Snow leopards are hunted to satisfy illegal demand for their pelts. A snow leopard coat can fetch US$20,000 in the black market. Very little is known about the ecology of these animals. There may be as few as 4,000 snow leopards left. According to the World Wildlife Fund, at least four of these cats are killed every week.
The least known of all the big cats, the snow leopard lives high in the mountains of central Asia. These solitary cats prowl craggy mountain slopes just below the tree line, relying on their heavy coat to protect them from the severe Himalayan winters. The average male is 4 to 5 feet in length, with a tail as long as 3 feet. Snow leopards hunt in the mornings and evenings, but are active all day. They hunt animals varied in size from small mice to large sheep that may take them a week to eat. Snow leopards are uncommon and rarely seen in their extreme habitats.
Other language names for the snow leopard include: French panthÃ¨re des nieges, lÃ©opard des neiges, once or ounce; German Schneeleopard, Irbis; Spanish leopardo nival, pantera de las nieves; Chinese xue bao; Hindi, Urdu bharal he, barfani chita; Dari palang-i-berfy; Ladakhi shan; Nepali hiun chituw; Pakistani Ikar; Russian snezhnai bars; Mongolia, central Asia irbis, irvis; Tibetan sarken; Bhutanese chen.
By 1970 the snow leopard had already become rare due to hunting for fur and as a trophy, persecution as a livestock predator, and loss of prey. Currently, it has a fragmented distribution, consisting of a mix of long narrow mountain systems and islands of montane habitat scattered throughout a vast region surrounding the central Asian deserts and plateaus. An estimated 4,000 to 7,000 snow leopards remain in 12 countries across central Asia.
Uncia uncia is considered as "Endangered" by the IUCN Red List. CITES lists the species as "Appendix 1".