International Society For Endangered Cats

A Voice For The Wild Cats of the World

Cats In China: Status of Medium and Small Species

The medium sized cats of China are the European lynx Lynx lynx and the clouded leopard Neofelis nebulosa.

Lynx are widely distributed in northern China and the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. At present the number and distribution of lynx countrywide remain unknown. Although lynx occur over a large area, there have been relatively strong human activities across their range, and so the species was ranked as a Class 1 protected species. At present we do not know how many natural reserves include lynx.

Clouded leopards occur almost all over southern China. At present the numbers of clouded leopards countywide, as well as their regional distribution, remain unknown. There are intensive social and economic activities in their range, and although it covers a large area, they exist in limited numbers so were ranked as a Class 1 protected species. Almost all reserves in middle and southern China are believed to host the clouded leopard as one of the main protected animals, but the exact number in these reserves remains unknown.

Because large cats such as tigers and leopards are so rare nowadays, their role in the ecosystem has been greatly weakened so medium sized cats can be a partial substitute for the big cats. Therefore the protection of medium sized cats becomes more important for maintaining healthy ecosystems.

Cats of small size include the Chinese mountain cat Felis bieti, the Asiatic wildcat Felis silvestris, the jungle cat Felis chaus, the manul or Pallas’ cat Otocolobus manul, the marbled cat Pardofelis marmorata, the Asiatic golden cat Catopuma temmincki, the leopard cat Prionailurus bengalensis and the fishing cat Prionailurus viverrinus.

Traditionally, the main economic value of small cats was their fur. The main threats are habitat changes, and chemical poisons used for rodent control in agriculture, forestry and grassland. It is well known that small cats play a great role in rodent control and are indispensable in maintaining a well-sustained ecosystem, a function to which much more attention should be paid.

As of 2006, China has established natural reserves covering 15% of its total territory. Nevertheless, except in some areas where the number and occurrence of these species have been studied, knowledge of the accurate distribution and population size of each cat species is still suffering from a lack of scientific data.

Since 1995, China has conducted a wildlife survey for Class I and II protected species countrywide every ten years.  However the method was not particularly appropriate for cat surveys, leaving gaps of knowledge about cats in each province. Meanwhile the local people still have a very limited awareness of conservation, and cats still suffer form occasional poaching activities. There are insufficient funds for protection and even less for regular monitoring of wild populations, both being necessary for the effective conservation and long term survival of cats. Cat species would also benefit from increased recognition from government, academia and local communities.

Source: CATnews Special Issue 5, Autumn 2010 Authors: Lu Jun, Hy Defu and Yang Liangliang

Next week: The only endemic cat species in China

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