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Pallas cats discovered on the world’s highest mountain

In 2019, scientists from eight countries conducted the most comprehensive expedition to Mt. Everest to date in the Khumbu Region of Nepal. The research was part of a project called the National Geographic and Rolex Perpetual Planet Everest Expedition. 

In a paper published in Cat News, the scientists reveal that they have found the first evidence of Pallas’s cat on Mount Everest in the Sagarmatha National Park. 

The cat is named in honor of Peter Simon Pallas, the scientist who first described the species in 1776. The Pallas cat has a wide but fragmented distribution across the grasslands of Asia, with Mongolia and Russia making up the majority of its range. 

Dr. Tracie Seimon of the Wildlife Conservation Society co-led the Perpetual Planet Everest Expedition biology field team from April 7 to May 2, 2019. The scientists collected environmental samples from Sagarmatha National Park on Mount Everest’s Southern Flank.  

A genetic analysis of the samples confirmed that at least two Pallas cats inhabit Mount Everest. The experts found pika and mountain weasel DNA in the samples, which are important sources of food for these cats. 

“It is phenomenal to discover proof of this rare and remarkable species at the top of the world,” said Dr. Seimon. “The nearly four-week journey was extremely rewarding not just for our team but for the larger scientific community. The discovery of Pallas’s cat on Everest illuminates the rich biodiversity of this remote high-alpine ecosystem and extends the known range of this species to eastern Nepal.”

The findings also add a new species to the list of known mammals in Sagarmatha National Park, a protected World Heritage site that has become an increasingly popular tourist destination.

“This is a unique discovery not only in terms of science but also conservation as this population of Pallas’s cat is legally protected under CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora),” said study co-author Dr. Anton Seimon. “We hope that the confirmation of this new charismatic species will raise awareness of and education about the diversity of species at this iconic World Heritage Site.”

The experts say it is notable that Pallas’s cat went undetected in Sagarmatha National Park until 2019. Further research is needed to investigate the population, range, density, and diet of Pallas cats in this region. 

“The groundbreaking 2019 Perpetual Planet Everest Expedition continues to be extremely valuable to better understand the most iconic environment on our planet,” said Nicole Alexiev of the National Geographic Society. “These results are a perfect illustration of why this work is important and a cornerstone of our partnership with Rolex to study and explore Earth’s critical life support systems.” 

To learn more about the Perpetual Planet Expedition from National Geographic and Rolex, visit here

Image Credit: Julie Larsen/Maher/WCS

By Chrissy Sexton, Editor

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