By sharing its name with the common leopard, the snow leopard is not believed to be closely associated to the Leopard or the other members of the Pantherine Family and is classified as the only member of the genus Uncia uncia. Due to the under-development of the fibro-elastic tissue that forms part of the vocal apparatus in the 'big cat' family, the snow leopard cannot give a full, deep roar and this along with differences in skull characteristics help to separate it from its fellow ‘big cats’.
In appearance, the snow leopard is remarkably different from the common leopard. Although it has identical rosettes and broken-spot markings, they seem less well defined and have too much space between. The fur is long, woolly and heavy, which protects the cat from the extreme cold of its generally high altitude habitat. The general ground colouration of the cat is predominantly grey with brownish/yellow tinges on its flanks and lighter, often white fur on its belly, chest and chin.
The head, which sports small ears and a distinct heavy brow, is rounded and comparatively small for its body size, which can be up to 1.3 meters length and weigh up to around 70kg. The long tail, which can measure as much as 900cm, helps the cat balance as it moves over rugged and often snowy terrain. The powerful limbs of the snow leopard are comparatively short for its body size and are supported by large, powerful paws.