It is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List because the global population is estimated to number less than 10,000 mature individuals and decline about 10% until 2040. It is threatened by poaching and habitat destruction following infrastructural developments. It inhabits alpine and subalpine zones at elevations from 3,000 to 4,500 m (9,800 to 14,800 ft), ranging from eastern Afghanistan to Mongolia and western China. In the northern range countries, it also occurs at lower elevations.
Taxonomically, the snow leopard was long classified in the monotypic genus Uncia. Since phylogenetic studies revealed the relationships among Panthera species, it is considered a member of this genus. Two subspecies were described based on morphological differences, but genetic differences between the two have not been confirmed. It is therefore regarded a monotypic species.