Highland Wildlife Blog – From the Highlands to the Himalayas

March 13, 2014 § Leave a comment

By Douglas Richardson, Head of Living Collections, RZSS Highland Wildlife Park

As a fully active member of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria, staff at the Highland Wildlife Park both participate in and coordinate a number of conservation breeding programmes.  One of those programmes is for an unusual species of wild cat called a Pallas’s cat, which resembles an annoyed grey and black domestic Persian cat and whose wild range covers an arc from southern Mongolia, through Afghanistan and along the slopes of the Himalayas.

David Barclay, one of our senior keepers, manages the European breeding programme for Pallas’s cat and maintains the International Studbook which records all captive Pallas’s cats anywhere in the world.  Although only classed as Near Threatened, one of the low risk threat categories, we have seen how the status of a species that was long considered common can become highly threatened in a very short period of time, or how more detailed information on the species in the wild can result in a reassignment of their conservation status, these days usually to a higher threat category.  Every well-managed breeding programme also looks to support a related project in the field that endeavours to increase the level of protection and/or enhance our understanding of the species.

Pallas's Cat by Jan Morse, RZSS

Pallas’s Cat by Jan Morse, RZSS

Although a moderately common zoo species, we actually know comparatively little about the animal in the wild, especially in the western and southern parts of their range.  Through David’s contacts within the cat conservation community, especially the Pallas’s Cat Working Group, he became aware of field researchers in Iran and Nepal that were studying Pallas’s cats but had little in the way of equipment.  David contacted all the participants of the breeding programme asking for donations to buy and supply video-trap cameras to the Iranian and Nepalese researchers.  Many of the various zoos, along with us, made the required financial contributions that allowed for the purchase of the cameras and they have now been dispatched to the relevant researchers for placement in the field.

As well as giving us a clearer picture of the ecology and behaviour of the species in other parts of their range, there is also an issue regarding the subspecies of Pallas’s cats in these countries.  The original publications that introduced the species to science describe three different forms of Pallas’s cats.  The one we have in the Highland Wildlife Park is the northern form that is predominantly grey and black in colour.  The supposed reddish western subspecies and the darker southern subspecies have possibly never been kept in zoos and have barely been studied in the wild, hence the value of David’s efforts to better equip the people working in these regions.

The modern zoo is more than just a centre for breeding threatened species and educating people about conservation and nature.  We have a responsibility to support efforts in the field to conserve and better understand wildlife.  Our contribution to the various Pallas’s cat projects aims to do just that.

“First published in the Strathspey & Badenoch Herald”.


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