Researchers have recently identified 3 unique subspecies of the snow leopard. Biologists from Duquesne University have determined that each regional population of the cat has distinct DNA patterns. This differentiation was unknown until now because the range of the snow leopard is so expansive and includes harsh mountain landscapes, which makes long-term, exhaustive studies difficult.

The snow leopard’s range spans across 12 countries in Asia, all of which have agreed to a unified effort to protect at least 100 breeding leopards with designated protected areas. The Northern subspecies Panthera uncia irbis is found in the Altai Mountain region where Russia, China, Mongolia and Kazakhstan meet. The Central subspecies Panthera uncia uncioides resides around the Himalaya Mountains and the Tibetan Plateau. The Western subspecies Panthera uncia uncia is found in the Tian Shan, Pamir and trans-Himalaya mountain ranges near the northwest border of China.

Today, the total snow leopard population is estimated at 4,500 to 7,500 individuals. The human-leopard conflict is growing as livestock continue to be eaten by the cats.

By learning more about the differences in subspecies, the researchers aim to make the international conservation effort even more successful.

Source: Snow Leopard Conservancy