When I see this broad furry face staring straight into the camera, I can’t help but think of a wizened little mountain troll. “What are you doing in my home?” it seems to say.
But there was no human intruder, just a World Wildlife Fund (WWF) camera trap to record the historic snapshot taken in Bhutan’s Wangchuk Centennial Park earlier this year. The photo marks the first time that the Pallas’s cat, also known as the manul, has ever been documented in the Eastern Himalaya.
This small, stocky cat – approximately the size of a domestic cat – is native to Central Asia with a range that extends from Iran, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, western China, and Mongolia. Rinjan Shrestha with the WWF describes its unexpected appearance in Bhutan as “…an exciting and remarkable discovery…this probably indicates a relatively undisturbed habitat, which gives us hope, not only for the Pallas’s cat, but also the snow leopard, Tibetan wolf and other threatened species that inhabit the region.”
Throughout most of Asia, the manul is listed as near threatened due to habitat loss, decline of its prey base, and hunting. The species is officially protected in every region except Mongolia, but Mongolian hunters and poachers everywhere else prize the cat for its fur, fat, and organs, which are valued in traditional medicine.
The manul population may stand a better chance in Bhutan, where a quarter of the country has been designated as national parks or protected conservation areas. This remote Buddhist land has proven a hotspot for biodiversity, and a hot destination for visitors who cherish the experience of its pristine mountains and forests.
Natural Habitat Adventures is proud to offer a world-class nature experience in the Eastern Himalaya with our new Bhutan and Nepal Adventure. Departures are coming right up in February and March!