By Bikram Shrestha.
Exciting camera trap images from our Nepal team shows Pallas’ cats, otherwise known as Manul, are living in Nepal! Even though they live in grassland and mountain steppe areas throughout Asia, until these images were taken, presence of the Pallas’ cat in Nepal was never suspected or even thought about. In fact, there isn’t even a Nepali word for this species of cat.
When Snow Leopard Conservancy program coordinator, Bikram Shrestha, discovered the images on camera traps that were set to capture data on snow leopards he was unsure what the strange cat was. With the input of small cat specialists Angie Appel, Jim Sanderson (of the Small Wild Cat Conservation Foundation) and Professor Karan Shah of Nepal’s Natural History Museum confirmation was made that it was a Pallas’ cat.
An excerpt from Bikram’s report:
Among eleven camera-trap locations, cameras installed in Aangumie Lapche and Praken, both locations above the main village of Manang, captured images of the Pallas’ cat. A total of 14 pictures were taken:
- 2 in Praken — December, 2012.
- 6 in Aangumie Lapche — December, 2012
- 6 in Aangumie Lapche — December, 2013
The image of the first animal was accidently captured in one of the remote cameras installed as part of the Snow Leopard Scouts “community-based snow leopard monitoring project” in Annapurna Conservation Area (ACA) through joint collaboration between Snow Leopard Conservancy (SLC) and National Trust for Nature Conservation– Annapurna Conservation Area Project. The Scouts are a high school youth-forum organized in 2011 to monitor and conserve snow leopards in Lower Mustang, Upper Mustang and Upper Manang. Every year, eleven students from grades 6-8 representing several local schools are trained on snow leopard ecology, prey observation, characterizing alpine habitat, and installing and monitoring remote cameras.
An excerpt from Bikram Shrestha’s Diary:
On 19 September 2012, I reached remote Manang,a four-day walk from the nearest motorable road. As the SLC’s coordinator of the Snow Lepard Scouts and Science program, I led twelve students on a trek to Yak Kharka — some four hours walk from Manang village. We stayed two days there and students learned about snow leopard habitat, its prey species and camera trap technique. After that, I set up 5 camera traps in the area of Ladar, Yak Kharka, Manang and Aangumie Lapche with local assistant Tashi R. Ghale who was then responsible for monitoring the camera until December.
I received the camera trap data in November 2013 to analyze and send to Snow Leopard Conservancy-USA. The camera trap from Aangumie Lapche captured the strange species. I was surprised because it was the small size of a snow leopard cub. But no adult snow leopard was captured with it. It was also not similar to other small mammals like the leopard cat and lynx which were recorded in ACAP, so these images continued to confuse me. I sent the report to Dr. Som Ale on 26 November 2013 and our team continued studying all images in attmepts to identify the species.
I had conducted the similar snow leopard environmental awareness camp in Manang in 25-28 September 2013. This time I installed 11 camera traps, again with the help of local assistant Tashi R. Ghale, in Ledar, Yak Kharka, Kerken-Manang, Tilicho, Praken-Manang and Aangumie Lapche to learn more about snow leopard and the strange unknown cat species. On 29 December 2013, Tashi R. Ghale informed me the camera trap installed at the same place in Aangumie Lapche again captured the strange cat. I was elated to know this news. He sent me six full images and I sent them to experts to identify. The experts of small cat species Jim Sanderson and Angie Appel, and Biologist Prof Karan Shah confirmed it was Pallas’s cat, which is the first record of them in Nepal.
SLC-Nepal and NTNC/ACAP conducted a press conference to officially announce the identified Pallas’s cat–a new species to record in Nepal– on 12 February 2014.
-Bikram Shrestha, Coordinator
Snow Leopard Scouts and Science
Snow Leopard Conservancy-Nepal