Felis bieti, more commonly known as the Chinese desert cat, resides most frequently in the north-eastern edge of the Tibetan Plateau in China. It has also been seen in Qinghai provice and in the mountains of southern Gansu and northern Sichuan. This species has occasionally been seen in flatter, more desert-like terrain (Cat Specialist Group of IUCN 1996).
Biogeographic Regions: palearctic (Native )
Chinese desert cats are fairly large in size compared to the common domestic cat. Head and body length ranges from 68 cm to 84 cm and tail length ranges from 29 cm to 35 cm. They have a stocky build with relatively short legs. The coat is yellowish gray in winter, and darker brown in summer. Distinctive markings consist of horizontal stripes on the sides of the body and legs, and distinct brown streaks across each cheek. The tail is also striped with 5-6 dark gray bands and has a black tip. The ears are yellowish brown on the outside; the tips specked with short hairs measuring 2 cm in length. This felid has hairy tufts growing between the pads of its feet (Cat Specialist Group of IUCN 1996; Guggisberg 1975; Lumpkin and Seidensticker 1991).
Average mass: 6 kg.
Habitat and Ecology
Chinese desert cats have been reported living in the Datong and Daban mountains around Xining, at elevations ranging from 2,800 m to 4,100 m. Preferred habitat for this felid is mountainous areas where cover is available, usually in the form of sparse trees and shrubs. They typically occupy alpine meadows and scrub, although they may occur marginally in deserts. They are most often reported at high elevations near the western borderlands of China and Tibet (Alderton 1993; Cat Specialist Group of IUCN 1996).
Terrestrial Biomes: desert or dune ; mountains
Chinese desert cats typically eat rodents, such as mole-rats, pikas, and white-tailed voles. They also have been known to catch birds, including pheasants. In past research, it was discovered that they hunt for mole rats by listening for them as they move through their subterranean tunnels 3-5 cm below the surface. Chinese desert cats then dig the moles out of the ground. These cats have large auditory bullae, large ears, and ear tufts, suggesting that these cats rely greatly on hearing for locating prey (Alderton 1993; Cat Specialist Group of IUCN 1996).
Animal Foods: birds; mammals
Primary Diet: carnivore (Eats terrestrial vertebrates)
Life History and Behavior
Mating season for this species runs from January to March and the litters are usually born in May. An average litter size is 2-4 offspring. The age of independence, when the young leaves its mother, is 7-8 months (Cat Specialist Group of IUCN 1996).
Parental Investment: altricial
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
- 2008Vulnerable(IUCN 2008)
- 1996Data Deficient
- 1994Insufficiently Known(Groombridge 1994)
These animals are currently protected in China under their classification as a CITES Appendix II species. The Cat Specialist Group in Beijing recently tried to upgrade them to Category I, which would require permission of national authorities to hunt or trade. Pelts of this felid can be found in markets in Xining although it is unlikely that hunting efforts specifically target the animal. A principle threat to the Chinese desert cat has been large poisoning campaigns conducted in China against pikas, one of their principal prey species. These campaigns were created "in an attempt to control 'pest' populations of pikas, which are viewed as competitors of domestic livestock for graze." One of the main chemicals used was zinc phosphide until 1978, when it was discontinued because it was found that it also killed carnivores who preyed on the pikas. Control programs that use poisonous chemicals continue throughout much of the desert cat's range and have eliminated pikas from large areas (Cat Specialist Group of IUCN 1996).
US Federal List: threatened
CITES: appendix ii
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: vulnerable
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Economic Importance for Humans: Positive
It is likely that these cats manage populations of small rodents in the areas they inhabit.
Chinese mountain cat
The Chinese mountain cat (Felis bieti), also known as the Chinese desert cat and the Chinese steppe cat, is a wild cat of western China that has been classified as Vulnerable by IUCN, as the effective population size may be fewer than 10,000 mature breeding individuals.
Except for the colour of its fur, this cat resembles a European wildcat in its physical appearance. It is 27–33 in (69–84 cm) long, plus a 11.5–16 in (29–41 cm) tail. The adult weight can range from 6.5 to 9 kilograms (14 to 20 lb). They have a relatively broad skull, and long hair growing between the pads of their feet.
The fur is sand-coloured with dark guard hairs; the underside is whitish, legs and tail bear black rings. In addition there are faint dark horizontal stripes on the face and legs, which may be hardly visible. The ears and tail have black tips, and there are also a few dark bands on the tail.
Distribution and habitat
Chinese mountain cats are endemic to China and have a limited distribution over the north-eastern edge of the Tibetan Plateau. Eastern Qinghai and north-western Sichuan account for all confirmed records of the Chinese mountain cat.
Chinese mountain cats occur in high-elevation steppe grassland, alpine meadow, alpine shrubland and coniferous forest edges between 2,500 and 5,000 m (8,200 and 16,400 ft) elevation. They have not been confirmed in true desert or heavily forested mountains.
The first photographs of a wild Chinese mountain cat were taken by camera traps during light snow in May 2007 at 3,570 m (11,710 ft) altitude in Sichuan. These photographs were taken in rolling grasslands and brush covered mountains.
Ecology and behaviour
Until 2007, this cat was known only from six animals, all living in Chinese zoos, and a few skins in museums.
The Chinese mountain cat is threatened due to the organised poisoning of pikas, its main prey. These poisonings either kill the cats unintentionally, or diminish their supply of food.
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