A rare morph of the Asiatic golden cat (the ocelot morph) has been sighted in the high altitude mountains of the Jigme Singye Wangchuck national park, which nature conservationists are calling another feather in the cap of Bhutan’s conservation efforts.
The ocelot morph is considered a separate species of wild cat.
Two pictures of the rare ocelot morph were captured by an intensive camera trapping exercise targeted for tigers and leopards in the northern part of the park. According to the Chief of Nature Conservation Division (NCD), Dr. Sonam Wangyel Wang, the photos were the first of the rare cat caught on camera in the wild. It was captured in the Sephu region at an altitude of 3,738 metres above sea level.
Camera records showed that the pictures dated October 6 and October 9, 2006.
“This is not only the first record of the existence of these cats in high altitude mountains but, for the ocelot morph, it’s the only photo captured in the wild,” said the chief, who presented the pictures to a group of cat specialists in the United Kingdom. “We didn’t know what animal it was and sent it to cat scientists in India and the US for identification. We called it the ‘mystery cat’.”
The only available physical evidence of the ocelot morph was so far from a zoo in China. Its presence in many parts of China was also reported, but no physical evidence was published to support the claim. Dr Sonam Wangyel Wang said the photo from the Chinese zoo was not the best reference for identifying the morph. “The photo from our camera trap is a bit lighter, with a bushy tail, compared with the grayish morph with its tail tipping at the end from the zoo,” he said.
The ocelot morph is known to occur in tropical and sub tropical forests and grasslands. The pictures captured in Bhutan were at the highest altitude. But Dr Sonam Wang said that cat family could easily adapt to different altitudes.
There are about 11 species of cats found in Bhutan of the 36 cat species in the world. The director of NCD, Karma Dukpa, said that the department is proud of the discovery. “It reflects our sound conservation policies,” he said. “When the world is battling to fight extinction of species, we’re discovering new animals. It motivates us to further commit to conservation of our rich biodiversity.”
Dr. Sonam Wang added that Bhutan’s conservation polices made the country the best corridor for wildlife. “We are small, but we have a number of rare species of wildlife.”