Elusive Marbled Cat rediscovered in China’s Yunnan Province after 30 years

Nature Conservation

In November 2014, rare images of the elusive Marbled Cat (Pardofelis marmorata) were captured by infrared camera traps set up by a joint team from Kadoorie Conservation China (KCC) of Kadoorie Farm & Botanic Garden and the Tengchong Bureau of Yunnan Gaoligongshan National Nature Reserve. This represents the first time this wild felid was photographed in Yunnan Province.

The Marbled Cat, a little larger than domestic cat, fashioned attractive marble-shaped coat and a disproportionally long, thick tail; survival of this good climber is highly dependent on tall tropical and subtropical forests. Despite its wide distribution throughout the Himalayan foothills, Southeast Asia and Borneo, its elusive habits and rarity mean this species has never been studied in the wild. It is listed in CITES Appendix I meaning Marbled Cat is threatened with extinction and all commercial international trade is prohibited; it is also listed by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Vulnerable. The Marbled Cat was first recorded in China in the late 1970s, and subsequent confirmed records were few and far between, it is therefore not listed in the State Key Protected Wildlife list of China.

Department Head of KCC, Dr. Bosco Chan, has been doing conservation work in China for over a decade, he said, “In China the Marbled Cat is only known from the border areas of Yunnan and Tibet; it hasn’t been confirmed in China for many years and few substantiated records exist. Finding the species at the onset of our collaborative camera trap study demonstrates that there is much to be learned about this well-preserved biodiversity hotspot”. “Adding a rare carnivore such as the Marbled Cat to our reserve’s mammal checklist is extremely exciting, as the species was not known from our reserve.” Director Bi of the Tengchong Bureau of Gaoligongshan National Nature Reserve said.

Images of the Marbled Cat from Yunnan have been examined by well-known mammologists, including Professor Wang Yingxiang of the Kunming Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences and Dr. Will Duckworth of IUCN. “The Marbled Cat was first known from China based on a skin collection from northwest Yunnan in 1976, and the last confirmed record from Yunnan was two specimens collected from Jingdong County in Dec 1984. The discovery in Gaoligongshan is significant, meaning this rare felid is still living in the forests of Yunnan.” said Professor Wang.

Although tropical China and the surrounding countries are rich in biodiversity, conservation and studies of mammals have been largely restricted to a few charismatic species groups, such as primates, tigers and elephant. For many of the overlooked mammals, there is not only a lack of updated field surveys and status assessment, but the taxonomy and identification for many groups are not clearly defined. A regional conservation strategy workshop on overlooked mammals will be co-organized by Kadoorie Farm & Botanic Garden and Kunming Institute of Zoology between 7-9 March in Kunming. This workshop will bring together over 70 researchers, protected-area staff and NGOs from tropical China and abroad to share their expertise and experience.