December 16, 2009

A presumed Leopard Cat at Kherlen River, eastern Mongolia
by Thomas Hallfarth

 On 7 July 2009 I recorded a wild cat at the Kherlen gol (gol=river), about 50 km west from the city of Choibalsan in eastern Mongolia. The geographical coordinates of the observation site are N 48°03’, E 113°44’. The habitat consists of long-grass steppe with single exposed rocks and boulders. About 600 m from the observation site a narrow “gallery bush forest” grows along the Kherlen River and its small side arms.

Presumed Leopard Cat, Kherlen River,
July 2009. © T. Hallfarth
click to enlarge

 I observed the animal from about one kilometre distance for c. 30–40 minutes. The weather and viewing conditions were good. A slight heat haze had a marginal impact on the observation only.

Leopard Cat, Kherlen
River, July 2009. © T. Hallfarth

click to enlarge

A few photos with a digital camera were taken through a telescope. Due to the great distance the photos came out quite poor, but they show the key features rather well.

Presumed Leopard Cat, Kherlen
River, July 2009. © T. Hallfarth

I am absolutely sure that the animal was a cat! The pelage colour was a washed grey without any conspicuous pattern (great distance!). The tip of the tail was black. The key ID feature was certainly the structure of the cat: Firstly, the cat had a very long tail which was held bent upward. And the animal showed strong, powerful shoulders. These features gave the cat an irbis-like or even leopard-like appearance.

Presumed Leopard Cat, Kherlen
River, July 2009. © T. Hallfarth

During the observation period the cat was slowly moving through the grassland on top of a hill, probably searching for food, though no hunting behaviour could be observed. It was presumably laying down several times (when it disappeared from my view). In dimension the animal appeared bigger than a normal domestic cat. Not far from it we discovered a family of Corsac Foxes later. Although we couldn't compare the two species directly, we had an indirect comparison of a canid and a felid. The cat showed typical movements of a cat. A confusion with a canid (occurring in the area: Corsac and Red Fox, Grey Wolf) can be excluded.

Presumed Leopard Cat, Kherlen
River, July 2009. © T. Hallfarth

The only larger cat occurring in the wider area is the Leopard Cat Prionailurus bengalensis. This polytypic species is widely distributed from the northern Indian Subcontinent, northern China and south-eastern Russia to South-East Asia. The subspecies P. b. euptilurus, which is sometimes considered specifically distinct, is called Amur Leopard Cat. It occurs in the Manchurian region, Korea and Russian Far East.

Distribution of Leopard Cat in China.
From: Smith & Yan Xie (2008).

Leopard Cats measure 45–75 cm (head-body), and have a tail lengths of 19.5–31.5 cm. They weight 1.7–7.1 kg. Cats from Russia and northern China are two to three times larger than cats from southern Asia (Wilson & Mittermeier 2009).

This photo of a wild Amur Leopard Cat in South Korea
shows the powerful shoulder area of this subspecies
quite well. From an article in JoongAng Daily.

Amur Leopard Cat, Seosan, South Korea, 17 June 2007.
© Tim Edelsten

The species occurs mainly in forests, but “also in shrub forests, but not in grassland or steppe (except marginal areas and riparian ecosystems)” (Smith & Yan Xie 2008), though Wilson & Mittermeier (2009) write that they are also found – though rarely – in cold steppe grasslands.

An Amur Leopard Cat at Dortmund Zoo
© Stefan Kulpa,

Leopard Cat has not been recorded from Mongolia and thus the observation described here would constitute the first record.

Tim Edelsten has commented as follows:

Just my thoughts based on my personal sightings/ impressions:

Although the images are not clear, it appears to have a thick greyish-brown coat with contrastingly paler chin and belly, and thick tail, which are typical for Amur Leopard Cat, (although which can also be shared with Feral Cat).

Structure-wise however, to me it shows the athletic build, strong and high shoulder, and proportionately longer body and sloping back of Amur Leopard Cat that would distinguish it from Feral Cat in my experience.

So without being sure, I would lean towards an identification of Amur Leopard Cat.

More comments on this observation are welcome!

Acknowledgments. My thanks go to Tim Edelsten for letting me use his photo of an Amur Leopard Cat from Korea and for commenting the observation. Stefan Kulpa kindly allowed to include his excellent photo of a Leopard Cat. Axel Braunlich did some background research and helped to write this contribution.


Smith, A. T. & Yan Xie 2008. A Guide to the Mammals of China. Princeton University Press.

Wilson, D. E. & Mittermeier, R. A. eds. 2009. Handbook of the Mammals of the World. Vol. 1 Carnivores. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.


Anonymous said...

it might be snow leopard

bitterroot said...

That is so cool. Tweeted it, hope more people see it. Made the observation that I wouldn't want to be a marmot there!

Anonymous said...

It is great! There are 4 cats had been recorded in Mongolia at the moment. It might be Amur leopard cat. Map of this species on the blog is looking possible for that region which is animal seen.

Unknown said...

it is great and very interesting!
It might be Snow Leopard. Before I was saw Snow leopard in Zuusaikhan mountain.Looks very simillar.
Yes, hope more people see it.

vdinets said...

It sure looks like euptilura, but the photos don't have much detail. You have to eliminate F. lybica, which has been recorded in Mongolia, is larger than a house cat, and is much more likely to occur in grasslands. Did it have white stripes going upward from the eyes?

egor_13 said...

Snow Leopard looks unkilely for this observation (by description and photos). Pallas's Cat version needs to be examined but Pallas's should look smaller and be more "hairy".

egor_13 said...

Sorry for the misprint in the commetnt of 22 Dec: unkilely = unlikely, indeed.

Anonymous said...

maybe Manula /Pallas Cat/!?!?!? But I don't know. :)

Jochen said...

Hmmmm. I am far from being an expert and have never been to East Asia, but if someone showed me these pictures from say Tanzania, I'd say they show a Leopard (without the "Cat").
I am aware that this is even more unlikely than Leopard Cat but I find the proportions, particularly the very small head compared to the extremely athletic shoulders and neck don't quite fit the pictures of Leopard Cat I have looked at, but nicely fit a Leopard.
And Leopards aren't necessarily very big cats...

Anonymous said...

It looks like a stray marmot on high alert! I am not kidding. They do have longish tail with dark tip and marmots move it up and down, sometimes their tail looks like a long tail.

Dermot said...

from my experience of owning an amur leopard cat this cat is definitely this 7 months old my amur leopard cat was larger than a domestic cat,the most similar species i know of would be the fishing someone as already pointed out the tail and shape of the cat is much different than that of a domestic cat.