High altitude wild cats in Everest region

Manul looking out of a rock hole
Pallas’s cat, also called manul (Otocolobus manul)

Just so you are not surprised: Should you make your way to Mount Everest, you may encounter cats even above 5,000 meters. Biologists who took part in a science expedition to Everest in 2019 now reported finding DNA of Pallas’s cats in scat samples at two sites – one at 5,110 meters, the other at 5,190 meters.

Grim expression

A Pallas’s cat – named after the Prussian zoologist Peter Simon Pallas (1741-1811) – is about the size of a domestic cat, but has much shorter legs. Its fur consists of very long hair and is very dense, as protection against snow and cold. The wild cat, which in pictures looks as if it is always in a bad mood, lives in the rocky steppes, deserts and mountains of Asia. Pallas’s cats, also called manuls, have previously been sighted in Siberia, northern Pakistan, northern India, Mongolia and Tibet, among other places. Now, for the first time, they have also been discovered in Sagarmatha National Park.

Manul on a tree trunk
Not a pet, don’t pet it!

The researchers of the science expedition identified DNA of pikas and mountain weasels, which are among the classic preys of Pallas’s cats, in the samples found in the Everest region. The cats hunt only at night. During the day they like to hide in caves, crevices or holes in the ground.

“It is phenomenal to discover proof of this rare and remarkable species at the top of the world,” said a delighted U.S. scientist Tracie Seimon, who participated in the 2019 expedition. “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.”

Not on Everest, but a nearby

Yak near the village of Chhukung, in the background Lhotse in clouds
Yak near Chhukhung (Lhotse in clouds in the background – photographed in 2002)

“On Everest”, as it is now also said in many headlines, is not true, however. The two sites are about 200 meters lower than Everest Base Camp and also not directly on the slopes of the highest mountain on earth . According to the exact coordinates given by the scientists I determined the positions. According to these, the higher of the two sites was on the flank of the six-thousander Lobuche, near the “Pyramid” – a research station built in 1990 in the valley of the Khumbu Glacier, a good six kilometers as the crow flies from the base camp. The lower site was even further away, in the neighboring Imja Valley, above the village of Chhukhung.

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