and Western Sichuan.
The snow leopard also inhabits Pakistan and the southern Himalayas: Gilgit, Hunza, Kashmir, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan. It also lives in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan, in Zungaria, in the Altai mountains, around Lake Baikal and in southern Siberia up to the Saiani mountains, on the border with Mongolia.
The snow leopard lives in the highlands between 3350 and 6700 m of altitude. The scholars of the Snow Leopard Survival Strategy have tried, despite the difficulties, to make an estimate of the population of this animal, evaluating it on 4080-6590 specimens.
However, fewer than 2,500 specimens of breeding age are feared.
Its conservation to 2023
Among the bodies that work to preserve this feline and the mountain ecosystems in which it lives, which are also threatened, are the Snow Leopard Trust, the Snow Leopard Conservancy, the Snow Leopard Network, the Cat Specialist Group and the Panthera Corporation.
These groups, numerous national governments of the countries where this species lives, non-profit organizations and private agencies recently gathered in Beijing, at the X International Snow Leopard Conference. Their goal is to promote programs with the aim of collecting as much information as possible and awareness projects among the inhabitants of the places where snow leopards live, to better understand what their needs are.
In 1972 the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) included the leopard in its Red List of Threatened Species, in the category of endangered species.
In 2003 the total population of snow leopards in the wild was estimated at only 4080-6590 by McCarthy and his collaborators (see table below).
Many of these estimates, however, are approximate and dated. In 2017 it was reclassified as vulnerable. In 2023 the species is still classified as vulnerable, and there are fears for its survival.