Pallas’ Cat: A Himalayan Loner
The pallas cat ( Felis manul or Otocolobus manul ), also known as manul, is a small wild cat from Central Asia. Interestingly, its common name derives from the name of the person who first described it, German zoologist Peter Simon Pallas.
This feline is the size of a house cat and has a beautiful and highly coveted fur. Also, among its distinguishing features are the round pupils, similar to those of the big cats. This species also has short legs, a flat face and wide ears, with which it creates some of the funniest expressions in the feline realm.
Where does the pallas cat live?
Although the pallas cat is found throughout Central Asia, its habitat is very specific. This feline is adapted to cold and arid environments and occupies steppes, alpine deserts and rocky areas. Thus, this species inhabits the plains of countries like Mongolia, Russia, Pakistan, Western China, Siberia and Tibet. It can also be found in northern Iran and India.
It occupies caves, crevices or burrows dug by other animals at altitudes of 4000 to 5000 meters above sea level, but only in areas where deep snow does not accumulate. It is very rarely seen in low-lying areas.
Pallas’ fur: its protection, beauty and curse
Much of the beauty of this cat comes from its very abundant and thick coat. Thanks to her, it can protect itself from the cold frosts of its habitat. Their fur has important color variations that change according to zones and seasons, which helps them to go unnoticed in their habitat.
Thus, the tonality of its coat varies according to the time of year, as it is much whiter in winter and grayer when there is no snow and stones appear on the ground. Therefore, their coat varies from shades of gray to ocher in different regions.
This variation has led some scientists to suggest its classification into two subspecies. The definition of this subdivision is awaiting further research and would be:
- Otocolobus manul manul, represented by the most common color found. It is distributed over almost the entire range of the species, but more frequently in Mongolia and China.
- Otocolobus manul nigripectus, which has more distinct black spots. He lives in Tibet, Kashmir, Nepal and Bhutan.
The Pallas Cat’s Fur Pattern
His cheeks have whitish fur, which contrasts with the black spots on his forehead and the two thin, dark lines that come out of the corners of his eyes and cross his face. He also has dark rings around his eyes and black spots on his forehead and crown. The lips, chin and neck are white, with a slight reddish tinge near the upper lip.
The legs and trunk have five to seven narrow black bands that cross the lower back. These dark streaks cannot always be seen at first glance, due to the high density of their fur.
In addition, its long, furry tail has a black tip and beautiful dark rings along its entire length. The ventral hair is almost twice the length of the back, which protects it from the cold while lying down.
Other physical characteristics
Pallas cats are stocky, fat and have short legs. They reach between 50 and 62 centimeters in length, in addition to a tail of 21 to 31 centimeters and weigh an average of 4.5 kilograms.
Perhaps the most characteristic feature of the manul cat is its large, flat head. Its ears are small in size and set extremely low. Its muzzle is shorter than normal in domestic cats, to the point where it has fewer teeth than other cats.
This wild cat is a solitary nocturnal animal, although it can be active in the evening and early morning. According to experts, during the day he usually sleeps in rocky fissures and small caves. In addition, it usually takes refuge in the burrows of other small animals, such as marmots, foxes and badgers.
Scientists have noted its extraordinary ability to hide in its own habitat. Its markings and colors allow it to easily blend into the environment. This cloaking skill is useful for hunting, as pallas cats are not good runners.
Threatened, this cat doesn’t usually show its teeth or hiss, because when it’s scared it screams and growls. The sound was described more like the howl of a small dog than the meowing of a house cat. According to experts, this feline can purr, similar to a house cat.
Which fangs does the pallas cat prefer?
Across its range of habitat, this feline feeds primarily on small mammals known as pikas and other small rodents. As a predatory species, its role is beneficial to humans, as pikas are considered agricultural pests.
The illegal trade in the cat-de-pallas
There are historical records that show that the fur trade of this cat began in 1965, averaging over 50,000 furs per year until 1985. It should be noted that the fur of the Pallas Cat is not considered to be of high quality and, therefore, it has a low value compared to other wild cat, snow leopard and lynx species.
It is noteworthy that the conservation status of the Pallas Cat is poorly known due to the lack of information about its distribution and relative numbers. It was widely hunted until the 1980s.
Although hunting no longer seems to be a problem for the feline today, in some parts of Russia and China, the small rodents and pikas it feeds on have been poisoned as they are considered carriers of disease.
At the moment, it’s not clear what the biggest threat to this species is: exposure to these poisons or a diminished food supply. Also, despite the laws that protect him, we can still find poaching in search of his beautiful gray cloak.
Finally, attempts to work with breeding in captivity are quite disappointing and unsuccessful, since the mortality of offspring born in captivity is almost 50% (one in two).