Press Release

First Report of Rare Cat Discovered on Mt. Everest

New scientific finding marks the first documented discovery of Pallas’s Cat on the world’s highest mountain.

Photo Credit: Julie Larsen Maher/WCS

Findings from a new paper published in Cat News have identified the first ever report of Pallas’s cat on Mount Everest, in the Sagarmatha National Park in Nepal. This groundbreaking finding is a result of the 2019 National Geographic and Rolex Perpetual Planet Everest Expedition, the most comprehensive single scientific expedition to the mountain in history.

From April 7 to May 2, 2019, Dr. Tracie Seimon of Wildlife Conservation Society’s Zoological Health Program, based at the Bronx Zoo, co-led the Perpetual Planet Everest Expedition biology field team of scientists who collected environmental samples from two locations 6 km (3.7 miles) apart at 5,110 and 5,190 m (16,765 and 17,027 ft) elevation above sea level along Sagarmatha National Park on Mount Everest’s Southern Flank.

“It is phenomenal to discover proof of this rare and remarkable species at the top of the world,” said Dr. Seimon. “The nearly four-week journey was extremely rewarding not just for our team but for the larger scientific community. The discovery of Pallas’s cat on Everest illuminates the rich biodiversity of this remote high-alpine ecosystem and extends the known range of this species to eastern Nepal.”

The DNA analysis of scat samples collected from both sites confirmed two Pallas’s cats inhabit Mount Everest and overlap in territory with red fox. The researchers found evidence of pika and mountain weasel DNA in the samples, an important food source for Pallas’s cat. These findings also add a new species to the list of known mammals in Sagarmatha National Park, a heavily visited and protected World Heritage site.

“This is a unique discovery not only in terms of science but also conservation as this population of Pallas’s cat is legally protected under CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora),” said National Geographic Explorer and co-author of the paper, Dr. Anton Seimon. “We hope that the confirmation of this new charismatic species will raise awareness of and education about the diversity of species at this iconic World Heritage Site.”

The number of tourists visiting Sagarmatha National Park and Mount Everest has been dramatically increasing, from just a few thousand in the 1970s to over fifty thousand in 2019. It is notable that Pallas’s cat went undetected in this park until 2019, and the new study demonstrates how conservation genetics and environmental sampling can be utilized as a powerful approach to discover and study cryptic and elusive species like Pallas’s cat.

Future research combining camera trap surveys and collection of additional scat samples would help to better define the Pallas’s cat population, range, density, and their diet in Sagarmatha National Park.

“The groundbreaking 2019 Perpetual Planet Everest Expedition continues to be extremely valuable to better understand the most iconic environment on our planet,” said Nicole Alexiev, Vice President of Science and Innovation Programs at National Geographic Society. “These results are a perfect illustration of why this work is important and a cornerstone of our partnership with Rolex to study and explore Earth’s critical life support systems.”

From April to May 2019, an international, multidisciplinary team of scientists conducted the most comprehensive single scientific expedition to Mt. Everest in the Khumbu Region of Nepal as part of National Geographic and Rolex’s Perpetual Planet Expeditions partnership. Team members from eight countries, including 17 Nepalese researchers conducted trailblazing research in five areas of science that are critical to understanding environmental changes and their impacts: biology, glaciology, meteorology, geology and mapping. To learn more visit: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/topic/perpetual-planet

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ABOUT PERPETUAL PLANET EXPEDITIONS

The National Geographic and Rolex partnership supports expeditions to explore the planet’s most critical environments. By harnessing world-renowned scientific expertise and cutting-edge technology that reveal new insights about the systems that are vital to life on Earth, these expeditions help scientists, decision-makers, and local communities plan for and find solutions to the impacts of climate and environmental change while illuminating the wonder of our world through impactful storytelling.

ABOUT ROLEX’S PERPETUAL PLANET INITIATIVE

For nearly a century, Rolex has supported pioneering explorers pushing back the boundaries of human endeavour. The company has moved from championing exploration for the sake of discovery to protecting the planet, committing for the long term to support individuals and organizations using science to understand and devise solutions to today’s environmental challenges.

This engagement was reinforced with the launch of the Perpetual Planet initiative in 2019, which initially focused on individuals who contribute to a better world through the Rolex Awards for Enterprise, on safeguarding the oceans as part of an established association with Mission Blue, and on understanding climate change via its long-standing partnership with the National Geographic Society.

An expanding portfolio of other partnerships embraced by the Perpetual Planet initiative now include: Cristina Mittermeier and Paul Nicklen in their work as conservation photographers; Rewilding Argentina and Rewilding Chile (offspring organizations of Tompkins Conservation), protecting landscapes in South America; Coral Gardeners, transplanting resilient corals to reefs; Steve Boyes and the Great Spine of Africa project, exploring the continent’s major river basins; the Under The Pole expeditions, pushing the boundaries of underwater exploration; the B.I.G expedition to the North Pole in 2023, gathering data on threats to the Arctic; and the Monaco Blue Initiative, bringing together ocean conservation experts.

Rolex also supports organizations and initiatives fostering the next generations of explorers, scientists and conservationists through scholarships and grants such as Our World-Underwater Scholarship Society and The Rolex Explorers Club Grants.

WSC (Wildlife Conservation Society)

MISSION: WCS saves wildlife and wild places worldwide through science, conservation action, education, and inspiring people to value nature. To achieve our mission, WCS, based at the Bronx Zoo, harnesses the power of its Global Conservation Program in nearly 60 nations and in all the world’s oceans and its five wildlife parks in New York City, visited by 4 million people annually. WCS combines its expertise in the field, zoos, and aquarium to achieve its conservation mission. Visit: newsroom.wcs.org Follow: @WCSNewsroom. For more information: 347-840-1242. Listen to the WCS Wild Audio podcast HERE.

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About National Geographic Society

The National Geographic Society is a global nonprofit organization that uses the power of science, exploration, education and storytelling to illuminate and protect the wonder of our world. Since 1888, National Geographic has pushed the boundaries of exploration, investing in bold people and transformative ideas, providing more than 15,000 grants for work across all seven continents, reaching 3 million students each year through education offerings, and engaging audiences around the globe through signature experiences, stories and content. To learn more, visit www.nationalgeographic.org or follow us on Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook.