Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 99 – Pallas’ Cat

Pallas' cat

“As long as people will shed the blood of innocent creatures there can be no peace, no liberty, no harmony between people. Slaughter and justice cannot dwell together”
Isaac Bashevis Singer

These captivating, incredibly furry little cats manage to survive the winters of some of the coldest regions on earth outside the Arctic Circle.  When they can hold onto their coats, that is.  Unbelievably appealing, though I think a little grumpy lookingPallas' cat sometimes, they are not much bigger than the average domestic cat, and were once wrongly thought to be the progenitors of the sleeky, long-haired domesticated Persian cat. Also known as manul, steppe cat or rock wildcat, Pallas’ cats are now in desperate trouble.

As you can imagine, that beautiful, luxurious coat has been much in demand over the centuries. Perfectly suited to its owner, enabling it to survive the harsh winters of the steppes, it is highly valued by local fur traders for the same reasons.  The warmth and durability properties of the coats are legendary.  As many as fifty thousand cats were killed every year for their pelts in the early 1900′s, severely depleting their numbers.  Annual numbers of deaths are now far less, nevertheless, the killing continues.  Despite hunting being now banned altogether, it has not ceased, and Pallas’ cats are still an eagerly sought after ‘commodity’.  FurPallas's cat or manul  is used to make hats, gloves and clothing for the Chinese and Russian markets.  In Mongolia, traders have found a loophole in the law  (the species can be legally hunted for “household purposes”)  which they abuse with consummate ease, and which, at best, is poorly enforced;  and legal permits to hunt the cats, available upon application, are freely dispensed without proper investigation.

Then, as we have all come to expect, thriving, ridiculous, ill-founded superstition rears its ugly head again;  Pallas’ cats are slain for their fat and other body parts for use in Traditional medicine within Mongolia and Russia, and no doubt China. Locals believe their body fat relieves frostbite. Uses for other body parts are not known.

An equally serious threat to the species is the government-sanctioned poisoning of pika, the Pallas’s main prey.  As a result, the cats either lack food or suffer secondary poisoning.

Pallas’ cats are not quite as big and heavy as you might think they are.  Being all bolstered out with that thick, long fur gives one a Pallas' cat WWF Russiafalse impression.  Weighing in at roughly ten pounds, they reach a height of fourteen inches at most, and have a body length of twenty-six inches.  The long, striped, bushy tail can add another twelve inches to the overall size of the animal and can be wrapped around the body to keep it warm.

That gorgeous, dense, woolly fur is twice as long on the underside, which may well provide additional insulation when crawling along the ground hunting its prey. The fur colour ranges from pale grey to a faint tawny red.  The white tips of the fur give the cat an icy, powdered look which helps camouflage it on the snow-covered ground.  The species is instantly recognisable with its flat head, low-set ears and high-set eyes. These are thought to be adaptations allowing it to peer unnoticed over rocks and ledges when hunting.  They also help when stalking prey as the cat flattens its body on the ground.

Pallas cat (Tula) residing at Wildlife Heritage Foundation, Smarden, Kent by Adrian Herridge   wikiThe Pallas’ cat’s eyes differ from other felids.  They are round, not slit-like, and react like human eyes by contracting when faced with strong light rays.  As with all cats, they possess a third eyelid (nictitating membrane).  In the case of Pallas’ cats, this may be crucial for protection against extreme weather conditions such as severe winds and dust storms.

Unlike other felids, Pallas’ cat is diurnal and crepuscular.  Their days are spent under cover of rock crevices and in small hollows under stones. They have also been known to inhabit the burrows of other wildlife, such as foxes and marmots.  They hunt mostly, but not exclusively, on the open grasslands where there is an abundance of small prey.  Their skilful hunting techniques include stalking in the open, flushing prey out of cover and ambushing others outside their burrows and nests. They are skilful climbers, too, and scale the rocky crevices with an agility you would not expect looking at the cat’s bulk.  This ‘bulk’ also fluctuates with the seasons, with the males weighing less during the breeding season and the females weighing less when rearing their young.

The Breeding season takes place between December and March.  The male attracts the female with sounds resembling a mix of a yapping bark and a hoot.  After a gestation Pallas' cat 5period of sixty-six to seventy-five days  (this has been recorded in captivity),  kittens, weighing just over three ounces, will be born. The litter size is between one and six, more commonly three or four. The kittens are born with dark, fluffy coats with noticeable stripes on the side which diminish as the kittens reach two months of age, or thereabouts, and moult. They are independent at four to five months, and reach full size at about eight months.

Kitten mortality is high in this species, with only thirty-two per cent of the kittens surviving to adulthood.  Pallas’ cats have been known to live up to twelve years of age in captivity and assumed to live less in the wild.

Pallas’ cat is named after the German naturalist , Peter Simon Pallas, who was responsible for describing this, and several other species, during a late 18th century Russian expedition.

Natural Habitat
Grasslands and rocky montane steppe regions up to three thousand metres.
Central Asia – Including Mongolia, China and the Tibetan Plateau.
What they eat
Pikas, small rodents, ground birds and the occasional marmot.
Over-hunting and illegal poaching for fur and medicine.   Capture for the illegal international pet trade.  Depletion of their prey base by the government sanctioned poisoning of their prey, and exposure to the poison themselves.   Plus, they are often mistakenly shot as marmots. Diseases passed on by domestic cats and dogs have also affected populations.
Status: Near Threatened
Pallas’ cat (Otocolobus manul) is listed on the  IUCN Red List of Threatened Species  as Near Threatened (likely to become endangered in the near future).  The species is also listed in  CITES Appendix II.  Hunting of Pallas’s cat is prohibited in all countries across its range, except in Mongolia where they can be legally hunted for “household purposes”. Hunters must obtain permits from local authorities, but enforcement of the law is very shaky and the situation is poorly controlled.
Numbers in the wild are not known.  The range of the Pallas’ cat is vast and populations are difficult to assess.  There are, however, many of the species in captivity across the world, where breeding programs have been moderately successful.  Sadly, in general, survival rates are low due to infections.  The cats would not have previously been exposed to any of these viruses, therefore have not developed any immunity to them.

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N.B.  This article was first published as  “Endangered Species No. 100”  in error.  It is,  in fact, “Endangered Species No.99”.  My apologies for any confusion.

31 thoughts on “Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 99 – Pallas’ Cat

  1. This is such a ridiculoulsly beautiful animal, I can’t stand it. I sent it to my son and hubby, both major cat people. We spent today in a Caribbean cat sanctuary…..such wonderful creatures in our world and people who care for them. Like you~

    • I agree! He is very beautiful, Cindy. It’s good to know you are a family of cat lovers. Though this one may not be the take-home type. LOL I think his most beautiful feature is his coat which, of course, is also his downfall. Did you rescue a cat from the sanctuary? I find it is always very hard to walk away from these places empty-handed! 🙂

  2. I was going on in my head…oh, I want one!…then you got to the untameable and aggressive part…oh well, not meant to be…but I still love ’em.

  3. One of the most strikingly handsome felines!. Beautifully described. I imagine that their well-tucked ears at the side and the flat head afford protection from the unforgiving icy winds. My wish in this lifetime is that education reaches those places where superstition takes a heavy toll on innocent creatures. Their mortality rate and short lifespan is concerning. So sad that they are exposed to illnesses they have no defence against.

    The video in the wild is precious. Poor pikas being poisoned, leading to second-hand poisoning –such a crime. Where is conciousness in such decisions?.

    Looking at this wondrous being I recalled the Andean Cat, same inhospitable wilderness, same relentless persecution, same lethal superstition and same cruel end for the pelt trade. 😦

    • Beautiful creatures and indeed, much in common with your Andean cat, Carmen. Let’s hope these vile activities of either wearing, eating or using animals as cure-alls can be ended soon and they will be left in peace. Although, of course, as we all know poverty lies at the heart of many of these atrocities. We need to offer alternatives as well as education. We seem to be failing in both at the moment, and the poor animals remain vulnerable. Needless to say, total ignorance and greed don’t help either. 😦 😦

      • Indeed, Amelia, intrinsically related all these realities are a very hard chain to break. I remember how the Snow Leopard welfare projects gave the local and poor community handcraft projects to sell, while educating them not to kill these imperiled and magnificent creatures. As you say, education and alternatives. Hope to see something like this to help the great Manul.

          • You are an inspiration and your great articles add so much to the status of our dear creatures. I apologise for leaving long comments that many times thin out and then off the comment space 🙂

            I found this about the Manul, an interesting Russian conservation initiative, with one of their projects aimed at educating the local children 🙂


            P.S: As if all were connected, Amelia, one of your related articled took me to the Siberian Times page, the land of our little son, where his native town of Irkutsk was featured … ♥

            • Thank you so much for your kind words, Carmen. I am always inspired by great bloggers like you who share my concerns for animals (domestic and wild) and the environment. Don’t worry about the long comments – I enjoy our conversations. It is a bit of a silly feature of my blog, but, unfortunately, I can’t change it without changing the theme. Silly WordPress!

              Great news about the manul. Isn’t that amazing they should include children. The best thing to do, of course, but it is still comforting to realise such efforts are being made.

              How amazing you chose to click on that link, Carmen. What a happy discovery for you. I, too, click on links and find myself being transported to all manner of pages which I can connect to in some (perhaps lesser) way. But, it’s true – we ARE all connected! ♥♥

  4. Such a beautiful creature! And I adore the quote at the beginning of this post. So true! Thank you for sharing, I enjoyed reading it very much.
    Lots of love

  5. First you have to know that I am a big time cat lover! So this makes me even angry and dismayed that the others. What a beautiful creature. Like so many creatures that you write about I’ve never seen this guy. I do so hope they can be saved. Hugs, Natalie 🙂

  6. Wow, what a beautiful wild cat…and the kitten! I hope they are around for years to come. I didn’t know a thing about this cat, thank you for enlightening me Amelia.

  7. Pingback: Palm oil threatens Borneo’s wild cats | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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