The Pallas cat (Otocolobus manul), or manul, is hands down my favorite wild felid. It’s about the size of a domestic cat but much stockier, is fluffy with a thick tail, has short ears, and is unbearably cute. Here’s one:
I love the racing stripes below the eyes.
Their thick fur and short ears tell you that manuls have to deal with extreme cold. Because they protrude, ears are heat radiators: that’s why you need earmuffs in winter. To conserve heat, natural selection has produced smaller ears in species that live in cold areas. (This regularity is called “Allen’s Rule” by evolutionists.) Manuls live in fact on the steppes of Asia; here’s their range (from Wikipedia):
You can see pictures of their natural habitat, and some photos of wild manuls in Mongolia, at the Pallas’ Cat Project. Since their habitat is remote and the cats are solitary and shy, we don’t know a lot about their biology. They live underground (in snow caves and abandoned animal burrows or in crevasses in the rocks) and are crepuscular or nocturnal hunters, eating small rodents, birds, and insectivores. Manuls used to be hunted for their beautiful fur, but are now protected. Several zoos have specimens. My favorite natural history book, Wild Cats of the World, by C. A. Guggisberg, says this about manuls:
According to Stroganov, Pallas’s cat remains wild and vicious in captivity, yet a specimen from Ladak kept by Colonel A. E. Ward became very tame, even though it always disliked strangers. There have been reports of Pallas’s cat being kept in a semi-domestic state in various parts of Central Asia. “They differ in many ways from the domestic cat,” Pallas wrote, “but they like to mate with him.”
The cat is named for the German naturalist Peter Simon Pallas (1741-1811), who first described the species in 1776.
Of course, there’s an excuse for this information, and here it is: on May 28 four manuls were born at the Wildlife Heritage Foundation in the U.K., an organization devoted to saving wild felids. I’ve been collecting videos of these manul kittens as they’ve been put up, and here are the first three. Cheesy music alert (Herb Alpert!): you may want to turn down the sound for the last two videos.
If you want more videos, the Wildlife Heritage Foundation has its own YouTube channel.