|A manul at Rotterdam Zoo|
|Distribution of Pallas's cat in 2016|
Pallas's cat (Otocolobus manul), also called the manul, is a small wild cat with a broad, but fragmented distribution in the grasslands and montane steppes of Central Asia. It is negatively affected by habitat degradation, prey base decline and hunting. It has been classified as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List since 2020.
Felis manul was the scientific name used by Peter Simon Pallas in 1776, who first described a Pallas's cat that he had encountered during his travels in eastern Siberia. Several Pallas's cat zoological specimens were subsequently described:
- Felis nigripectus proposed by Brian Houghton Hodgson in 1842 was based on three specimens from Tibet.
- Otocolobus manul ferrugineus proposed by Sergey Ognev in 1928 was a specimen from the Transcaspian region.
Otocolobus was proposed by Johann Friedrich von Brandt in 1842 as generic name. Reginald Innes Pocock recognized the taxonomic classification of Otocolobus in 1907, described several Pallas's cat skulls in detail, and considered the Pallas's cat an aberrant form of Felis.
- the nominate subspecies Felis manul manul occurring from Jida River south of Lake Baikal to eastern Siberia;
- F. m. nigripecta occurring in Tibet and Kashmir;
- F. m. ferruginea occurring in the mountain ridge of Missanev, Kopet-Dag Mountains, Transcaspia, southwestern Turkestan, northern Iran, Baluchistan and Afghanistan.
- O. m. manul syn. O. m. ferrugineus in the western and northern part of Central Asia from Iran to Mongolia;
- O. m. nigripectus in the Himalayas from Kashmir to Bhutan.
Phylogenetic analysis of the nuclear DNA in tissue samples from all Felidae species revealed that the evolutionary radiation of the Felidae began in Asia in the Miocene around . Analysis of mitochondrial DNA of all Felidae species indicates a radiation at around . The Pallas's cat is estimated to have genetically diverged from a common ancestor with the genus Prionailurus between , based on analysis of nuclear DNA. and based on analysis of mitochondrial DNA.
The Pallas's cat is about the size of a domestic cat. Its body is 46 to 65 cm (18 to 26 in) long and its tail 21 to 31 cm (8.3 to 12.2 in). It weighs 2.5 to 4.5 kg (5.5 to 9.9 lb). The combination of its stocky posture and long, dense fur makes it appear stout and plush. Its fur is ochre with dark vertical bars on the torso and forelegs. The winter coat is greyer and less patterned than the summer coat. There are clear black rings on the tail and dark spots on the forehead. The cheeks are white with narrow black stripes running from the corners of the eyes. The chin and throat are also white, merging into the greyish, silky fur of the underparts. Concentric white and black rims around the eyes accentuate their rounded shape. The legs are proportionately shorter than those of other cats, the ears are set very low and wide apart, and the claws are unusually short. The face is shortened compared with other cats, giving it a flattened look. The pupils are circular rather than vertical slits. The short jaw has fewer teeth than is typical among cats, with the first pair of upper premolars missing, but the canine teeth are large.
Distribution and habitat
The Pallas's cat is native to the steppe regions of Central Asia, where it inhabits elevations of up to 5,050 m (16,570 ft) on the Tibetan Plateau. It also lives in parts of Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal, India, Bhutan and Mongolia, and occur across much of western China. In the south of Russia it lives in the Transbaikal Krai, and also in the Altai, Tyva, and Buryatia Republics. In 1997, it was reported for the first time as being present in the eastern Sayan Mountains.
Until the early 1970s, only two Pallas's cats were recorded in the Transcaucasus, both encountered near the Aras River in northwestern Iran. Populations in the Caspian Sea region, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, are thought to be declining and becoming increasingly isolated.
In the 21st century, several Pallas' cats were photographed for the first time during camera trapping surveys:
- in Iran's Khojir National Park in 2008;
- in the Eastern Himalayas: in Bhutan's Wangchuck Centennial Park in April 2012; and above 4,100 m (13,500 ft) in Jigme Dorji National Park in autumn 2012;
- in Pakistan's Qurumber National Park above 3,400 m (11,200 ft) in July 2012;
- in Nepal's Annapurna Conservation Area above 4,200 m (13,800 ft) in December 2012 and December 2013.
Behaviour and ecology
Pallas's cats are solitary. Both males and females scent mark their territory. They spend the day in caves, rock crevices, or marmot burrows, and emerge in the late afternoon to begin hunting. They are not fast runners, and hunt primarily by ambush or stalking, using low vegetation and rocky terrain for cover. They feed largely on diurnally active prey species such as gerbils, pikas, voles and chukar partridges, and sometimes catch young marmots.
The breeding season is relatively short due to the extreme climate in the cat's native range. Estrus lasts between 26 and 42 hours, which is also shorter than in many other felids. Pallas's cats give birth to a litter of two to six kittens after a gestation period of 66 to 75 days, typically in April or May. Such large litters may compensate for a high rate of infant mortality in the harsh environment. The young are born in sheltered dens lined with dried vegetation, feathers, and fur. The kittens weigh around 90 g (3.2 oz) at birth, and have a thick coat of fuzzy fur, which is replaced by the adult coat after around two months. They are able to begin hunting at four months, and reach adult size at six months. Pallas's cats have been reported to live up to 11 years in captivity.
The Pallas's cat has been hunted for its fur in relatively large numbers in China, Mongolia, and Russia; international trade in manul pelts largely ceased since the late 1980s. About 1,000 hunters of Pallas's cats remain in Mongolia, with a mean estimated take of 2,000 cats per year. Cats are also shot when mistaken for the commonly hunted marmot, and trapped incidentally in both legholds set for wolves and foxes and snares set for marmots and hares. They are also killed by herding dogs. While Mongolia has not recorded any trophy exports, pelt exports have grown since 2000, with 143 reported exported in 2007.
The Pallas's cat is listed in CITES Appendix II. Hunting is prohibited in all range countries except Mongolia, where the species has no legal protection. Since 2009, it is legally protected in Afghanistan, where all hunting and trade in its parts is banned.
As of 2010, there were 47 Pallas's cats in 19 member institutions of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums; four litters were expected. No births and three deaths occurred in 2009. The 30-day mortality of 44.9% is the highest mortality rate of any small wild cat. The seasonality of its reproduction makes it difficult to control reproductive cycles. Keeping Pallas's cats healthy in captivity is difficult. They breed well, but survival rates are low owing to infections, which are attributed to an underdeveloped immune system and exposure to viruses not present in their natural high-altitude habitat.
In June 2010, five kittens were born in the Red River Zoo in Fargo. A female was artificially inseminated for the first time at the Cincinnati Zoo and gave birth to three kittens in June 2011. In May 2013, three kittens were born at the Nordens Ark zoo. In May 2016, four kittens were born at the Korkeasaari zoo. In March 2017, five kittens were born in the Hogle Zoo. In April 2017, five kittens were again born in the Red River Zoo in Fargo. In April 2019, Miller Park Zoo announced five kittens; their father was imported from the Czech Republic. In May 2020 six kittens were born at the Poznan zoo.
The Pallas's cat alternate name 'manul' is the Kyrgyz word for the cat. In Mongolian language, it is called 'manol'. The name 'Pallas's cat' was coined by William Thomas Blanford. The alternate spelling 'Pallas’ cat' is also used.
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