Animal Info - Chinese Mountain Cat

(Other Names: Cao Shi Li, Chat de Biet, Chinese Desert Cat, Gato de Biet, Gato del Desierto de China, Gobikatt, Golikatt, Grass Cat, Graukatze, Huang Mo Mao, Kinesisk Ökenkatt, Mo Mao, Pale Desert Cat, Qel Müshüki, Shel Misigi)

Felis bieti

Status: Vulnerable


Contents

1. Profile (Picture)
2. Tidbits
3. Status and Trends (IUCN Status, Countries Where Currently Found, Taxonomy, Population Estimates, History of Distribution, Threats and Reasons for Decline)
4. Data on Biology and Ecology (Size and Weight, Habitat, Birth Season, Birth Rate, Dispersal, Diet, Behavior, Social Organization)
5. References


Profile

Pictures: Chinese Desert Cat #1 (29 Kb GIF) (Tigerhomes); Chinese Desert Cat #2 (35 Kb JPEG) (IUCN Cat Spec. Gr.) 

The Chinese mountain cat is fairly large - about twice the size of a domestic cat - with a stocky build and a relatively short tail. Its head and body length is about 76 cm (30"). One male weighed 9.0 kg (20 lb), a female 6.5 kg (14 lb).  The Chinese mountain cat's fur is a nearly uniform, pale yellow-gray. It has distinctive ear tufts. The last part of the tail is encircled by 3 - 4 dark rings, and the tip of the tail is black.  The principal habitat of the Chinese mountain cat is comprised of mountainous terrain; including alpine meadow, alpine shrubland, coniferous forest edges, and hilly loess steppe grassland, at altitudes between 2500 - 5000 m (8200 - 16,400'). It may also occur in desert habitats, but this is yet to be confirmed.

The diet of the Chinese mountain cat is thought to consist mostly of small mammals such as pikas, hares, and white-tailed pine voles. Pheasants and other birds are also taken. The Chinese mountain cat is primarily nocturnal. It hunts early in the morning and during the evening and rests in caves or holes (e.g. beneath trees) during the day. Male and female Chinese mountain cats live separately. 

The Chinese mountain cat is endemic to China and has a limited distribution. Records of its occurrence are known from the eastern border of the Tibetan Plateau, mostly from Qinghai Province, but also from other areas farther north, east and northwest. At present it is confined to the provinces of eastern Qinghai and northern Sichuan, and possibly to the mountains of southern Gansu. The most important cause of this cat's decline is the loss of its prey base. Large-scale poisoning campaigns have been conducted since 1958 in China in an attempt to reduce populations of pikas and zokors, which are viewed as grazing competitors of domestic livestock.  Control programs using poisonous chemicals continue throughout much of the Chinese mountain cat’s range, and they have eradicated the cat's prey from large areas. No other major threats are currently known, although its fur can be found in some markets - it is valued for the making of traditional hats. 


Tidbits

*** Cat Tidbit #3: Stouter than other body hairs and embedded more deeply in the skin, a cat's whiskers are extremely sensitive to movement. They rest in tiny sacs of fluid, pivoting like a straw in a soda bottle. When anything brushes the whisker, the information is passed down to a rich supply of nerve endings that line the sac. (Sunquist & Sunquist 2002) (See Cat Tidbit #4.)

*** The Chinese name for the Chinese mountain cat, "huang mo mao," means "cat that occurs in wilderness of little vegetation." Two common names have been used: "Chinese desert cat", a reference to little vegetation, and "Chinese mountain cat", referring to its high elevation occurrence. (Chen et al. 2005) 

*** On closer examination, it can be seen that the individual hairs making up the Chinese mountain cat's fur are gray closest to the skin, turning abruptly to brown, and ending with blond tips (Chen et al. 2005).

*** What little is known of this species in the wild is mainly due to the efforts of collectors from the Xining Zoo, who obtained 34 specimens between 1973 - 1985. (Nowell & Jackson 1996) 


Status and Trends

IUCN Status:

[The IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature; also called the World Conservation Union) is the world’s largest conservation organization. Its members include countries, government agencies, and non-governmental organizations.  The IUCN determines the worldwide status of threatened animals and publishes the status in its Red List.]

  • 1994: Insufficiently Known
  • 1996: Data Deficient
  • 2002 - 2005: Vulnerable; (Criteria: C2a(i)) (Population Trend: Decreasing) (IUCN 2005) 

Countries Where the Chinese Desert Cat Is Currently Found:

2005: Occurs in China (IUCN 2005).

Taxonomy:

Recent genetic analyses have lead to the proposal that all modern cats can be placed into eight lineages which originated between 6.2 - 10.8 million years ago. The Chinese mountain cat is placed in the "domestic cat lineage," which diverged from its ancestors as a separate lineage 6.2 million years ago. The domestic cat lineage also includes the domestic cat, the European wild cat, the African wild cat, the desert cat, the black-footed cat and the jungle cat. (Johnson et al. 2006)

Population Estimates:

[Note: Figures given are for wild populations only.]

  • WORLD
    • Based on estimates of geographic range and average densities of other small cats, the Chinese mountain cat’s total effective population size is estimated at below 10,000 mature breeding individuals, with a declining trend (IUCN 2005).

History of Distribution:

The Chinese mountain cat is endemic to China and has a limited distribution. Records of its occurrence are known from the eastern border of the Tibetan Plateau, mostly from Qinghai Province, but also from other areas farther north, east and northwest. Disagreement regarding the reliability of some records has led to uncertainty about the species’ current distribution. At present it is confined to the provinces of eastern Qinghai and northern Sichuan, and possibly to the mountains of southern Gansu. (Li He et al. 2004, IUCN 2005)

Distribution Map #1 (2 Kb GIF) (Big Cats Online)
Distribution Map #2 (280 Kb HTM) (Cat Act. Treas.)

Threats and Reasons for Decline:

The most important reason for the decline of the Chinese mountain cat is the loss of its prey base. Large-scale poisoning campaigns have been conducted in China since 1958 in an attempt to reduce populations of pikas and zokors, which are viewed as grazing competitors of domestic livestock. Zinc phosphide was one of the main chemicals used, from the onset of control efforts until 1978, when its use was discontinued because it was discovered that it also killed carnivores that preyed on these animals. Control programs using poisonous chemicals continue throughout much of the Chinese mountain cat’s range, and they have eradicated the cat's prey from large areas. No other major threats are currently known, although the fur of this cat can be found in some markets - it is valued for the making of traditional hats. The Chinese mountain cat poses no threat to humans or their livestock. (Li He et al. 2004, Chen et al. 2005, IUCN 2005)


Data on Biology and Ecology

Size and Weight:

The head and body length of a small number of Chinese mountain cats has been measured as: 69 - 84 cm (27 - 33"); tail length: 29 - 35 cm (11 - 14"). One male weighed 9.0 kg (20 lb); a female weighed 6.5 kg (14 lb). (Nowak 1999)

Habitat:

The few records that are available suggest that the principal habitat of the Chinese mountain cat is comprised of mountainous terrain; including alpine meadow, alpine shrubland, coniferous forest edges, and hilly loess steppe grassland; at altitudes between 2500 - 5000 m (8200 - 16,400'). It may also occur marginally in desert or semi-desert habitats, but this is yet to be confirmed.  In some areas, rock outcrops may often be present where the Chinese mountain cat is found. (Nowell & Jackson 1996, Sunquist & Sunquist 2002, Li He et al. 2004, Chen et al. 2005) 

The Chinese mountain cat is found in the Mountains of Southwest China Biodiversity Hotspot (Cons. Intl. 2005).  

Birth Season:

Mating occurs in January - March and most young are born in May (Sunquist & Sunquist 2002).

Birth Rate:

Litter size is probably 2 - 4 (Sunquist & Sunquist 2002).

Dispersal:

Age at independence is 7 - 8 months (Nowell & Jackson 1996).

Diet:

The diet of the Chinese mountain cat is thought to consist mostly of small mammals such as pikas, zokors, hares, mole-rats, and white-tailed pine voles. Pheasants and other birds are also taken. (Li He et al. 2004, IUCN 2005) These cats have been observed hunting mole-rats by listening for their movements in their underground tunnels (3 - 5 cm (1 - 2") below the surface), and digging them out (Nowell & Jackson 1996).

Behavior:

The Chinese mountain cat is primarily nocturnal. It hunts early in the morning and during the evening. (Chen et al. 2005, IUCN 2005)

The Chinese mountain cat rests in caves or holes (e.g. beneath trees) during the day (Chen et al. 2005). Birth dens are in burrows, usually situated on south-facing slopes (Sunquist & Sunquist 2002).

Social Organization:

Male and female Chinese mountain cats live separately (Nowell & Jackson 1996).


References

Big Cats Online, Cat Act. Treas., Chen et al. 2005, Cons. Intl. 2005, IUCN 2005, IUCN Cat Spec. Gr., Johnson et al. 2006, Li He et al. 2004, Nowak 1999, Nowell & Jackson 1996, TigerhomesSunquist & Sunquist 2002 


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Last modified: February 26, 2006;

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