Felis bietiChinese desert cat

Geographic Range

Felis bieti (Chinese mountain cat) is the only know endemic cat of China. It is restricted to the mountains of China and has been spotted in the provinces of Qinghai, Sichuan, Gansu, Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, and Tibet. It is mainly confined to high elevation grasslands and in 2004 was found only in the north western regions of Sichuan and the eastern half of Qinghai. Records of its presence in more northern desert regions are likely based on misidentifications of domestic cats and of asiatic wildcats, Felis silvestris ornata. (He, et al., 2004; IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group, et al., 1996)


Chinese mountain cats live in alpine meadows, steppe grasslands, mountain shrub lands, and on the edges of high elevation coniferous forests from 2500 to 5000 meters. Their dense fur helps them withstand the extreme mountain climate. Although Felis bieti is sometimes referred to as the "Chinese desert cat", this species is not reported to live in desert areas. (Sanderson, et al., 2010)

  • Range elevation
    2500 to 5000 m
    8202.10 to 16404.20 ft

Physical Description

Chinese mountain cats have a broad and sturdy build. The legs and tail are relatively short, the tail being approximately 40% of the body length. The pelt changes color according to season, being light grey in winter and brown during the summer. The sides, legs, and tail are covered in dark grey stripes and the tip of the tail is black. There are dark brown tufts on the tip of each ear. (IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group, et al., 1996)

A distinctive feature is the large size of its auditory bullae, the hollow bony structures that enclose the middle and inner ears of placental mammals; in this species they represent 25% of the skull length. (IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group, et al., 1996)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • Range mass
    4 to 9 kg
    8.81 to 19.82 lb
  • Range length
    60 to 85 cm
    23.62 to 33.46 in


Little is know about the Chinese mountain cat mating system, but the closely related jungle cat exhibits promiscuity, meaning that both males and females mate with multiple partners. Male and female Chinese mountain cats live in solitary burrows except during the mating season when they have been reported to live together. (Sanderson, et al., 2010; Sunquist and Sunquist, 2002)

Chinese mountain cats breed from January to March, kittens are born in May. There are 2 to 4 kittens per brood. Mothers care for their young in a burrow where they are safe from predators. The kittens become independent after 7 to 8 months. (IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group, et al., 1996; Sanderson, et al., 2010)

  • Breeding interval
    Chinese mountain cats breed once yearly.
  • Breeding season
    The breeding season for Chinese mountain cats is January to March.
  • Range number of offspring
    2 to 4
  • Range time to independence
    7 to 8 months

There is no information available regarding parental investment in Felis bieti, but in the closely related jungle cat the majority of parental care is supplied by the mother. The father occasionally stays to protect the territory. (Sunquist and Sunquist, 2002)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • female parental care
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female


The lifespan of Chinese mountain cats has not been recorded, but the closely related jungle cat has an average lifespan of 14 years. (Ogurlu, et al., 2010)


The only behaviors of Chinese mountain cats that have been recorded are from cats in captivity. Chinese mountain cats are solitary. They are nocturnal or crepuscular and spend their days sleeping in the safety of shallow burrows. The burrows are often in the cracks of rocks or under boulders and tend to face southward. They sometimes rest in the abandoned burrows of marmots of badgers. (Sanderson, et al., 2010)

Home Range

The home range of Chinese mountain cats is unknown, but the closely related jungle cat maintains a territory of from 45 to 180 square kilometers. This territory is thought to be maintained by scent marks. (Ogurlu, et al., 2010; Sunquist and Sunquist, 2002)

Communication and Perception

Chinese mountain cats rely heavily on hearing to track their prey. (IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group, et al., 1996)

Food Habits

Chinese mountain cats are carnivores; they eat primarily small mammals such as pikas, zokors (muroid rodents that resemble mole rats), and other rodents. They use their keen sense of hearing, accommodated by large auditory bullae, to track prey. They hunt fossorial prey, such as zokors, by listening to them in their tunnels, and then digging them up. In addition to catching small mammals, they may catch pheasants and other birds. (IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group, et al., 1996; Sunquist and Sunquist, 2002)

  • Primary Diet
  • carnivore
    • eats terrestrial vertebrates
  • Animal Foods
  • birds
  • mammals


Chinese mountain cats are top predators and the adults are not preyed on by other animals. The young are occasionally taken by wolves, brown bears, and other large predators. Mothers protect their young from predation by hiding them in a burrow. (IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group, et al., 1996; Zhang, et al., 2003)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

The ecology of Chinese mountain cats has never been formally studied and hence their role in the ecosystem is unknown. They probably influence the population sizes of some prey species. (Sanderson, et al., 2010)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Chinese mountain cats help farmers in China to control pest populations. Pika species (Ochotona), which are favored prey of Chinese mountain cats, are seen as pests by some Chinese farmers because they consume grasses that livestock may also eat. (Sanderson, et al., 2010)

It is illegal to hunt Chinese mountain cats, but their pelts are often found in Chinese markets. (Sanderson, et al., 2010)

  • Positive Impacts
  • body parts are source of valuable material
  • controls pest population

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Chinese mountain cats have no known negative economic impacts on humans.

Conservation Status

The total population of Chinese mountain cats includes fewer than 10,000 individuals and the population trend is decreasing. Two major threats to Chinese mountain cats have been identified, and both involve humans. The first is that these cats are hunted for their fur. The pelts are used to make clothes and traditional hats. Although hunting Chinese mountain cats is illegal, their skins are still found in Chinese shops. The second major threat to Felis bieti is China's poisoning campaign against pikas and various rodent pests. Pikas are considered pests because they eat the grass that livestock would otherwise eat. Livestock farmers have used zinc phosphide and other similar chemicals to kill the pikas. A poisoning campaign was enacted from 1958 to 1978 after which it was discontinued because it became evident that the poison was killing predators of the pikas as well. Unfortunately, small scale poisoning still occurs throughout most of the Chinese mountain cat's range. These cats are protected under Category 1 of the Chinese Wildlife Law and Appendix 2 of CITES. (IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group, et al., 1996; Sanderson, et al., 2010)

Other Comments

Very little is known about Felis bieti, what is known comes mostly from captive individuals in zoos. There is an argument in the scientific community as to whether Felis bieti is a valid species or a subspecies of Felis silvestris (common wildcats). If it is determined to be a subspecies it will be renamed Felis silvestris bieti (Sanderson et al., 2010). (IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group, et al., 1996; Sanderson, et al., 2010)


Laura Maihofer (author), Michigan State University, Barbara Lundrigan (editor), Michigan State University, Tanya Dewey (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

World Map


young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


active at dawn and dusk


having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


active during the night


the kind of polygamy in which a female pairs with several males, each of which also pairs with several different females.

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


lives alone


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.


He, L., R. Garcia-Perea, M. Li, F. Wei. 2004. Distribution and conservation status of the endemic Chinese mountain cat Felis bieti. Oryx, 38: 55-61.

IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group, , Kristin Nowell, Peter Jackson. 1996. Wild Cats: Status survey and conservation action plan. Cambridge, UK: IUCN Publication Services Unit.

Ogurlu, I., E. Gundogdu, I. Yildirim. 2010. Population status of jungle cat (Felis chaus) in Egirdir lake, Turkey. Journal of Environmental Biology, 31: 179-183.

Sanderson, J., Y. Yufeng, D. Naktsang. 2010. Of the only endemic cat species in China. CATnews, Special Issue 5: 18-21.

Sunquist, M., F. Sunquist. 2002. Wild Cats of the World. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Zhang, Y., Z. Zhang, J. Liu. 2003. Burrowing rodents as ecosystem engineers: the ecology and management of plateau zokors Myospalax fontanierii in alpine meadow ecosystems on the Tibetan Plateau. Mammal Review, 33: 284-294.