What Will Climate Change Mean for Snow Leopards?

Mention the North Pole or a species at risk due to climate change and people often think of polar bears. And thanks in part to the film March of the Penguins, the emperor penguin has become synonymous with the South Pole. But did you know our planet also has a Third Pole?

Located in Asia’s high mountains, this Third Pole has the highest concentration of snow and glaciers outside the Arctic and Antarctic regions and is thought to store 7,000 trillion liters of the planet’s fresh water. It plays a major role in sequestering carbon and determines weather patterns across many countries. It is also home to the legendary ghost of the mountains.

The snow leopard, living just above the tree line and below the permanent glaciers, is custom-designed by evolution to survive in this steep terrain with thin air and extreme temperatures. This elusive cat roams 12 Asian countries with no passport or visa required to cross borders. Research confirms it crosses international boundaries regularly as long as they are not fenced, making it the ideal ambassador of the Third Pole, transboundary cooperation and climate impacts.

The Third Pole is home to 14 of the world’s highest peaks and 100,000 sq km of glaciers. This region is projected to be severely affected by climate change and is anticipated to warm at twice the average warming rate of the northern hemisphere. These changes will cause greater stress on human populations, especially the marginalized and vulnerable living in remote mountains dependent on limited resources. Extreme events are increasing in the form of flash floods, droughts and other disasters, which will cause significant losses to lives, livestock and livelihoods. Climate change will likely interact with every other threat snow leopards face, making each of them worse.

Glaciers are melting at an unprecedented rate. The increasing risk of emerging infectious diseases in the Third Pole due to warming and globalization threatens humans and snow leopards alike. New roads and infrastructure development in once inaccessible habitats facilitate the illegal wildlife trade. These threats not only affect snow leopards and other wildlife but also have a cascading impact on us, our well-being and our livelihoods.

Temperatures in snow leopard habitat are extreme, ranging from -40 to +40 degrees Celsius. While they may be able to withstand some level of warming, snow leopards will be affected by how humans respond. The lives of these elusive cats and the indigenous people of High Asia are as intertwined with glaciers and snow as they are with each other. Catastrophic weather events and forced changes in livelihood options could result in more human-wildlife interaction and, thus, lower acceptance of wildlife and negative encounters.

That’s why Snow Leopard Trust initiatives emphasizing climate adaptation programs are so vital. These include helping local and indigenous communities diversify their livelihood options, catalyzing better disease and healthcare management in people, livestock and wildlife, and strengthening peoples’ ability to coexist with snow leopards and other biodiversity.

20% of snow leopard-friendly beekeeping profits in Kyrgyzstan fund conservation projects

Our most successful conservation programs are founded upon the PARTNERS Principles for community engagement. From beekeeping to eco-tourism to cheese and sustainable cashmere production, economic development that expands livelihood sources without damaging snow leopard habitat is an increasingly powerful tool for climate adaptation. These programs are designed to foster coexistence with snow leopards. 

To ensure snow leopards roam these peaks for generations to come, we must prepare for a future when the snow melts. Our continuing research to better understand how this mountain-dwelling species will be affected by a warming climate is critical to developing solutions to protect it. 

You can help by raising awareness about the importance of climate action to protect snow leopards and their unique habitat, known as the Third Pole.

Photo credits: Prasenjeet Yadav and our partner, Snow Leopard Foundation-Kyrgyzstan


  1. If you become another climate change global warming alarmist I will be tempted to drop my support. The whole thing is a Marxist hoax, and I try to support groups that help animals and stay out of this political nonsense.

    1. We appreciate your support and thank you for sharing your concerns. We stay committed to our mission to better understand and protect the endangered snow leopard in partnership with the local and indigenous communities. As the glaciers and snows melt in snow leopard habitat, we believe it is critically important to better understand how it might impact snow leopards and local people and plan to enable their coexistence and sustained conservation. If we hope to ensure a future for snow leopards, we must understand and address all threats. Accordingly, we are conducting research into how a warming climate will affect this mountain-dwelling species, its prey and the people who share its habitat. Please be assured that our actions will be led by scientific research and the honest desire to address all threats to snow leopard survival.

    2. Unfortunately climate change is not a Marxist hoax. last month was the highest temperature in the history the planet . wild fires out-of-control in Canada and now Hawaii record storms. severe droughts.. Difficult to ignore these facts.I agree with you that we should try to keep politics out of this. and do what we can to save these beautiful big cats.The snow trust does great work and deserves our support.

    3. I agree with William Grizos; climate change is not a hoax, and certainly not a ‘Marxist’ hoax. There is ample scientific data online and in published reports to refute any doubt that climate change is real. I am 63 and in my whole life have never seen the violent and destructive weather patterns now seen worldwide. And the area we live in is now plagued by massive forest fires every single summer. I hope your personal/political views won’t impact your support of the snow leopards, who have no say in climate change which is directly impacting their environment and survival. Please don’t punish the snow leopards for any political views you, or anyone else, may harbour.

      1. Over the last several decades we’ve had different terms in order to describe the ever evolving weather patterns of the planet, and the two most recent terms that seemed to stick were global warming and climate change. The latter is a rather broad term and it really can’t be argued that the Earth has a climate pattern that has drastically changed many times over in the last 4.5bn years, or its entire existence. What is a hoax is the way politicans use alarmist rhetoric in order to funnel government money into NGOs and government organizations like California’s CARB and the UNFCCC. Every few years a bunch of wealthy business owners announce they’re donating a large percentage of their net worth to charities, and it’s not surprising a good number of them happen to be non-profit climate organizations (like Patagonia Action Works and Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy). The global population continues to rise and these wealthy good samaritans are somehow getting wealthier, even though they move most of their assets into charities.

        Regions where snow leopards are prevalent, which is entirely within mountainous and steppe plateaus of Asia, have not been prone to any recent global warming extremes. Winter 2022 in the Northern Hemisphere saw record snowfall and cold temperatures in areas that are more arid, cold environments, such as the Western US mountain ranges, European Alps and Eurasian Steppe. The Snow Leopard has been evolving from Panthera a few million years now, and during that time the planet has seen many major climate changing events, from glacial maximums to periods of glacial recession and oceanic rise. They mostly live at higher altitude so no they don’t often inhabit regions of Asian countries that are +40 degrees C. They don’t live in sub-tropical and humid environments. The above article even says they live above the tree line, which is considered an area anywhere in the world where oxygen is so thin that trees can’t grow. As such these temperatures never reach any considerable temperature that could be defined as hot or warming.

        You should be more invested in how polluted water systems are having an impact on ecosystems and animal habitats. Its much more of a pressing issue than “climate change,” which is entirely exaggerated in order to benefit a certain few. There are a lot of polluted rivers and lakes in Asia and the Indian subcontinent, and that seems to be a more pressing issue for the survival and flourishing of Snow Leopards than the gradual increase of the planet’s temperature in temperate regions. Poaching and the illegal fur trade, as mentioned above, also have a far greater impact than supposed climate changing events.

        I will keep donating to Snow Leopard Trust and other big cat conservation groups because I believe it’s important to study and protect these beautiful animals. Politicians and green energy companies are not going to create any miracle plan to save the planet. I think the “Marxist hoax” comment comes from the fact that a lot of extreme political activists often use bold lies to create organizations like Extinction Rebellion and sell fear to those who are buying. The same countries most invested in climate change initiatives are also the same countries who suspiciously funnel the most money into military and weapons.

        1. Thank you for sharing your views. Snow leopards, as you know, face a multitude of threats that are constantly changing. Unfortunately, the frequency and intensity of extreme climatic events in snow leopard habitats is actually on the rise, the consequences of which some of our partner communities are already facing. Snow leopard habitat is estimated to be warming at twice the average rates of warming in the Northern Hemisphere. However, it’s not warming per se that is perhaps a significant concern for snow leopards. As you rightly point out, they are able to live in areas that show significant temperature variation between summers and winters. It’s really the indirect impacts of the impacts of globalization and warming in snow leopard habitats that we are concerned about. These include pollution (as you’ve mentioned), increased risk of disease outbreaks, and unsustainable human actions in response to extreme climatic events. In parts of the snow leopard range, as families have lost their entire herds of livestock to extreme climatic events, some have had no choice but to start engaging in illegal mining to sustain their livelihoods, which destroys habitats forever. It is these kinds of emerging threats that need our attention. Our research is also trying to understand how snow leopards will respond as the glaciers retreat and the snows melt away in their habitat, thus changing access to water and other related environmental variables. This is not to take any focus away from the more immediate threats snow leopards face, and our efforts to address illegal trade and retaliatory killing continue to be intensified alongside. Please be assured that we do our best to stay focused on what’s important for the present and the future of snow leopards and the local and indigenous communities who live with them, and will not be influenced by the politics or lobbying around climate or other issues. We appreciate your support.

  2. Thank you for the positive info in this article. It is wonderful to read about the diversification of livelihoods to help increase the people’s well-being in coexisting with wildlife in adaptation to this change.

  3. Poaching has much more of an impact on snow leopard populations than climate change. Climate change is just moving money around so wealthy people can get even wealthier

    1. Poaching and illegal wildlife trade are, indeed, a continuing concern for snow leopards. You’ll be pleased to hear that our efforts to disrupt this threat have just received a significant boost. We are now able to strengthen our successful program to train, motivate, and felicitate rangers in effective crime disruption and crime-scene investigation by expanding from Kyrgyzstan to two more countries. This expansion will help address the threat of poaching of snow leopards and their prey in Pakistan and Mongolia.

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