Prehistoric Stealth Cat” Photographed for First Time in Bhutan
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.Pallas’s cat, also known as manul, is a primitive species that has changed little in more than five million years and 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.”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.In 2004, Tashi Wangchuck, the then head of the Bhutan Museum of Natural History, Ministry of Agriculture, briefly mentioned Pallas’s cat in the book Mammals of Bhutan. The book indicated possibilities of the cat being found in Bhutan between altitudinal ranges of 2,800m to 4,000m in Jigmi Dorji National Park. However, its presence in Bhutan has not been documented until now. The cat’s habitat is characterized by rolling hills dominated by glacial out-wash and Alpine Steppe vegetation. The Pallas’s cats were recorded at the same locations where other predators including snow leopard, Tibetan wolf, leopard cat and red fox are also found.Their habitats are also used as seasonal grazing grounds for yaks from late-spring to mid-autumn and are also visited by people collecting cordyceps, especially in April, May and June. Cordyceps is a fungus that is prized for its medicinal properties.
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.