Guest post: The truth about that Pallas’s cat video

JAC note:  Poor Matthew!  He is deeply dispirited because he was rooting for the team that just lost its World Cup match. I won’t give a spoiler, but I found the game very dull, and also had trouble finding a station to watch it on.  At any rate, Matthew tells me he’s “gone out for some whipping cream for Eton Mess”, which is complete gibberish to me. But yesterday he was nice enough to make a post about my favorite cat: Pallas’s cat (Otocolobus manul), also known as the manul.

This week several readers sent me what purported to be a video of a manul leaving its den in the Himalaya, filmed by a remote cam. I was suspicious because the video was just too good, and I sent it to Dr. Cobb. He investigated, found out that it was actually from a zoo, but managed to find real (though inferior) video of a manul in the wild. Here’s his post:

*******

by Matthew Cobb

Jerry is busy with THE BOOK so has asked me to post this. A number of readers, knowing Jerry’s affection for Pallas’s cat (aka Pallas’ cat or ‘the Pallas Cat’), have sent in this charming video, which it is claimed shows footage from a camera trap in Nepal:

This is indeed a Manul (as they are also known) an animal which is primarily found in Central Asia. Sadly it is not from Nepal, or indeed from a camera trap, which starts recording when an animal passes by. You might get some clues from a) the fact that this animal is mooching about in daylight, b) the couple of random bits of foliage in front of the den and c) the amazing amount of bird noise you can hear on the soundtrack.

This was in fact filmed at Port Lympne Wild Animal Park in Kent, and was originally posted by user ‘Scarce Worldwide’ to YouTube (with no mention of Nepal or Lympne) in 2013, where it has since been seen around 500,00 times.

I first saw the video on John Hutchinson’s Tw*tter feed the other day (no mention of Nepal or camera traps), where it drew an immediate response from one of his tw**ps:

Neville is Neville Buck, the Section Manager for small cats at Port Lympne. It looks to me like he set up a video camera in front of the Pallas Cat den and left it running. Not a camera trap. The cat saw the unusual object in its enclosure and came over to investigate, having a good sniff. Hence the video.

If you still doubt, do a Google image search for Pallas Cat Lympne and you’ll see that the enclosure is exactly the same as on the video. Here’s an example, taken by Sara F of Rochester, England, from here:

If you want to see a whole load of beautiful pics of the beast at Lympne, go here.

So how come the internet has suddenly got all excited about Neville’s video and suggested it was taken in Nepal? For example, this article from KSBW Action News 8 where Digital Media Manager Amy Larsen clearly says this was recorded in Nepal. Other sites like this are more circumspect, but a) suggest this was a camera trap and b) are not clear about the location (presumably because they didn’t know).

The mix-up comes from the fact that camera traps in Nepal did indeed accidentally reveal the presence of the Pallas Cat, earlier this year. The quality of the Nepalese trap image, and the fact that it was taken at night (these animals are so elusive, the locals did not even know they were there), contrasts with Neville’s lovely video. Here’s one of the trap images, taken by the Snow Leopard Conservancy Program and set out by Tashi R. Ghale. The cat appears to be doing its business – a rather undignified way of being caught for posterity:

A diary entry by Bikram Shrestha, a Coordinator for the Snow Leopard Conservancy Program, describes how the image was collected and then identified:

On 19 September 2012, I reached remote Manang,a four-day walk from the nearest motorable road. As the SLC’s coordinator of the Snow Lepard Scouts and  Science program, I led twelve students on a trek to Yak Kharka — some four hours walk from Manang village.  We stayed two days there and students learned about snow leopard habitat, its prey species and camera trap technique. After that, I set up 5 camera traps in the area of Ladar, Yak Kharka, Manang and Aangumie Lapche with local assistant Tashi R. Ghale who was then responsible for monitoring the camera until December.

I received the camera trap data in November 2013 to analyze and send to Snow Leopard Conservancy-USA. The camera trap from Aangumie Lapche captured the strange species. I was surprised because it was the small size of a snow leopard cub. But no adult snow leopard was captured with it. It was also not similar to other small mammals like the leopard cat and lynx which were recorded in ACAP, so these images continued to confuse me. I sent the report to Dr. Som Ale on 26 November 2013 and our team continued studying all images in attmepts to identify the species.

I had conducted the similar snow leopard environmental awareness camp in Manang in 25-28 September 2013. This time I installed 11 camera traps, again with the help of local assistant Tashi R. Ghale, in Ledar, Yak Kharka, Kerken-Manang, Tilicho, Praken-Manang and Aangumie Lapche to learn more about snow leopard and the strange unknown cat species. On 29 December 2013, Tashi R. Ghale informed me the camera trap installed at the same place in Aangumie Lapche again captured the strange cat. I was elated to know this news. He sent me six full images and I sent them to experts to identify.  The experts of small cat species Jim Sanderson and Angie Appel, and Biologist Prof Karan Shah confirmed it was Pallas’s cat, which is the first record of them in Nepal.

SLC-Nepal and NTNC/ACAP conducted a press conference to officially announce the identified Pallas’s cat–a new species to record in  Nepal– on 12 February 2014.

There’s one final mystery I have to solve – what exactly is the genus of Pallas’s Cat? It was identified in 1776 by Pallas (well duh), and its full name should be Otocolobus manul. Some taxonomists have Otocolobus as simply part of the Felis genus, and everyone agrees that Pallas’s cat is closely related to the domestic cat, like the Sand cat and the Chinese desert cat. The marvellous database at timetree.org tells us that the domestic cat and Pallas’s cat split only 6 milion years ago.

However, this article from the Revue Suisse de Zoologie in 1975 gives the latin name as Octocolobus manul, and for whatever reason this mangled typo-version has spread on the internet, even as far as the Cincinnati Zoo.

13 Comments

  1. Sheila B and Zin
    Posted July 4, 2014 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    Eton mess is a dessert consisting of strawberries cream and broken pieces of sweet meringue. It’s very nice!

    See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eton_mess

  2. Posted July 4, 2014 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    Matthew, make sure you really do put some strawberries, meringue pieces, and coulis in that whipped cream. :-)

  3. Posted July 4, 2014 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

    The IUCN Cat Specialist Group lists it as Otocolobus manul (a lot of the small “Felis” cats have been given unique genus names in recent years).

    http://www.catsg.org/catsgportal/cat-website/20_cat-website/home/index_en.htm

    I saw the first video a few days ago and figured it must be from a zoo, since outcrops in the wilds of Central Asia wouldn’t be littered with cut pieces of wilted kale!

    • Posted July 4, 2014 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

      For that matter, what’s the point of kale in a cat’s home? To attract rabbits for the cat to play with? If so, I rather doubt it’ll work….

      b&

      • Posted July 4, 2014 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

        Our Gus would definitely eat the kale, although he prefers bok choy, and nothing is better than spinach.

        • Posted July 4, 2014 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

          We won’t hold it against him….

          (Baihu, to the best of my knowledge, has never shown any interest in anything vegetable other than the typical bit of grass that soon thereafter gets yakked back up. Oh — and maybe a bit o’ th’ ’nip, but not to eat.)

          b&

  4. Posted July 4, 2014 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

    Neymar’s vertebrate L3 is broken. He going to be out for 1 month.

  5. Golkarian
    Posted July 4, 2014 at 11:55 pm | Permalink

    [Spoiler] What team was Matthew supporting? I wouldn’t think it was the French, so Columbia?

  6. HaggisForBrains
    Posted July 5, 2014 at 1:38 am | Permalink

    When I watch the video, I think,”Be afraid; be very afraid!”

  7. Posted July 6, 2014 at 8:08 am | Permalink

    Otocolobus = “truncated ear.” “Octocolobus” would have no meaning.
    J.F. Brandt coined the name in 1841, explaining it thus:
    “The ears are very short, as if cropped, and reveal only the hint of a point…. These short ears, as if cropped … could perhaps lead naturalists to consider the manul a unique form, the type of a new subgenus to whihc the name Otocolobus would be well suited.”

    http://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/page/44271066#page/35/mode/1up

    • John Taylor
      Posted July 8, 2014 at 7:05 am | Permalink

      Maybe this cat only has eight lives.

  8. Posted July 8, 2014 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    Your blog posting was just shared with us at the Snow Leopard Conservancy, and we want to thank you for being so clear that this video is NOT ours and sharing our posting about the actual Pallas’ Cat documentation in Nepal this year. Cheers to you!


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  1. […] There’s a lot of misinformation flitting about the Internet in relation to this video, so you should really read the great write up on it by Matthew Cobb at the Why Evolution is True blog. […]

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