Coy cat captured (on film)

Published On: 2019-11-12

Coy cat captured (on film)

Camera trap takes first photos of rare marbled cat in eastern Nepal

Wildlife researchers studying the red panda have accidentally discovered one of the world’s most mysterious cats for the first time in eastern Nepal.

The rare marbled cat (Pardofelis marmoratwa) is slightly bigger than a domestic cat and has large, dark-fringed markings and a long bushy tail. It was captured by a forest camera trap at 2,750m in Panchthar district. This is the first photographic evidence of the feline in Nepal, according to a new study published in the journal Nature Conservation.

The camera trap study was carried out by researchers from Lincoln University in New Zealand and the Red Panda Network (RPN) in community forests in the Kangchenjunga region bordering India and Nepal between December 2017 and June 2018. Cameras captured three images of the wild cat, along with 5,176 other photos of 17 medium and large-sized mammal species.

ON CANDID CAMERA: Rare selfie of a marbled cat in eastern Nepal, and the location in a community forest in Ilam where the camera trap was placed.

“This is exciting news for wildlife biologists and conservationists in Nepal,” said Sonam Tashi Lama, the lead author of the study and the coordinator of RPN’s citizen scientists and wildlife researchers monitoring eastern Nepal’s community forests for red pandas, but had never seen the marbled cat until they examined the camera trap photos.

Cameras are revolutionising how researchers detect and count cryptic species, said Adrian Paterson, associate professor in Zoology at Lincoln University in Christchurch, a co-author of the research paper. “Detecting the marbled cat in eastern Nepal is a great example of the benefits of using cameras and will the discovery will add significantly to conservation in Nepal,” he said.

The marbled cat is categorised as ‘Near Threatened’ in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, listed in CITES Appendix I and considered a ‘data deficient’ species in Nepal.  The cat lives in forests throughout South and Southeast Asia, from the Himalayan foothills of India and Bhutan to China and southwards through Malaysia and Indonesia.

The forest in eastern Nepal where the marbled cat was detected has been naturally restored as a secondary forest after a forest fire destroyed the area nearly 35 years ago. Its presence is seen as a big conservation achievement, and researchers are recommending that year-round camera trap surveys be held in the mid-hills of eastern Nepal. Its exact location is not divulged to protect the wildlife in that region from poachers.

The study also calls for an urgent assessment of immediate threats, preparing sound conservation plans for the marbled cat and engaging local herders in conservation programs.

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