Conservation and Trapping Science

China’s most mysterious wildcat may not be its own species
Jun 24, 2021 06:49 ET
Deep in the alpine meadows of the Tibetan Plateau slinks one of the world’s most mysterious felines. The Chinese mountain cat—with its sky-blue eyes, sandy coat, and unusual lack of markings—is so elusive that it wasn’t photographed in the wild until 2007. For decades, many have considered the stocky-legged feline the only species of cat native to China. But that may be about to change.

A new genetic analysis of more than two dozen Chinese mountain cats concludes that the creature is not its own species, but rather a subspecies of feline that gave rise to several modern wildcats and the domestic cat. That demotion could hamper efforts to save the vulnerable animal, fears Jim Sanderson, a wildlife ecologist with the conservation group Re:wild who snapped that first photo. “The belief is that if it’s not a species, nobody cares.”

The new study began as an attempt to figure out whether China had independently domesticated the housecat. Most scholars believe domestic cats arose in the Middle East about 10,000 years ago. But there was evidence that other domestications could have occurred in Asia thousands of years later. Was the Chinese mountain cat involved?

Full story here.