Info Shymkent - Snow Leopard in the Tian Shan Mountains near Shymkent in Kazakhstan (Image: Farhat Kabdykairov)

Snow Leopards – the ghosts of the mountains

Snow leopards are the silent hunters of the mountains. Learn about these big cats, of which only around 120 individuals remain in Kazakhstan.

Today the world celebrates International Snow Leopard Day. We would like to take the opportunity to take a closer look at the characteristics and way of life of these animals. Let’s go!

The name

The Latin or binomial name of the snow leopard is Panthera uncia. They belong to the family of cats – in latin: Felidae. The Kazakh people calling the snow leopard Kar Barysy or just Barys and the meaning is similar to the English version. The poetic and nick name of the snow leopard is the Ghost of the mountains.

Habitant and characteristics

Snow leopards live in mountainous meadows and rocky and rough terrain in heights up to 5,500 meters. They are not so tall like lions and tigers. They are 60‑75 centimetres tall, but the body size can be up to 150 centimetres long. There weight differs between 22 and 55 kilograms. They are well prepared for their natural habitat: They have a long strong tail to jump easy over 10 meters and use it also as a blanket during sleeping – and to protect their sensual nose from the cold. Their fur is very thick to protect them from the cold and icy mountains. Some areas of skin have 4,000 hairs per cm². Humans for example have just around 310 hairs per cm². The pads on their paws are also very furry, which keeps them warm and stops them sinking into the snow.

Life cycle

Snow leopards are solitary creatures. Males and females only get together during the mating season between January and March. The time between fertilization and the birth of a child is about 90 to 100 days. It is common for two or three young to be in a litter and they are usually born between April and June. Snow leopard cubs are blind at birth and open their eyes by seven days. They are nourished by their mother’s milk for the first few months, but begin eating solid food after about two months. They stay with their mother for eighteen to twenty-two months. Snow leopards can live up to 15-18 years. However, scientists also observed snow leopards that lived up to the age of 25 years. The oldest known snow leopard, named Shynghyz, lived in a zoo in Tokyo and died at the age of 26. Shynghyz was a gift from Kazakhstan to the country of Japan.


The snow leopard preys on small birds, rabbits, squirrels and marmots, but it is also capable of killing prey three times its own weight, such as ibex and Argali mountain sheep. During severe winters, the silent hunter very rarely descend into the valleys to attack domestic goats and sheep. This is one of the reasons snow leopards are hunted and killed by local farmers.

But the Snow leopard is threatened by loss of their habitats and reducing of their prey by humans. The cats amount went down very fast over the last decades. So Snow leopards are included in the IUCN Red List (International Union for Conservation of Nature), also well known as IUCN Red Book and listed in CITES Appendix I (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). They are also included in the list of Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals.

Info Shymkent - Snow Leopard in Kazakstan watching photographer Farhat Kabdykairov
Ghost of the mountains. A snow leopard in Kazakhstan. (Image: Farhat Kabdykairov)

Protected areas in Kazakhstan

As we mentioned before, snow leopard is included in the IUCN Red List worldwide including Kazakhstan. The protected areas of snow leopards in Kazakhstan: Aksu‑Zhabagly Nature Reserve (Zhambul and Turkestan regions), Markakol Nature Reserve (East Kazakhstan region), Almaty Nature Reserve (Almaty region), Sairam‑Ugam National Park (Turkestan region), Ile Alatau National Park (Almaty region) and Katonkaragay National Park (East Kazakhstan).

Distribution of snow leopards outside of Kazakhstan

Snow leopards are widespread in Asia, but now they are very less and very seldom seen by people. The list of the countries where Snow leopards are still living:

  • Kazakhstan
  • Kyrgyzstan
  • Russia
  • Tajikistan
  • Afghanistan
  • Mongolia
  • China
  • Nepal
  • India

and others.


We hope you were able to learn more about these amazing but endangered creatures. We wish Kazakhstan and other Central Asian countries would do more to protect snow leopards from extinction and help their populations recover and reproduce. Happy International Snow Leopard Day!

Learn more about Kazakhstan wildlife: