Caturday felid: Pallas cat

July 24, 2010 • 5:12 am

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.

5 weeks:

6 weeks:

7 weeks:

If you want more videos, the Wildlife Heritage Foundation has its own YouTube channel.

22 thoughts on “Caturday felid: Pallas cat

  1. Want teh cats!…:) Oops, cannot have them, they are wild….But suppose one Pallas cat impregnates an ordinary housecat, would the kittens be counted as Pallas cats or housecats? And are they likely to be temperamentally closer to Pallas cats or housecats?

    1. First, Pallas’ cats would have to be interfecund with housecats to allow that. I know this is a possibility between housecats and Eurasian wild cats, as (I think) the two are today often considered part of the same species, Felis silvestris. But Pallas’ cat is another, less close species, and even considered now to be in different genus.

  2. Adorable kittehs.

    Small pedant question:

    and are crepuscular or nocturnal hunters, eating small rodents, birds, and insectivores

    Does this mean that they _eat_ insectivores (which would include some of the previously mentioned birds and rodents, not to mention amphibians and fish), or that they _are_ insectivores?

    1. By “insectivores” I didn’t mean things that eat insects, but members of the now-obsolete order of mammals Insectivora, which used to include shrews, moles, and hedgehogs.

  3. I’m watching some of the other videos from the WildlifeHeritage foundation and saw this leopard being fed:

    A slab of meat was hung from the top of the enclosure so the leopard would jump for it and try to tear it down. Pretty impressive! Is that to keep the cats stimulated and try to replicate some aspects of the native life – make them “hunt” their food?

    It reminded me of how the crocs were fed at Steve Irwin’s croc park, where humans would act as minor threats and the bull crocs could charge and drive out the competitors. A kind of play which they said made the crocs feel more content and active.

  4. A devastating concentration of cute.

    are crepuscular or nocturnal hunters,

    Hee hee, he said “crepuscular”. What do you know, crepuscular rays that I did know about beforehand is connected with twilight. The things you learn.

  5. They look like a primate-cat mix. When I look at the first picture, it sort of looks like emperor tamarins. Perhaps it is just the ‘moustache’ although the big eyes and small ears certainly contribute.

    1. Presume this is why they are called Oto-colobus – the “ears are short”?

      The IUCN pages say “While retaining the monotypic genus Otocolobus, Eizirik et al. (submitted) placed it with the genera Felis and Prionailurus in the tribe Felini because of a close phylogenetic relationship. O’Brien and Johnson (2007) estimated that Otocolobus manul diverged from a leopard cat ancestor approximately 5.19 million years ago.”

  6. I suddenly realized what I found odd about these creatures: their pupils are round! Small cats with big-cat eyes.

    I see their taxonomy has a complicated history, having been twice assigned and removed from the Felis genus (small cats).

    1. Seeing that animal, especially the eyes, I suddenly had the idea that a domestic cat had mated with a snow owl. Great looking cat, even when I’m more partial to caracals.

  7. There’s a ‘Look But Don’t Touch’ expression on the adult specimen that seems compatible with Stroganov’s assessment and suggests that it would not appreciate being regarded or treated as cute. Cool, surely, but not cute!

  8. Saw some, possibly hybirdized slightly in Iraq, still, differed from asiatic/arabian cat which is slightly built with short hair.
    Have also seen specimens of Reed cat, impressive

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