Snow Leopards in Qinghai

I am just back home from an incredible trip to Qinghai Province with Marie, Tormod Amundsen (Biotope) and Will Soar from the UK’s Rare Bird Alert.  Our visit was to support the Chinese NGO, ShanShui, and the local government in developing sustainable ecotourism.  We were hosted by, and owe huge thanks to, local yak herders – especially Sen and Chairennima – who welcomed us into their homes and entertained us with stories of Asian Brown Bears breaking into their food stores and Snow Leopards strolling through their back yards.

It was a magnificent trip in so many ways and we have some exciting news to announce very soon.

In the meantime, here is a short video of one of our encounters with SNOW LEOPARD.  We were fortunate to enjoy three encounters with Snow Leopards in four days, without any pre-scouting, illustrating just how intact is the ecosystem in this wonderful place.  Add in other special mammals and birds, together with the breathtaking scenery and unique Tibetan hospitality, and you have the ingredients for a trip of a lifetime.  Stay tuned for some incredible footage by Tormod of this stunningly beautiful and unspoilt part of China and an opportunity to experience it for yourself.

Big respect to Marie, Tormod and Will for being the best travel companions one could wish for.

Almost every yak herder in this area has footage of Snow Leopard on his/her smartphone.. so we now feel part of the club!

Here’s Tormod’s reaction after seeing his first Snow Leopard…

 

You can read Tormod’s account of the trip, and see his video containing some stunning drone footage of the area, by clicking here.

All Snow Leopard footage taken using an iPhone 6S with Swarovski Optik ATX95 and iPhone adaptor.

LEOPARD CAT in Beijing

On Friday 22 November, I spent the day at Miyun Reservoir with visiting Marie Louise Ng from Hong Kong.  It was a stunningly beautiful day – cold early on but spectacularly clear and with almost no wind.  It was one of those days that, as a resident of Beijing where the air can often be toxic, I absolutely adore.

Miyun Reservoir on a clear autumn day.  It's hard to believe one is in Beijing!
Miyun Reservoir on a clear autumn day. It’s hard to believe this is Beijing!

We visited two sites on the northern shore of the reservoir and, at the first, we were treated to spectacular flyovers of several hundred COMMON CRANES, with a handful of HOODED CRANES amongst them..  and skeins of BEAN GEESE flying from their roosting sites to the feeding grounds in the maize fields.  At least 4 JAPANESE REED BUNTINGS kept us company at our observation point.

After a couple of hours we decided to take a walk to some weedy fields in which I had peviously seen PALLAS’S SANDGROUSE.

As we headed over the brow of a small hill, there was movement in the grass and, quickly training my binoculars, I could see a cat walking slowly from right to left, less than 100 metres away.  My heart leapt.  It looked big and, immediately, with that thick bushy tail and spotted markings on its fur, I thought it must be a LEOPARD CAT.  Gripped by the presence of a very special mammal, we watched it as it made its way onto a dirt track.  With the sun behind us, it was now in full view and we were enjoying spectacular views (I am sure the low sun also played a role in delaying this beautiful animal’s detection of us).  We reached for our cameras and reeled off some photos as it suddenly broke into a trot and then melted into the vegetation to the north of the track.  We watched, captivated, as it made its way towards a small lake, eventually vanishing into the long grass with the local magpies agitated and noisy.

I turned to Marie with what must have been the biggest grin I have ever sported and said immediately “that’s my best wildlife experience of the year!”

LEOPARD CAT (Prionailurus bengalensis) of the ssp euptilurus/euptilura (aka AMUR LEOPARD CAT).  Note the dark stripes on the back of the head and the pale patches on the back of the ears, as well as the thick tail.
LEOPARD CAT (Prionailurus bengalensis) of the ssp euptilurus/euptilura (aka AMUR LEOPARD CAT). Note the dark stripes on the back of the head and the pale patches on the back of the ears, as well as the thick, striped, tail.
LEOPARD CAT, Miyun Reservoir, 22 November 2013.  Sightings, especially during the daytime, are very rare in the capital.
LEOPARD CAT, Miyun Reservoir, 22 November 2013. Sightings, especially during the daytime, are very rare in the capital.
At less than 100m range, and with the morning sun behind us, views were spectacular!
At less than 100m range, and with the morning sun behind us, views were spectacular!

Although Leopard Cat is probably not rare in the mountains around Beijing, sightings certainly are.  I am aware of just one other recent Beijing sighting – one seen at Yeyahu by Brian Jones on 11 October 2010.  The information below about the status of LEOPARD CAT in China is from Zhu Lei, for which many thanks.

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Gao (1987, in ‘Fauna Sinica. Mammalia. Vol. 8. Carnivora’) reports that there are 4 subspecies of Leopard Cat in China, euptilura (NE China, north of Yellow River), bengalensis (SW China), chinensis (N and S China) and hainana (endemic to Hainan Island). The ssp. euptilura has the largest body and lightest coat, also the very faint spot marking. The ssp. chinensis is darker, more distinctively spotted, and has 2 black dorsal stripes.

Chen et al. (2002, in ‘Mammals of Beijing’) points out that the ssp. of Leopard Cat in Beijing is euptilura, according to measurements and colour markings of specimens from Yanqing and Mentougou.

Xie and Smith (2008) recognise 5 ssp. in China, alleni (includes hainana, endemic to Hainan), bengalensis (SW Guangxi, SW Guizhou, Sichuan, S Xizang, Yunnan), chinensis (S Anhui, SW and E China, Taiwan), euptilura (north of Huaihe River, Beijing, NE China), scripta (N Yunnan, W Sichuan, Qinghai, Gansu, Ningxia, Shaanxi and SE Xizang, Chinese endemic ssp.).

Based on above reference and the pics you’ve sent, I think your cat definitely is ssp. euptilurus (light coat and very faint spotted).

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The ssp euptilurus or “Amur Leopard Cat” looks very different to the southern China and SE Asian subspecies (see images here for comparison) and, I understand, it’s a potential split into a separate species in its own right.  The taxonomy of Leopard Cat in China is poorly understood, so classification may be subject to change.

However man decides to classify this cat, it is a beautiful animal and we were privileged to spend a special minute or two in its company.. proving once again that Beijing is a superb place for birds and wildlife.