One of the planet’s most unique wildcats has been detected for the first time on the tallest mountain on Earth — Mount Everest.
The Pallas’s cat has short, stubby legs and a striped, fluffy body, but is most well-known for its face, which resembles a Persian housecat who woke up feeling extra grumpy that day.
Although this small, sour-looking wildcat can be found across numerous countries in Asia, primarily in Central Asia, their largest populations are believed to exist in Mongolia.
Finding evidence that at least one Pallas’s cat lives in one of the most remote places on Earth was surprising to researchers.
“It is phenomenal to discover proof of this rare and remarkable species at the top of the world,” Tracie Seimon with the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Zoological Health Program at the Bronx Zoo said in a press release.
“The nearly four-week journey was extremely rewarding not just for our team but for the larger scientific community. The discovery of Pallas’s cat on Everest illuminates the rich biodiversity of this remote high-alpine ecosystem and extends the known range of this species to eastern Nepal.”
The discovery was made due to data collected by Seimon and other scientists during the 2019 National Geographic and Rolex Perpetual Planet Everst Expedition, which was a scientific expedition that sought to collect environmental samples in Sagarmatha National Park on Mount Everest’s southern flank.
Samples were collected in two locations, at 5,110 and 5,190 metres elevation above sea level.
When the scat samples were analyzed, researchers were able to confirm that some samples came from Pallas’s cats, and that their territory overlapped with red fox.
Researchers also found pika and mountain weasel DNA within the samples, which are both known to be food staples for Pallas’s cats.
The Pallas’s cat, also known as otocolobus manul, are among the smallest wildcats, only about the size of a house cat, and generally live in the steppe grasslands regions of Mongolia, China and Tibet. Unlike most cats, they have round pupils instead of vertical slits.
The discovery also adds one more animal to the list of known mammals at Sagarmatha National Park, which is a protected World Heritage Site.
“This is a unique discovery not only in terms of science but also conservation as this population of Pallas’s cat is legally protected under CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora),” Dr. Anton Seimon, National Geographic Explorer and co-author of the paper reporting their findings, said in the release. “We hope that the confirmation of this new charismatic species will raise awareness of and education about the diversity of species at this iconic World Heritage Site.”
Although the Pallas’s cat isn’t thought to be endangered, it is elusive and rarely spotted by humans. Researchers noted that although the national park surrounding the mountain used to get very few visitors, that number has increased over the years to more than 50,000 in 2019, making it all the rarer that the Pallas’s cat went undetected until 2019.
Discussion about this post