Pallas cat or more accurately, Pallas’s cat. Photo by muzina_shanghai
The internet stops me from using this cat’s true name in the headline: Pallas’s Cat as apostrophes don’t work in file names and the file name should be the same as the headline. Sorry for that. The other English name for this cat is Manul. The latin or scientific name is Otocolobus manul. I will generally call this cat pallas cat in this article. The scientists prefer manul. A translation of the Russian and German name for this cat is: Steppe cat.You can see how complicated it gets even at the level of the name!
Its name comes from its discoverer, a German zoologist and botanist, who worked in Russia after being invited in 1767 to become a professor at the St Petersburg Academy of Sciences by Catherine II who seems to have been a great admirer. He completed two expeditions into deepest Russia, reaching as far eastward as Lake Baikal (see photo below – part of the range of this cat) on the first expedition (between 1768 and 1774) and discovered Pallas’s cat. He wrote about his findings in a 3 volume book called: Journey through various provinces of the Russian Empire.
The pallas cat is, I think it fair to say, very distinctive. It’s appearance (and I mean head/body conformation or shape) is different; much in the same way the shape of the Jaguarundi (weasel looking) is different. This difference comes from the roundness and shortness of the head (the skull more accurately). In fact its skull is similar to that of the sand cat. This is considered by some to represent an advanced state of development of the “domestic cat lineage”. It is thought to have split from the domestic cat lineage early on (the pallas cat is the only cat in the domestic cat lineage to not carry a specific gene common to other ancestors of the modern domestic cat).
So what does this distinctive cat look like? The pallas cat is similar in size to our well known domestic cat, weighing between 2 – 4 kilogrammes (4.4 lbs – to 8.8 pounds). In fact, it is probably a little lighter than the domestic average at around 8 lbs. As stated its head is round with a low or flat forehead and its legs a little short. The fur is long and the tail very bushy.
Looking at these pictures taken in captivity, this cat seems friendly and inquisitive (looking at the camera) and mild mannered, which is in fact the case. Apparently in captivity they show no fear. However, in captivity they fail to thrive as offspring frequently die at a young age. This is thought mainly to be due to the parasite toxoplasma gondii. The reasons were being researched.
Another very noticeable feature is the small ears filled with hair (called “ear furnishings” in the cat fancy) and which are set well on the side of the head. The ears are adapted to the terrain in which this cat has to stalk prey. It is open ground with sparse vegetation and serval like ears would be too visible. These are a bit like the ears of the purebred, domestic Persian cat. The cat fancy (following expert scientists) at one time thought that the pallas cat was the wild cat origin of the original Persian cat and this may be the reason why they bred the ears small and on the side – not sure. This is the CFA breed standard:
EARS: small, round tipped, tilted forward, and not unduly open at the base. Set far apart, and low on the head, fitting into (without distorting) the rounded contour of the head.
The facial markings are actually very strong but vary in intensity. There are distinct white bands bounded by black running from the corner of the eyes going back and down slightly. And on the forehead there are black spots. The tail has black bands and a black tip. The coat is quite plain and heavily “ticked”, which is a cat fancy term meaning broken coloration by the agouti gene. It is designed, of course, to blend in, which it does very successfully. The coat nicely matches the rocky outcrops of the uplands and hilly areas that it occupies. See another Pallas cat picture.
Pallas Cat Range
This is set out on the customised map embedded into the page below. The original map can be refined by anyone willing and able to do so. It is a public map. It probably needs refining despite the care taken to produce it because it is from a smallish map (IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ (Red List) and in any event the distribution of wild cats is ever changing (diminishing and becoming more fragmented usually).
View Manul Geographic Range 2009 in a larger map
The pallas cat range covers these countries (as at Sept. 2009):
- Mongolia (see inner Mongolia in a photograph below)
- Russia (see Russia’s
- Bhutan (possible)
- Nepal (possible)
There would appear to have been considerable fragmentation and some shrinkage over the last 10 years. What is the landscape like within the pallas cat range?
The pallas cat mainly occupies the central Asian steppe grassland areas of China, Mongolia and the Tibetan Plateau. In some places it lives at a higher altitude as in Tien Shan and Gobi Altai where it lives at 3,000 – 4,000 metres above sea level (note: it may be extinct from the Gobi Altai as at 2009). This cat is limited in respect of habitat by its ineffectiveness in continuous snow cover of 15 – 20 cms deep.
Threats and Conservation
Tellingly, a lot of the information about this cat’s status in the wild comes form fur traders! It is bizarre in some ways but totally to be expected. For example there are probably more pallas cats in the wild than Chinese desert cats because there are more furs of the former in markets than the latter. I find this disheartening. The Chinese desert cat (or Chinese mountain cat) is rare, very rare, however. Bearing in mind its shrinking range the pallas cat is assessed as near threatened (NR):
However, the full list of threats to survival in the wild are (src: Red List):
- reduced prey population. This is caused by people poisoning the cat and over hunting of its prey. The poisoning is not directed at the pallas cat but animals that are thought to carry and transmit bubonic plague (central China) and to protect grazing land (west and north China).
- degraded habitat due to livestock and agriculture.
- degraded/destroyed habitat due to mining (Russia and Central Asia).
- fragmented range
- hunted for the fur (in Mongolia it is still legal to hunt this cat under conditions, which are not enforced. This is a scam, I allege).
- fur exported from Mongolia to China (gloves?)
- incidentally trapped and shot
- killed for medicinal purposes (the usual reasons then!)
- killed by domestic dogs
- Listing under CITES Appendix II (prevention of trade in body parts but is it enforced?).
- Hunting is banned except in Mongolia (a major part of the cat’s range is in Mongolia). Bizarrely it is considered Near Threatened in Mongolia but that status has not encouraged the authorities there to protect this cat. Although, 12% of the range in Mongolia is “protected”. However, the areas are unprotected. Clearly the government has no regard for this species of animal.
- There are a considerable number of reserves, parks or protected areas in Russian and China but I often wonder what these actually mean. On occasion there would seem to be little difference between reserves and non-protected areas. Are they a misrepresentation of what is actually going on?
- 6% of the pallas’s cat’s range is protected in Russia (one can’t call that generous).
- I would like to mention a conservation group: http://savemanul.org/eng. This is a Pallas Cat Study and Conservation Program. It would seem to be run by Siberian Environmental Center. A July 25th 2009 posting on the site talks about the tracking of a female manul and her kittens. They had taken up home under a hut but she moved home 0.6 miles away (a considerable distance with kittens) and found a burrow. The prey was plentiful (rodents – Mongolian gerbils (Meriones unguiculatus)). These observations took place in The Daursky State Biosphere Reserve (Zapovednik) – see photo below. Conservation seems largely to do with study as many wildcat species are still little understood.
The Daursky State Biosphere Reserve (Zapovednik) – photographer unknown – a part of the range of the manul wild cat (Pallas’s cat)
Ecology and Behavior
Manuls spend daylight hours in burrows, crevices or caves and come out in the late afternoon to hunt. As their small ears (and flat forehead) are adapted for the open terrain (i.e. small) this cat hunts mainly by sight. It creeps up on prey and ambushes it as running is not one of their strengths. Its fur is also well adapted to the terrain in which it hunts, camouflaging this cat very effectively. The pallas cat merges beautifully into the background.
Its prey includes:
- pikas (a mouse hare) – weighing 100 – 400 grams – found in 82% of scats (droppings) so this is a popular choice of prey. Pikas are active in the daytime so the manul is considered to be “diurnal”. This means active in the daytime. See the photograph of this animal below.
- chukar partridge
- tolai hares
- marmots (young)
Pika – mouse hare – photo by wildxplorer
The manul is a successful hunter and likes a full belly. One had 16 voles in its stomach!
This cat has some of its own vocalisations. These include:
- a short, sharp spit!
- A bark/hoot (sexual call)
- a lip quiver (threat display?)
- See Cat Sounds WAV WMA MP3
- Update: hear some Pallas cat sounds.
Manul or Pallas’s cat — photo by muzina_shanghai
Reproduction and Development
The climate in the pallas cat range can be harsh. This dictates to a certain extent breeding practice. The information is based on captive animal observations and the information is presented in tabular form for ease of reference:
|Event||Duration – information etc.|
|Estrus (period of sexual receptiveness)||26 – 42 hours (very short)|
|Gestation (pregnancy)||Two research programs, two findings: (1) 66 – 67 days or (2) 74 – 75 days.|
|Litter size||2 – 4 kittens (large due to the seasonality of breeding)|
|Den||This is usually in rock crevices and fissures and can contain dried vegetation and bits of prey|
|Kitten size at birth||89 grams (male) – this is one sample of course. They are born blind.|
|2 months of age||Kitten weighs 500 – 600 grams|
|Kittens begin hunting||About 5 months of age|
|About adult size||7 months of age|
|Average lifespan||8 -10 years in the wild and about the same as the domestic cat in captivity (15 years should be about the non-purebred average domestic cat lifespan).|
- Wild Cats Of The World – most profound source
- Red List – most up to date source
- Wikipedia – a general source