Snow leopard survey cameras confirm the presence of Pallas Cats in an area where there had been no previous photographic evidence of their existence in the area.
Stout and pushy: It uses low vegetation and rocky terrain for cover
By Passang Norbu
Wangchuck Centennial Park: Camera traps, set up to survey the snow leopard population in Wangchuck centennial park in Bumthang, has captured and confirmed the presence of another cat in the country, the Pallas cat.
“Several pictures show the Pallas cat at a place called Boera in January and April, and at Marganphu area in February and April this year,” World Wildlife Fund (WWF) officials said.
Marganphu is a three-day walk from the nearest road point at Nasiphel in Choekhor gewog, Bumthang; and Boera is a four-day walk. Both places have no human settlement, and the only visitors are yak-herders and cordycep collectors.
With an uncanny resemblance to the comic strip character, Garfield, the Pallas cat is about the size of a domestic cat, 18-26inches long, and weighs between 3-5kg.
The combination of its stocky posture and long, dense fur makes it appear stout and plushy. Its fur is ochre, with dark vertical bars on the torso and forelegs, and its winter coat is greyer and less patterned than the summer one. The legs are proportionately shorter than those of other cats, and ears are set very low and wide apart. With unusually short claws, its face is shortened, compared with other cats, giving it a flattened look.
Pallas cats are not fast runners, and hunt primarily by ambush or stalking, using low vegetation and rocky terrain for cover. They feed largely on diurnally active prey species, such as gerbils, pikas and partridges, and sometimes catch young marmots.
The habitat of the cat, WWF officials said, is characterised by rolling hills, dominated by glacial outwash and alpine steppe vegetation. Pallas cats were spotted on same locations, where other predators, such as snow leopard, Tibetan wolf and red fox, are found.
Wildlife conservation officials say that the Pallas cat is negatively impacted by habitat degradation, prey base decline and hunting, and has therefore been classified as near threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature since 2002. Hunters, lured by its fur, fat and organs for medicinal value, threaten its survival.
WWF conservation director Vijay Moktan told Kuensel that, although foresters mentioned the presence of Pallas cat in the past, with possibilities of finding the cat at an altitudinal range of 2,800m to 4,000m, until now there had been no pictorial evidence as such. “Before we carry out anything, we first need to discuss it with the government,” he said.
The WWF head office in United States was informed about the finding. The finding could probably be the first report on the occurrence of Pallas cat in the eastern Himalayas, according to WWF-US conservation scientist, Rinjan Shrestha, who has been closely working on the snow leopard survey.
A joint project between WWF and department of forests and park services (DoFPS), camera traps were placed at the end of November last year for the snow leopard survey.