A team of scientists has found traces of two Pallas cats living on Mount Everest, more than 5000 meters above sea level. A first.
The altitude does not scare them. For the first time, two Pallas cats (or manuls) have taken up residence on Mount Everest, more than 5000 meters above sea level. According to scientists, they would reside more precisely in the Sagarmatha National Park, in Nepal.
If these two felines have not really been seen, researchers have discovered their presence thanks to the genetic analysis of the traces they have left. In 2019, a team of scientists took excrement samples. “Researchers found evidence of pika and mountain weasel DNA in the samples, an important food source for Pallas’ cat“, details the press release.
These finds complete the list of known mammals in Sagarmatha National Park, a much-visited and protected World Heritage Site. This team of researchers had already published part of their findings in the journal Science in September 2022, and made this announcement official on January 26.
Read alsoIn Kerguelen, the puzzle of the eradication of wild cats
SEE ALSO – At almost 27 years old, Flossie becomes the oldest cat in the world
Wealth of biodiversity
«It is phenomenal to find evidence of this rare and remarkable species on top of the worldDr. Tracie Seimon of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Zoological Health Program said in a press release from the nonprofit organization. “The discovery of Pallas’s cat on Everest sheds light on the rich biodiversity of this remote high mountain ecosystem and extends the known range of this species to eastern Nepalcontinued Dr. Tracie Seimon.
Conservation biology researcher and Pallas cat enthusiast Paige Byerly also raved about the discovery on Twitter:The idea of a Pallas cat mocking elite climbers behind a rock really warms my heart».
Rare and endangered species
These small wild felines, descendants of the leopard, have a wide range in Asia: from the Caucasus to Mongolia via China. They have a somewhat flattened head and have very small rounded ears, set quite low on either side of their head. Their spotted coat is long and thick, which allows them to fight the cold in winter. An essential feature for living on the “Roof of the World”. Manuls can live in areas where the temperature drops to -50°C.
Pallas’s cats have the particularity of living “in rocky areas, steppes, steep slopes“, explains Florian Kirchner, in charge of the “Species” program of the IUCN. Although a few individuals have been found on the Himalayas, it is not common to see Pallas’s cats on Everest. “They are used to living at altitude, between 500 and 2000 meters, he continues. But it’s still a surprise to see them in such an extreme area, where they find little prey.
Pikas, marmots and weasels are the main food resource of Pallas cats. But these prey are gradually disappearing, leaving “not much to eat“, because of a “habitat degradation“. The latter is increasingly transformed into “cultivation area for livestock or human and industrial infrastructure», becoming a real threat to the species.
Read alsoIn Japan, cats gone crazy announced a health scandal
The situation of the Pallas cat was assessed in 2019 and classified in category “minor concern” «which means there is no risk of extinction in the coming decades», explains the expert. However, “its numbers are feared to be in decline as it faces different threats from human activities“. IUCN scientists would only count 50,000 or 60,000 of these cats in the world, that is to say less than the number of giraffes, for example. With an average density of four cats per 100 km², this feline remains relatively unknown to researchers.