Institute of Biology, Irkutsk University, Irkutsk, Russia
Discovery of Manul Otocolobus manul in Eastern Sayan
In February and March of 1997 during field research on the snow leopard Uncia uncia in the Tunkinskiy Mountains of Eastern Sayan (Russia, Buryatia), tracks of the manul (also known as Pallas Cat) Otocolobus manul, another rare feline species of Central Asia, were seen as well. The manul represents a discovery for the Sayan region no less unique than the snow leopard. Because this species has been little studied, not only in areas of its range where it is rare, but also where it is common, it makes sense to give a short description of our discovery.
The first and apparently only description of the manul in eastern Sayan was published by the famous traveler and researcher, G. Radde in 1862. According to local people, Radde determined that the manul occurred along the upper reaches of the Irkut River. Later, this reference was repeated by other authors (Heptner and Sludskii 1972/1992; Sludskii 1973) but no one put forth new information about the distribution of the manul in eastern Sayan during the past 130 years. The 1984 Red Book of the USSR did not include eastern Sayan in the manul’s range. Thus, finding the manul’s tracks in the Tunkinskiy Mountains in 1997 can be considered the first verifiable facts that this species inhabits the region.
FROM MY FIELDNOTES
This was one of the last days of the expedition. We finished surveying the southern slopes of Tunkinskiy Range and were working between the rivers Khasyurt and Khubyty. There are several small and un-named rivers here. Accumulated tree limbs, knocked down by the wind and beaten down by the snow, narrow, they seemed almost impassable in the forest zone. But above the treeline there were open places in the alpine slopes, and in the morning I determined to go up there without skis along one of the nameless rivers. Access was only along the crest of the
It took 20 minutes from camp on skis; plus 30 minutes without skis, to approach the crest, and more than two hours climbing up the ridge almost to the summit. In a small saddle area I looked around through binoculars and was ready to turn back, but a feeling took hold of me. I went further up. My
attention was caught by fresh tracks of fox Vulpes vulpes in the snow. But there was something strange about them. I had never seen fox here and looked closely at them. It was obviously a feline print, but which one? Only after I saw further along the tracks a trodden down spot and a
small pile of excrement did I realise it to be manul!
The manul had climbed to the crest by the steep slopes from the southeast, traversing the intersection of the slopes and going further up by the ravine to the southwest. The general nature of the landscape was open, not very snowy, with separated slopes, talus rocks, and juniper bushes.
In such a landscape, tracks of snow leopard, mountain sheep Capra sibirica, rabbit Lepus timidus, snow partridge Tetraogallus altaicus are found, and above the treeline, musk deer Moschus moschiferus. The altitude where the tracks of the manul were found was 2,470 metres. The size of the left hind prints in millimeters was 24 x 37 x 22 x 40 (width of the paw pad x general width of the print x length of the paw pad x general length of the track). Snow depth was
4.5 centimeters; the manul imprinted it to a depth of two cm. The length of the step horizontally in the fine snow (in cm.) was: 25-20, 5-21-17-26-23. All the tracks were dragged
together. The imprint of the first toe was evident.
The height of the excrement pile was 6 cm. The snow on top was marked with urine.
The size of the scrape was 11 x 14 cm. The size of the trodden down area where the excrement occurred was 45 x 56 cm. The site was at the edge of a precipice with an excellent vista, on a horizontal spot on the slope under a huge rock.
The nearest verifiable place to Tunkinskiy Mountains where the manul occurs is the mountains of western Hovsogul (Northern Mongolia). In November 1995, I saw at a shepherd’s home an unfinished skin of a cat caught in the southern slopes of Bolshoi Sayan Mountains October 1994. The animal had been killed in the forest zone in a talus outcrop. The length of the manul’s body,
according to the skin, was 45.5 cm; the width at the stomach 43 cm. The tail was 15.5 cm. The skin was a generally light color with very faint stripes. The color was close to sandy (I also saw such a skin in the central Tien Shan Mountains in Kyrgyzstan). There were five barely noticeable, narrow black rings on the tail. There were fine black spots on the muzzle.
The excrement has been given to a specialist at the University of Washington in Seattle (Sam Wasser) for DNA analysis to confirm the species.
(Translation by Kathleen Braden)
Heptner, V.G. and Sludskii, A.A. 1972. Mammals of the Soviet Union, Vol. II, Part 2 (in Russian). Vysshaaya Shkola Publishers, Moscow (1992). Mammals of the Soviet Union Vol. II, Part 2 (in English). Smithsonian Institution Libraries and National Science Foundation, Washington DC).
Nowell, K. and Jackson, P. 1996. WildCats: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. IUCN, Gland.
Source: Cat News 29: p. 12-13