International Society For Endangered Cats

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Pallas’s Cat Caught on Camera in Bhutan’s Newest National Park

Camera traps have captured the first-ever photographic evidence of Pallas’s cat in Bhutan’s Wangchuck Centennial Park (WCP), WWF and Government of Bhutan scientists confirmed. The species, which is listed as near threatened, has never before been documented in the region.

The WCP is located in the central north part of the country. To the east, it is adjacent to Bomdeling Wildlife Sanctuary, and to the west it is adjacent to the Jigme Dorji National Park. In the south it is bordered by continuous biological corridor.

Pallas’s cat, also known as manul, is defined by a strikingly flat head with high-set eyes and low-set ears that enable it to peer over rocky ledges in search of prey. The cat is threatened by poaching for its fur and fat and organs for medicinal value.

“This is an exciting and remarkable discovery that proves that the Pallas’s cat exists in the Eastern Himalayas,” said Rinjan Shrestha, Conservation Scientist with WWF, who headed the survey team. “This probably indicates a relatively undisturbed habitat, which gives us hope, not only for the Pallas’s cat, but also the snow leopard, Tibetan wolf and other threatened species that inhabit the region.”

Their habitats are used as seasonal grazing grounds for yaks from late-spring to mid-autumn and are also visited by people collecting cordyceps, a fungus that is prized for its medicinal properties.

The cameras were placed from late November 2011 to early June 2012 as a part of the Department of Forests and Park Services’ and WWF’s survey of snow leopard abundance in the park. The cat was first found on January 17, 2012, then on February 19, April 1 and April 18. In one close-up photograph, the cat appears to be sneaking into the bottom right hand corner of the picture, staring directly into the camera.

Pallas’s cats possess behavioral traits that help them survive even in the cold deserts of Central Asia. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has listed Pallas’s cat as “Near Threatened” because their populations are declining globally and they are disappearing from some areas such as the Caspian Sea region and Pakistan’s Baluchistan province.

Pallas’s Cat Photo © WWF-Bhutan

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Movie Monday: Pallas Cat

A Lifeline for the Pallas Cat

The Pallas cat Otocolobus manul is a small wild cat from Central Asia. These cats have a broad but patchy distribution in the steppe grasslands of Mongolia, China and the Tibetan Plateau. They are generally considered rare and uncommon throughout their range.

The most serious threat to these small cats is the depletion of their prey base through poisoning and over-hunting. Poisoning to control rodent populations has taken place on a large scale in Central Asia where they are considered to carry bubonic plague, and in China where they are considered to compete with domestic stock for graze.

Their habitat is also being degraded by domestic livestock and agriculture. While livestock had decreased during the 1990s in Russia and is believed to have led to improving status of Pallas cats there, livestock is now spreading back across steppe areas with an improving economy. Mining is also on the increase in Pallas cat habitat in Russia and other parts of Central Asia.

Although international trade in their pelts has largely ceased since the late 1980s, Mongolia still permits hunting of Pallas cats for “household purposes.” The permitting system is ineffective, and Pallas cat furs are illegally exported to China. Mongolia does not record any trophy exports, but skin exports have grown since 2000, with 143 reported exported in 2007.

Pallas cats are also shot because they are mistaken for marmots, which are commonly hunted, and trapped in leghold traps set for wolves and foxes and snares set for marmot and hares. Their fat and organs are used as medicine, and they are killed by domestic dogs.

Hunting of this species is prohibited in all range countries except Mongolia, where it has no legal protection despite being classified as Near Threatened. Approximately 12% of the species’ range in Mongolia occurs within protected areas, and in Russia, about 6% of otheir range is protected.

These unusual little wild cats don’t seem to have a lot going for them. As of July 2010, there were less than 200 Pallas cats recorded in the International Species Inventory System, a regulatory body that keeps track of breeding animals in zoos.

This video, therefore, is doubly important. Not only will the antics of a group of seven week old kittens make anyone smile with pleasure, but the reproduction of Pallas cats will help increase their rapidly dwindling population.

Congratulations to the Wildlife Heritage Foundation in the UK for their successful husbandry program for Pallas cats. May you have many more Pallas cat litters to celebrate in the future, and thank you for sharing your wonderful video with us!

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