Cats out of their cradle
Researchers have recorded three species of wild carnivores in Upper Humla in north-west Nepal, marking the first recorded sightings of the species outside the protected areas network in the country.
Sightings of the Steppe Polecat Mustela eversmanii, Pallas’s Cat Octolobus Manul, and Eurasian Lynx Lynx lynx were documented from the Tibetan plateau of Limi Valley in Upper Humla from July to September 2021, representing the westernmost distribution range of the three species in Nepal.
Scientists from the Himalayan Wolves Project and Resources Himalaya Foundation recorded the sightings during the fieldwork of their research titled, Sustainable ecosystem protection: Conservation of the wildlife communities of Upper Humla through an understanding of wolf behaviour and local communities. Nepal’s Department of Forest and Soil Conservation, Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation, Green Governance Nepal and the Division Forest Office in Humla’s Namkha Rural municipality supported the project.
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While the Steppe Polecat was documented through live observation, records of the Pallas’s Cat and Eurasian Lynx were found through camera-trapping surveys.
The research is the first sighting of the Steppe Polecat since it was recorded as a new species for Nepal in Upper Mustang within the Annapurna Conservation Area (ACA) in 2014. Furthermore, this is the first live observation of the species, with previous records having been nighttime camera-tracked images.
The Steppe Polecat is a native species despite Nepal not being included in the IUCN range map of the species. Indeed, its sighting marks the southernmost recording of the mammal in all of Asia.
Meanwhile, three Pallas’s Cat—two adults with a cub— were found during camera-trapping surveys— the first family photo of the species in Nepal. Previous images had only been able to capture single mammals.
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The Pallas’s Cat was recorded as a new species from Nepal from ACA two years before the Steppe Polecat in 2012. The wildcat was named Tashi biralo in Nepal after conservationist Tashi R Ghale, who captured the species near Tilicho Lake in Manang while installing camera traps to monitor snow leopards. The mammal has been sighted in the Shey-Phoksundo National Park as well.
Unlike the Steppe Polecat and the Pallas’s Cat—which have been categorised as ‘Data Deficient’ in Nepal— the Eurasian Lynx is a ‘protected priority species’ in the country and is assessed as being vulnerable. Confirmed records of the animals have been made from ACA, Dhorpatan Hunting Reserve and Shey-Phoksundo National Park, but while local sightings from Upper Humla were documented as early as 2013, scientists had been unable to find conclusive evidence of their presence in the region until 2021.
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The Steppe Polecat, Pallas’s Cat, and Eurasian Lynx add to the diverse range of wild mammals the Trans-himalayan habitats in Upper Humla, including the Tibetan argali, Tibetan gazelle, Tibetan fox, Himalayan wolf, musk deer and the snow leopard.
The region is home to the largest population of the Kiang (Tibetan wild ass) in the country, as well as to the last remaining wild yaks of Nepal.
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