Pallas Cat of Eastern Mongolia Winter Expedition Report

In early January of 2023, I led my first expedition with clients to find and photograph the stunningly beautiful and enigmatic Pallas Cat in the snow-covered steppe region of far-east Mongolia in Winter. This was an expedition that was initially scheduled to run in January of 2022 but was delayed as a result of the COVID pandemic. This expedition was also highly requested as a direct result of the scouting trip I did to this region in the Winter of 2019. I had also been itching to return to Mongolia since my visit there three years ago – it remains one of the most underrated destinations on earth for wildlife.

Day One – 4th January 2023

The Pallas Cat is one of the rarest and hardest-to-find wild cats worldwide. It is most easily found in the extreme far east of Mongolia, a drive approximately ten hours from the capital city of Ulaanbaatar. Day one of our expedition saw our transit from the capital to our remote camp in two large 4WD vehicles. 2023 has been a high snow year, and as a result, the roads were slow going with significant snow and ice conditions. Although conditions made for slow going on the roads, it boded exceptionally well for the chance to photograph the Pallas Cat in the snow.

Temperatures for our expedition hovered between -10º Celsius and -30º Celsius, dipping slightly lower with wind chill. Mercifully, there was little to no wind with an absolutely fantastic covering of snow on the expansive steppe region of the vast lunar-like landscape.

Our accommodations for this expedition were coal-heated Gyrs (Yurts) that are equipped with beds, electricity for charging, clean water for washing and brushing teeth, as well as coal and wood-fired heaters. Although I don’t advertise it, the Gyrs also have 4G internet wifi, and there is a rudimentary shower with hot water. Temperatures inside the tents are around 20º Celsius making them an incredibly comfortable refuge from the bitter Mongolian winter. Each Gyr holds between two and three people with plenty of space for equipment and personal effects. There is also a charging station in each tent for batteries and laptops.

Day Two – 5th January 2023

After an early morning pre-sunrise breakfast, we headed out into the field a little after first light and encountered and photographed our first Pallas Cat within thirty minutes. This encounter was a wonderful surprise. After such a long delay and so much anticipation to get onto a wild Pallas Cat in the first thirty minutes was an absolute blessing. Perhaps best of all, the cat had been out hunting all night and was covered in hoar frost, making it highly photogenic.

In the afternoon, we sighted another ten Pallas Cats (a total of twelve for the day), all sitting very close to their burrows. Thus we could not approach close enough to photograph them before they retreated to the safety of their den. Generally speaking, the Pallas Cat is more active in the afternoon when it is warmer. Nevertheless, to see twelve Pallas Cat in a single day is a phenomenal experience not many can ever lay claim to.

We also sighted several Corsak Fox and a great many Upland Buzzards. This region of Mongolia is highly underrated for wildlife, in my experience, with many raptors to be found in addition to the Pallas Cat and Corsak Fox. Some other bird species include the Upland Buzzard, the Saker Falcon, Golden Eagle, Steppe Eagle, Little Owl, and more. We also saw Mongolian Gazelle.

Day Three – 6th January 2023

With good luck, we had another fantastic encounter with Pallas Cat in wonderful early morning light. With the eagle eyes of our local ground operator, we found the Pallas Cat in less than ten minutes and then spent the next thirty minutes photographing the cat as the sun slowly cast its pink glow across the frozen landscape. This was a magical photographic encounter that yielded some stunningly beautiful photographs.

In the afternoon, we photographed two more Pallas Cats roughly twenty minutes drive from our campsite just as the sun was beginning to set. The density of Pallas Cat this year was much higher than in my previous 2019 expedition. The Vol population has increased significantly in recent years, and as such, there is plenty of food to support a higher density of cats.

Day Four – 7th January 2023

Day four saw us up before sunrise again, and after a quick breakfast, we were back out into the field where we encountered and photographed another two Pallas Cat in the snow. The high snow this year made photography much more effortless than in 2019, with much cleaner surroundings for the cat.

In the afternoon, we photographed another two cats, sighting another four along the way that we could not get close to before they retreated to their nearby burrows. With no trees to hide in, burrows are the Pallas cat’s only refuge from predators such as the Steppe Eagle and Golden Eagle.

Day Five – 8th January 2023

On our second last day, we again rose early for a quick breakfast before we headed out into the field on what was probably our coldest morning (temperatures around -30º Celsius). We found and photographed one Pallas Cat in wonderful light before the soft early morning light gave way to a blue sky day, and it was time to retreat back to camp for coffee and downloading.

In the afternoon, we switched gears and made the Corsak fox our target of choice. Typically the Corsak fox is extremely shy in this region of Mongolia, bolting at the first sign of people. Although we encountered half a dozen or so foxes, we could not get very close to photograph them. Even at 1200mm, the fox proved challenging to photograph.

Day Six – 9th January 2023

Today was our last full day in the field before we returned to the capital city. Early in the morning, just at sunrise, we had a fantastic photographic encounter with a Mongolian Gazelle as the sun was cresting the horizon. We spied a Pallas Cat shortly after, which retreated to the safety of a nearby burrow. 

The afternoon saw us have our last photographic encounter with the Pallas Cat before we wrapped our expedition with a final dinner at our remote camp.

Day Seven – 10th January 2023

Our final day saw us safely return to Ulaanbaatar, where we concluded our expedition with a farewell dinner.

By request, I will take a small group of just five photographers with me in January next year to the far east of Mongolia in Winter to photograph the magnificent Pallas Cat. The Pallas cat is one of the rarest and most beautiful wild cats in the world. In winter, the Steppe region of Mongolia is covered in Snow, and there is an opportunity to photograph this elusive cat against a beautiful winter backdrop. Places on this expedition are strictly limited to only five photographers, and places are filled on a first-come, first-served basis (several places have already been spoken for). If you want to photograph this stunningly beautiful wild cat in winter, please email me to register your interest. Please see the video below to get an idea of the accommodations for this expedition. We will have 4G internet for the expedition in the field, and a shower is available in the camp.

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