Manul, Steppe cat
Pallas’s cat is similar in size to a domestic cat but it looks much bigger because of its stocky build and its long, thick coat, which helps protect it in its frosty habitat. Its shaggy coat is especially thick on its belly to protect it from the snow while stalking prey. Their fur changes color depending on the season, in winter being a frosted gray and in spring a gray/fox-red. The pupils of its large eyes, unlike those of other small cats, contract to small circles instead of slits.
Pallas’s cat occurs in the west from the Caspian Sea through Pakistan, Kazakhstan and northern India to China and Mongolia. It is well adapted to arid, cold habitats in hilly upland areas, including stony alpine desert as well as steppe grassland that has rocky outcrops.
Habits and lifestyle
Secretive and solitary, Pallas’s cat moves slowly but purposefully, concealing itself within its environment and blending into the background. It has peaks of crepuscular activity but is active at any time of day and night. In the daytime it shelters in rock crevices or small caves, the most common place being the abandoned burrows of marmots. Pallas’s cat lives at very low densities, with only as many as 8 to 11 cats being found within 100 sq. km. Males occupy larger ranges than females, which overlap those of a few females. Males and females both scent mark their territory. They are adept predators and hunt by stalking and then ambushing prey, walking fast and opportunistically pouncing on prey. They sometimes wait at the entrances of burrows to pounce when the animal exits.
destruction (wild cats), clowder, clutter, pounce
Diet and nutrition
Pallas's cats mostly eat small rodents and pikas. Small mammals like mouse hares, murines, ground squirrels and voles are also eaten, and also small birds, grasshoppers and lizards.
Pallas’s cats have a polygynous mating system, with males mating with several females during a particular mating season. The male follows a female for several days during mating, perhaps to guard her from other males. Their breeding season is from December to March. 3 to 6 kittens are produced after gestation lasting 9 to 10 weeks. The kittens usually stay inside their den until they are 2 months old, at which time ‘molting’ takes place and they grow an adult coat. At 3 to 4 months of age they follow the mother to forage in social mother-kitten groups. Kittens will disperse when they are 4 to 5 months of age, when usually they have reached their adult size and weight. They young may disperse far from the maternal den and mature quickly. They are sexually mature within their first year.
Major threats to this animal are the large-scale poisoning of vole and pika populations, which are an important prey item for Pallas’s cats. They are also highly susceptible to toxomoplasmosis, especially their kittens, a disease caught from rodents in its diet. Currently this disease has a low incidence within its habitat, but climate change and global warming could cause this to increase and become more of a problem. Habitat fragmentation and development are increasing threats to Pallas’s cats. This could cause local extinction of this species, which is already rare, due to the destruction of habitat and the increased number of domestic dogs that prey heavily on these cats. They have also been hunted for many years for its luxurious fur, but international trade in their skin has declined in recent years.
According to the IUCN Red List, the total population size of the Pallas’s cat is estimated as 15,315 mature individuals. It is considered widespread but nowhere very common. This species’ numbers are decreasing today and it is classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List.
Fun facts for kids
- These cats were named in 1776 after Peter Pallas, the eighteenth-century German zoologist. The word ‘manul’ comes from the Mongolian language.
- The scientific name of Pallas’s cat, Otocolobus, is from Greek and means ‘ugly-eared.’
- When Pallas first described this cat, he mistakenly suggested it was the domestic Persian cat’s ancestor, because of its stout build, long fur, and flattened face.
- Despite being small, Pallas's cats are aggressive, in the manner of much larger cats. These kittens will growl even before they are able to open their eyes.
- Pallas's cats are poor runners due to their compact bodies. Rather than run away from danger, when pursued, they seek refuge in small crevasses or near boulders.
- Pallas’s cats growl or yelp when excited, sounding like a small dog. They can also purr.
- Pallas’s cats look larger and heavier than they are due to their long, thick coats and stocky builds. They’re actually similar in size to domestic cats.