In addition to field projects supported across range countries, PICA has developed a number of new research projects both in-situ and ex-situ that are allowing us to explore new avenues for enhancing our knowledge, engagement and techniques that will help further our long term conservation efforts.
Having the support of project partners not only increases the capacity of PICA, but can also provide access to new resources that otherwise would be unavailable. One of the greatest resources that PICA has available, as a result of the partnership with Snow Leopard Trust, is access to their long-term snow leopard camera trapping image database carried out across numerous Central Asian countries. With snow leopard and Pallas’s cat sharing much of the same habitat and range, these images can be a quick and valuable resource to identify Pallas’s cat presence, activity patterns and association with other species. In some ways the work being done to protect and monitor snow leopards is therefore improving our understanding of the Pallas’s cat.
Previous research carried out by PICA staff at RZSS Highland Wildlife Park studied and analysed captive Pallas’s cat vocalisations through the breeding season with the aim of using the data to help adapt breeding management techniques. Using these vocalisations as auditory “lures” PICA staff have supported two MSC students who conducted captive trails testing them against others (olfactory) lures including catnip, valerian oil. These trails were undertaken as a precursor for field testing in a Pallas’s cat range country where their presence was known. In 2018 the PICA team joined forces with the Snow Leopard Trust field team in Kyrgyzstan to test these lures alongside a camera trapping survey to explore the possibility of improving the capture success of Pallas’s cats and other small carnivores. As a small secretive and elusive cat, it is no surprise that Pallas’s cats have a low detection rate during field surveys whether the monitoring technique is camera trapping, snow tracking or visual observations. Field research techniques that could improve capture rate could be a valuable tool for future monitoring surveys. See the full report of the Kyrgyzstan field research below.
For many of the small felids, including the Pallas’s cat, detailed knowledge on the range, trends and severity of threats, as well as their impacts on local populations is often very limited. Such a lack of knowledge can have a negative impact on implementing effective conservation action. With species that have an extensive range, like the Pallas’s cat, it is also likely that there will be a variety of threats dependent on what part of the range you look at. Obtaining such accurate data is, as a result, a big challenge for conservation projects as it can often be linked to the local knowledge, or lack of, toward the target species. PICA has been delivering activities focused on collecting data from across the species range using standardised threat surveys. These surveys are also being used to gather data on the general knowledge of the species which in turn supports the design and distribution of the educational materials. PICA surveys were translated into several range country languages and distributed by range country researchers as well as an MSc student, sponsored by PICA, from the National University of Mongolia.
To date PICA has compiled results from over 400 completed surveys conducted across 5 range countries (Mongolia, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Nepal). “Researchers” surveys were completed by the range country researchers to collect data on what was considered “expert knowledge” and to be used as a comparative tool against local knowledge. “Herder” surveys were used within villages and communities living alongside suspected or known Pallas’s habitats and collected data from local knowledge.
Data from this work has been used in the recent Pallas’s cat IUCN Status review and is, to date, one of the most comprehensive standardised studies on Pallas’s cat threats across range countries. See below for the full project report.
These surveys have been translated for use in several languages and are freely downloadable here for use with any field expedition or study.
(USING CAMERA TRAP ANALYSIS SOFTWARE)
To assist with the screening, recording and analysing the data PICA has received support from several volunteers from partner organisations and a number of students who in turn used the data in their BSc and MSc theses. PICA has also collaborated with a Senior Wildlife Biologist from the Zoological Society of London, who provided technical assistance and training to the PICA team on the use of the ZSL camera trap analysis tool.
Using the tool PICA, with support from volunteers and students, has been able to analyse a selection of data from the Snow Leopard Trust’s field surveys conducted in Tost Mountains, Mongolia. Camera trapping data from 2012, 2013 and 2015 was used to gather new information on Pallas’s cat activity patterns and how it could be affected by the presence of potential predator species (snow leopard, grey wolf, red fox and domestic dog) as well as potential prey species (pika, small rodents and birds). The results, while based on limited number of observations, seem to suggest that the Pallas’s cat shows a predominantly diurnal activity pattern with crepuscular and nocturnal tendencies. They also seem to indicate that while the Pallas’s cat might be adjusting its activity pattern to minimise interactions with other predators, the availability and activity of its prey, mainly pika, may also play an equally, if not more, important role. Further data is needed however to gain a deeper understanding of those interactions and will be analysed as part of this study.
See below for the full project report.
An important objective for PICA is to educate people and raise awareness of the species with a particular focus on range countries. It is important however that we make efforts to understand the existing knowledge or rather lack of knowledge of local people toward the species and make efforts to understand any change in attitude or knowledge over time following the distribution of any educational materials. To do this PICA has sponsored an MSc student from the National University of Mongolia who has conducted repeated targeted field surveys in known Pallas’s cat locations in the South Gobi. Her MSc thesis titled “Developing Community awareness of Pallas’s cat in Mongolia” has focused on attitudes, current knowledge, access to information, threats and awareness of Pallas’s cats and the role they play in the surrounding environment. Following two field trips (2017 & 2018) to South Gobi and survey completion from the same households interviewed each year a total of 96 (repeated) surveys were included in the data. Following the 1st year (2017) surveys participants were each left with the PICA educational poster, leaflet and pocket guide, giving an opportunity for them to learn more about the species prior to the surveys conducted the following year.
Data from this study has, for possibly the first time, allowed a detailed evaluation of the impact of educational material in relation to local knowledge. Results shows an increase in identification of Pallas’s cat (45% to 68 %) and in the understanding of what constitutes as a threat (47% to 71%), one year after the educational material was delivered. Another significant result was a large increase in the appreciation of the Pallas cat with the more people saying the species is important to them (48% to 84%).
These results highlight the importance of targeted educational campaigns. This study has been the first to evaluate the impact of educational material using a standardised methodology and could be a positive “model” for other projects.
See full project report below.