Rare wild cat discovered living on world’s tallest mountain — Mount Everest

The elusive Pallas’s cat, recognizable from its incredibly grumpy facial expression, has been discovered living the high life on Mount Everest in Nepal’s Sagarmatha National Park, according to new research.

A study published in Cat News of the first ever report of Pallas’s cat in the region comes after a 2019 National Geographic and Rolex Perpetual Planet Everest Expedition, which is considered the most “comprehensive single scientific expedition to the mountain in history.” 

Pallas’s Cat. Photo: Smithsonian’s National Zoo

In spring 2019, Dr. Tracie Seimon of Wildlife Conservation Society’s Zoological Health Program based at the Bronx Zoo, helped lead a team that collected Pallas’s cat scat from two locations 6 kilometres apart at 5,110- and 5,190-metres above sea level.

“It is phenomenal to discover proof of this rare and remarkable species at the top of the world,” Seimon said in a statement Jan. 26. “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 DNA analysis of the samples confirmed two Pallas’s cats inhabit Mount Everest. It means the cats are hanging out in territory that overlaps with red fox. Researchers also found evidence of pika and mountain weasel DNA in the samples, which are important food sources for Pallas’s cat.

Tourism has been increasingly dramatically in the region. From a few thousand people in the 1970s to more than 50,000 people by 2019 — yet the cat went unnoticed in the park until this research expedition.

Pallas’s cat. Smithsonian’s National Zoo.

Now, a new species can be added to the list of known mammals in the protected park. The findings extend the range of Pallas’s cat into eastern Nepal. The species normally came be found in Turkmenistan, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Bhutan, Nepal, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, Mongolia and Russia.

“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),” National Geographic Explorer and co-author of the paper, Dr. Anton Seimon, added. “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.”

Pallas’s cat (Otocolobus manul) is considered “near threatened” by the World Conservation Union. It survives in harsh climates with help from its thick, soft fur — its woolly underfur is double the length of that on the rest of the body. 

“Pallas’ cats have the same thick, long fur, flat faces and stocky builds of domestic Persian cats,” according to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo. “Their round ears are set low on their heads, so they can peer over rocks while keeping their ears hidden.” 

Scientists say future research using camera trap surveys and more scat samples would help to better define the Pallas’s cat population, range, density, and their diet in Sagarmatha National Park. 

Pallas’s cat does it best grumpy cat. Photo: Julie Larsen Maher/WCS

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