The Pallas’ cat

Pallas

The Pallas’ cat is rather strange-looking. His face is a lot flatter than a regular cat’s, but it is not just his appearance that sets him apart. His claws are unusually short, as are his legs, and he has fewer teeth than other cats. He is also not a fast runner, preferring to hunt by stalking or ambush.

The Pallas’ cat is named after German naturalist Peter Simon Pallas, who first described the cat in 1776. Sadly Pallas’ cat numbers are dwindling. Aside from the threat of hunters and an alarmingly high infant mortality rate, breeding programmes in captivity have had little success – in fact keeping them in captivity at all is very difficult. As of 2010 there were only 47 in zoos around the world.

Babies, when they do survive, are fuzzy and greyish. Their fur is replaced by the adult version by two months of age. They can hunt by four months and reach adult size (roughly the size of a domestic cat) by six months. Their rather large litters are no doubt there to compensate for their difficulty to thrive. They have been considered near threatened since 2002.

Threats

Despite it being illegal to do so, Pallas’ cats are still hunted for their fur in China, Mongolia and Russia. Their organs are sometimes also used in medicines. They occasionally become prey for hunting dogs. Leghold traps, set up for wolves and foxes, are a threat to them. Infant mortality is perhaps their biggest problem – sitting at 44.9% in the first 30 days.

Fast facts

Scientific name: Otocolobus manul
Distribution: Central Asia – Tibet, Mongolia, Tajikistan, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Kashmir, the Transbaikal regions of Russia and Western China
Habitat: Steppes – rocky terrain with plenty of places to hide
Prey: Gerbils, pikas, chukar partridges and voles
Number of kittens in a litter: 2-6
Lifespan: 11 years in captivity
Weight: 2.5-4.5kg
Conservation status: Near threatened

Text: Deanne Dudley

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