First Photos of Rare Chinese Wildcat Unveiled

Dave Hansford
for National Geographic News
September 14, 2007

One of the world's most elusive predators has finally stepped into the limelight.

High on the Tibetan Plateau, the body heat of a rare Chinese mountain cat recently reached a remote sensor, triggering an automated research camera.

The images—the first pictures of the mountain cat taken in the wild—may finally reveal some of the secretive habits that have kept the creature a mystery for nearly a century.

Jim Sanderson, a cat specialist with the Wildlife Conservation Network, worked with a group of Tibetan assistants to set the camera trap near the village of Rongrah in a remote region of northeastern Sichuan Province in China (see map).

The team chose the location after hearing about sightings of the small, stocky cat by local villagers.

Amid photos of badgers and marmots, Sanderson's team eventually secured eight pictures of one of the world's least known felines.

The project was supported by the Regina Bauer Frankenberg Foundation for Animal Welfare and Conservation International-China.

"Pest" Control

The Chinese mountain cat had never really been researched in the wild, Sanderson said. No one knows its conservation status, although it is generally considered to be rare.

It was the last cat species to be described by biologists, who in 1892 misnamed it the "desert cat"—highlighting just how little was known about its habitat and distribution.

Recent surveys now suggest that the feline might be confined to the northeastern edge of the Tibetan Plateau.

Although the Chinese government has created three wildlife reserves within the cat's present distribution, previous surveys found no cats in those areas.

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