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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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Member Photos: Pallas’ Cat

Many of our ISEC Canada members are keen photographers, and include both amateur and professional photogs. We are always happy to showcase wild cat photos on this blog, so if you have any pictures you would like to brag about, please email them to our office at isec@wildcatconservation.org. Click on photos to enlarge.

Ben Williams in the United Kingdom has sent us more wild cat photos. This week we’re featuring the unusual Pallas’ Cat, photographed at Port Lympne Wildlife Park in Kent.

Also known as the Manul, Pallas’ cats are found only in Mongolia, China and the Russian republics of Central Asia. They frequent steep rocky areas, and are rarely found in the open grasslands. Living in one of the most inhospitable areas of the world, little is known of these cats. Classed as Near Threatened, they are in danger from the loss of their prey base, small rodents which have undergone wholesale poisoning by people wanting to graze domestic stock in the cats’ range.

Read more about the Pallas’ cat on our website

Movie Monday: Pallas Cat

Pallas Cat Video

Pallas cats Otocolobus manul are small, very furry felids from Central Asia, Iran, Siberia & Tibet. Very little is known of their ecology, so this video from the Pallas Cat Study and Conservation Program in Mongolia is extremely unusual.

Learn more about these little cats on our Pallas Cat fact sheet

What’s On The Pallas’s Cat Menu?

How do you save a species when you don’t know what it eats?

With so many of the small wild cats, there was virtually nothing known of their natural history until recently. Questions like what kind of habitat do they need, what threats do they they face and even what was in their diet needed to be answered before any conservation programs could be planned.

Pallas's Cat from Edinburgh Zoo

One small cat that we knew very little about was the Pallas’s Cat Octocolobus manul from the grassland steppes of Asia. Researchers from the University of Bristol in the UK are slowly beginning to unravel their mysteries.

Dietary specialization is one of the factors contributing to the vulnerability of a species. Generalist feeders like the bobcat are adaptable, and change their diet to reflect whatever prey species are most abundant at any given time. Specialist feeders like the Iberian lynx, who are dependent upon one prey species, suffer serious consequences when their prey base disappears.

The objectives of the Pallas’s cat study were to investigate the dietary composition and prey selection of the cats, who were suspected to be generalist feeders. Researchers set out to quantify seasonal variation in the diet and prey consumption, and sought to understand the effect of disturbances to the cats’ prey base.

The diet of the Pallas’s cat was assessed by scat analyses, and prey surveys were used to estimate availability. Analysis of 146 scats identified 249 prey items.

Pallas’s cats in the study area ate a broad range of small mammals (85%), insects, birds, reptiles and carrion, but Daurian pikas were the most frequently consumed prey. Pikas are 2-4 times larger than other small mammals found in their diet, and were selected regardless of the high availability of other prey species. This behaviour indicates a specialist feeding habit.

Only 2 small mammal species, Siberian jerboas and Russian dwarf hampsters, were not eaten; both are nocturnal. Observed activity peaks of Pallas’s cats suggest they are crepuscular (hunting dawn and dusk) or active throughout the day.

Seasonal differences in their diet included a winter increase in insect consumption and a decrease in pika consumption. Because insects were either dead or dormant in subzero conditions, their increased use was not due to chance encounters. Pallas’s cats were actively seeking insects and able to locate caches of frozen grasshoppers or the hibernation sites of beetles.

The reduced consumption of pika during the winter could be explained by a decrease in their availability. Although differences in pika numbers were not detected between seasons, inclement weather and use of underground food stores decreased the amount of time they spent on the surface.

Despite a 7 fold increase in rodent density during the summer, Pallas’s cats continued to select pikas, and did not prey on more abundant species.

Although accurate information is difficult to obtain, small mammal poisoning campaigns continue on the steppes of central Asia. Pikas and rodents have been targeted as pests by poisoning campaigns in China, Mongolia and Russia because they are believed to compete with livestock for forage, and are supposed to serve as vectors for the plague. In China, some pika populations were reduced to less than 5% of their precontrol numbers.

Declines in local Pallas’s cat populations will likely go unrecorded because they already live at low population densities and are difficult to survey. Further work is needed to quantify the impact of small mammal control programs on Pallas’s cats and other carnivores in the area.

Citation: Journal of Mammology 91(4): 811-817, 2010

Dietary composition, plasticity and prey selection of Pallas’s cats. Steven Ross, Bariushaa Munkhtsog and Stephen Harris
School of Biological Sciences, University of Bristol, United Kingdom. Institute of Biological Sciences, Mongolian Academy of Sciences, Mongolia

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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