Snow Leopard Ecology

Understanding snow leopard ecology is a key building block for successful conservation programs. In order to protect the snow leopards, we must first identify the resources they use within the landscape and how they interact with each other and other wildlife.    

The Snow Leopard Trust conducts groundbreaking ecological research in five countries across Central Asia. In Mongolia, we created a Long-Term Ecological Study (LTES) that is focused on growing our knowledge of snow leopard behavior and patterns of land use. Through this study, we have been able to continuously monitor wild snow leopards as they hunt, interact with each other, and move around their home range.

The LTES was launched in 2008 when we fitted a GPS tracking collar on a wild snow leopard in the South Gobi region of Mongolia. Named Aztai, this snow leopard was the first of over 15 snow leopards we have met over the last 4 years. The collars we use send out satellite uplinks daily on the location of the snow leopard wearing it. With this data, our field team can follow the cat’s movement and activities, learning more than we ever thought possible.

Because of this study, we now know that each individual snow leopard uses an average area of 250-300 km2. The cats in our study are mostly active at night, and typically hunt a large animal such as ibex or argali every 8-10 days.

We also place research cameras in areas we hypothesize snow leopards will be. These cameras photograph wild snow leopards as they engage their environment, giving us a rare insight into the private lives of these mysterious cats.

These cameras have photographed mothers and cubs, helping us establish educated estimates of snow leopard birth rates. Through this ecological research we hope to one day answers questions like:

  • Who is the dominant male in a specific area?
  • How do neighboring individuals, both male and female, interact?

The information from these ecological studies is used by researchers along with data from China, India, Pakistan and Kyrgyzstan on snow leopard diets. With this data, we now know that ensuring a healthy population of snow leopard prey species is vital to snow leopard conservation.