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What is a Pallas' Cat?

Mary McMahon
By
Updated May 17, 2024
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The Pallas' Cat or Otocolobus manul is a wild cat which is native to the steppes of Asia. These cats are variously classified as threatened or endangered, depending on which criteria are used. In either case, biologists generally agree that action should be taken to preserve the Pallas' Cat, and a number of zoos around the world have established breeding programs, exchanging the cats they breed to keep them diverse and healthy.

This wildcat is named for Peter Pallas, who observed them around the 18th century. Pallas initially thought that these cats were the forerunners of the modern Persian breed, as they look rather like Persians. Research has proved that the Pallas' cat is actually an entirely different species, however, and unlike a Persian, a Pallas's Cat is not something a person wants on his or her lap!

Pallas' Cats are about the size of ordinary housecats, with very stocky, muscular bodies. They also have extremely long fur and short legs, which make them look a little boxy. Pallas' Cats have distinctively flattened faces, and most notably, their pupils are round, rather than vertical. Their bodies are adapted for life at high altitude, with broad feet which allow them to walk on snow, and thick, luxurious coats to keep them warm.

The Pallas' Cat is gray to taupe in color, with vertical stripes which are sometimes hard to identify in the cat's thick fur. The long fur is often tipped with white, making the Pallas' Cat look slightly frosty, and the cats have long, thick tails which they use to balance. They have lifespans of around 12 years, maturing at around a year of age. Female Pallas' Cats have litters of six to eight kittens every spring.

Habitat pressure is one reason why stocks of the Pallas' Cat are in decline. The other reason is the poisoning of the primary food source for the Pallas' Cat, a rabbit relative called a pika. Pikas are viewed as pests in central Asia, and the cats are sometimes poisoned by eating poisoned pikas. Like many members of the feline family, the Pallas' Cat can be a bit irascible, and while it may seem tempting to pet one, this is not advised.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Pallas' Cat and where can it be found?

A Pallas' Cat, also known as Otocolobus manul, is a small wild cat native to the grasslands and montane steppes of Central Asia. It inhabits regions from the Caspian Sea to Mongolia and northeastern China. This elusive feline prefers rocky areas and high elevations, often found at heights up to 5,000 meters above sea level.

How does the Pallas' Cat adapt to its environment?

The Pallas' Cat has a dense, plush coat that provides insulation against the cold climates of its habitat. Its fur is patterned with dark spots that help it blend into the rocky terrain, aiding in camouflage. The cat's low-slung body and short legs allow it to stalk prey with stealth and agility in its rugged environment.

What does the Pallas' Cat eat?

Pallas' Cats are carnivorous predators that primarily feed on small rodents, such as voles and pikas. They are also known to hunt birds, insects, and occasionally small mammals like young marmots. Their diet reflects their role as a natural controller of rodent populations in their ecosystem.

Is the Pallas' Cat endangered?

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the Pallas' Cat is currently listed as Near Threatened. Their populations are declining due to habitat degradation, prey base depletion, and poaching. Conservation efforts are in place to address these threats and protect this unique species.

How do Pallas' Cats reproduce and raise their young?

Pallas' Cats have a breeding season that typically occurs in the early spring. After a gestation period of about 66 to 75 days, females give birth to a litter of two to six kittens. The kittens are born in secluded dens and are raised by the mother, becoming independent at around four to five months of age.

What are some unique features of the Pallas' Cat?

The Pallas' Cat is distinguished by its round face, wide-set ears, and expressive eyes, which are framed by white markings. Its pupils are round, unlike the slit pupils of most small cats. This species also has a notably long and dense fur, which is the longest of any cat species relative to body size, providing excellent insulation.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon257693 — On Mar 28, 2012

As a 'Cat Fancier' I had never heard of this Felid before. They look somewhat like a smaller version of the Himalayan Snow Leopard. Probably distantly related evolutionarily?

By elizabeth23 — On May 15, 2011

Persian cats are so particular in the way they're bred by professionals, it surprises me that there might be a similar-looking species in the wild. This is because Persian cats, like pug dogs and some other breeds of cats and dogs, are not really very well put together in terms of survival. Their thick fur, their small faces, and their small builds all make them sort of vulnerable compared to most varieties.

By Catapult — On May 15, 2011

I actually thought they were called this because of some connection to the Greek goddess Pallas Athene. I suppose I forgot that it was not the Greeks who revered cats, but the Egyptians.

Either way, though, these cats probably are very closely related to the most ancient forms of house cats.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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