Felis bieti (Chinese mountain cat) is the only know endemic cat of China. It is restricted to the mountains of China and has been spotted in the provinces of Qinghai, Sichuan, Gansu, Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, and Tibet. It is mainly confined to high elevation grasslands and in 2004 was found only in the north western regions of Sichuan and the eastern half of Qinghai. Records of its presence in more northern desert regions are likely based on misidentifications of domestic cats and of asiatic wildcats, Felis silvestris ornata.
Biogeographic Regions: palearctic (Native )
Chinese mountain cats have a broad and sturdy build. The legs and tail are relatively short, the tail being approximately 40% of the body length. The pelt changes color according to season, being light grey in winter and brown during the summer. The sides, legs, and tail are covered in dark grey stripes and the tip of the tail is black. There are dark brown tufts on the tip of each ear.
A distinctive feature is the large size of its auditory bullae, the hollow bony structures that enclose the middle and inner ears of placental mammals; in this species they represent 25% of the skull length.
Range mass: 4 to 9 kg.
Range length: 60 to 85 cm.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry
Sexual Dimorphism: male larger
Chinese mountain cats live in alpine meadows, steppe grasslands, mountain shrub lands, and on the edges of high elevation coniferous forests from 2500 to 5000 meters. Their dense fur helps them withstand the extreme mountain climate. Although Felis bieti is sometimes referred to as the "Chinese desert cat", this species is not reported to live in desert areas.
Range elevation: 2500 to 5000 m.
Habitat Regions: temperate ; terrestrial
Terrestrial Biomes: savanna or grassland ; forest ; scrub forest ; mountains
Habitat and Ecology
Chinese mountain cats are carnivores; they eat primarily small mammals such as pikas, zokors (muroid rodents that resemble mole rats), and other rodents. They use their keen sense of hearing, accommodated by large auditory bullae, to track prey. They hunt fossorial prey, such as zokors, by listening to them in their tunnels, and then digging them up. In addition to catching small mammals, they may catch pheasants and other birds.
Animal Foods: birds; mammals
Primary Diet: carnivore (Eats terrestrial vertebrates)
The ecology of Chinese mountain cats has never been formally studied and hence their role in the ecosystem is unknown. They probably influence the population sizes of some prey species.
Chinese mountain cats are top predators and the adults are not preyed on by other animals. The young are occasionally taken by wolves, brown bears, and other large predators. Mothers protect their young from predation by hiding them in a burrow.
- wolves (Canis lupus)
- brown bears (Ursus arctos)
Anti-predator Adaptations: cryptic
Life History and Behavior
Chinese mountain cats rely heavily on hearing to track their prey.
Perception Channels: tactile ; chemical
The lifespan of Chinese mountain cats has not been recorded, but the closely related jungle cat has an average lifespan of 14 years.
Little is know about the Chinese mountain cat mating system, but the closely related jungle cat exhibits promiscuity, meaning that both males and females mate with multiple partners. Male and female Chinese mountain cats live in solitary burrows except during the mating season when they have been reported to live together.
Mating System: polygynandrous (promiscuous)
Chinese mountain cats breed from January to March, kittens are born in May. There are 2 to 4 kittens per brood. Mothers care for their young in a burrow where they are safe from predators. The kittens become independent after 7 to 8 months.
Breeding interval: Chinese mountain cats breed once yearly.
Breeding season: The breeding season for Chinese mountain cats is January to March.
Range number of offspring: 2 to 4.
Range time to independence: 7 to 8 months.
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; viviparous
There is no information available regarding parental investment in Felis bieti, but in the closely related jungle cat the majority of parental care is supplied by the mother. The father occasionally stays to protect the territory.
Parental Investment: altricial ; female parental care ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female)
The total population of Chinese mountain cats includes fewer than 10,000 individuals and the population trend is decreasing. Two major threats to Chinese mountain cats have been identified, and both involve humans. The first is that these cats are hunted for their fur. The pelts are used to make clothes and traditional hats. Although hunting Chinese mountain cats is illegal, their skins are still found in Chinese shops. The second major threat to Felis bieti is China's poisoning campaign against pikas and various rodent pests. Pikas are considered pests because they eat the grass that livestock would otherwise eat. Livestock farmers have used zinc phosphide and other similar chemicals to kill the pikas. A poisoning campaign was enacted from 1958 to 1978 after which it was discontinued because it became evident that the poison was killing predators of the pikas as well. Unfortunately, small scale poisoning still occurs throughout most of the Chinese mountain cat's range. These cats are protected under Category 1 of the Chinese Wildlife Law and Appendix 2 of CITES.
US Federal List: no special status
CITES: appendix ii
State of Michigan List: no special status
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: vulnerable
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
- 2008Vulnerable(IUCN 2008)
- 1996Data Deficient
- 1994Insufficiently Known(Groombridge 1994)
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Chinese mountain cats have no known negative economic impacts on humans.
Chinese mountain cats help farmers in China to control pest populations. Pika species (Ochotona), which are favored prey of Chinese mountain cats, are seen as pests by some Chinese farmers because they consume grasses that livestock may also eat.
It is illegal to hunt Chinese mountain cats, but their pelts are often found in Chinese markets.
Positive Impacts: body parts are source of valuable material; controls pest population
Chinese mountain cat
The Chinese mountain cat (Felis bieti), also known as the Chinese desert cat and the Chinese steppe cat, is a wild cat of western China that has been classified as Vulnerable by IUCN, as the effective population size may be fewer than 10,000 mature breeding individuals.
Except for the colour of its fur, this cat resembles a European wildcat in its physical appearance. It is 27–33 in (69–84 cm) long, plus a 11.5–16 in (29–41 cm) tail. The adult weight can range from 6.5 to 9 kilograms (14 to 20 lb). They have a relatively broad skull, and long hair growing between the pads of their feet.
The fur is sand-coloured with dark guard hairs; the underside is whitish, legs and tail bear black rings. In addition there are faint dark horizontal stripes on the face and legs, which may be hardly visible. The ears and tail have black tips, and there are also a few dark bands on the tail.
Distribution and habitat
Chinese mountain cats are endemic to China and have a limited distribution over the north-eastern edge of the Tibetan Plateau. Eastern Qinghai and north-western Sichuan account for all confirmed records of the Chinese mountain cat.
Chinese mountain cats occur in high-elevation steppe grassland, alpine meadow, alpine shrubland and coniferous forest edges between 2,500 and 5,000 m (8,200 and 16,400 ft) elevation. They have not been confirmed in true desert or heavily forested mountains.
The first photographs of a wild Chinese mountain cat were taken by camera traps during light snow in May 2007 at 3,570 m (11,710 ft) altitude in Sichuan. These photographs were taken in rolling grasslands and brush covered mountains.
Ecology and behaviour
Until 2007, this cat was known only from six animals, all living in Chinese zoos, and a few skins in museums.
The Chinese mountain cat is threatened due to the organised poisoning of pikas, its main prey. These poisonings either kill the cats unintentionally, or diminish their supply of food.
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