Chinese desert cat (English)
chat de Biet (French)
gato de Biet, gato del deserto de China (Spanish)
mo mao, huang mo mao, cao shihli (Chinese)
shel misigi (Kazakh)
qel müshüki (Uygur)
Description and Behavior
What little is known of this species in the wild is mainly due to the efforts of collectors from the Xining Zoo,
who obtained 34 specimens between 1973-1985 (Liao 1988, B. Tan in litt. 1991). Chinese
mountain cats are predominantly nocturnal, active from dusk to dawn in captivity (B. Tan in litt.
1991), and hunting primarily in the early morning and evening in the wild (Liao 1988). They
rest and tend their young in burrows, typically situated on south-facing slopes. Males and females live
separately, and the burrows inhabited by females tend to be deeper and more secure, with only one entrance
(Liao 1988). Scat analysis indicates that rodents are the major prey (90%), primarily mole-rats,
white-tailed pine vole, and pikas. Birds, including pheasants, are also caught. Liao (1988) observed
mountain cats hunting mole rats by listening for their movements through their subterranean tunnels (3-5
cm below the surface), and digging them out.
Litter size: 2-4
Age at independence: 7-8 months (Liao 1988)
Habitat and Distribution
According to Liao (1988), the Chinese mountain cat is found throughout the Datong and Daban
mountains around Xining (where eight skins were collected by Buchner in 1893: Groves 1980), at
elevations ranging from 2,800-4,100 m. It chiefly inhabits alpine meadows and scrub. It has also been found
in hilly loess steppe and coniferous forest edge. Despite its traditional name (Chinese desert cat), it appears
not to be a desert cat at all (Groves 1980), although it may occur there marginally (Liao 1988;
A. Abdukadir, X. Gao in litt. 1993). Chinese specialists meeting in Beijing in 1992 concurred with Groves’
(1980) suggestion that it be described as the “mountain cat” (Jackson 1992b).
There is no information on status or abundance, and no records of occurrence in protected areas. The
Chinese mountain cat appears to have a very limited distribution, but may have a much wider range
further west on the edge of the Tibetan plateau. It is interesting that Liao (1988) collected
most of his animals from mountainous areas very close to Xining and Lanzhou, the capitals of Qinghai
and Gansu provinces.
The species is currently classified as a Category II species under Chinese law, and the 1992 meeting
of the Cat Specialist Group in Beijing recommended upgrading to Category I, which requires permission
of national, rather than provincial, authorities to hunt or trade.
No other threats are known. G. Schaller (in litt. 1992) noted that pelts of this species can be
commonly found in markets in Xining, and Low (1991) saw two mounted specimens for sale in
southern China. It would seem unlikely, however, that hunting efforts specifically target the mountain cat.
© 1996 IUCN - The World Conservation Union