Unaffected by climatic adversity, it remains crouched and still, keeping an eye on its prey. It knows too well that speed is not its best asset and it needs the use of the surprise factor to catch his prey.
It decides to advance a few meters while it sticks to the snow as if for life. Aware of the imminent danger in case a wolf finds its trail, he carefully measures its steps without leaving a trace.
When the time is right, it jumps towards its prey. Its last memory will be those lively eyes, those incredibly expressive eyes.
We are talking about the Pallas’s cat also called the Manul, is a small wild cat with a broad but fragmented distribution in the grasslands and montane steppes of Central Asia.
Very few people have had the privilege of studying them in the wild, and they have even be considered as real ghosts. No trace, no footprints.
Twelve million years bear witness of their expertise in the art of looking without being seen. That and the fact their natural habitat lies in hard-to-reach areas.
The history of Pallas’s cats
The Pallas’s cat, together with the Martelli’s Cat, is considered the grandfather of current domestic cats. It’s an old cat that, as we mentioned earlier on, didn’t need to evolve for the past 12 million years. It has been able to preserve its untouched morphology thanks to its isolation from the world.
Back in 1776, a German zoologist called Peter Simon Pallas first categorized the Manul as Manul. This handsome gentleman didn’t just categorize him, and there are five more animals with his family name and even a meteorite, Pallasite. One could say that Peter just loved to categorize everything he found.
We can imagine the scientists of that time trying to find names for animals. “How should we call this cat?” they would ask. “Pallas” they’d say, in an exhausting creative exercise. Luckily the scientist’s name wasn’t Rade, or we would currently have energy drinks named after a cat.
But the story didn’t end here. Researchers then attempted to place this carnivore mammal within some species of the Felidae family. Our little friend was so odd that even those intellectuals couldn’t get clear on its species.
At first, they categorized it as Felis, changing later on to Otocolobus (shortened ear). It was Prionailurus for a few years and finally, someone called Brandt arrived in 1841 and classified it again as Otocolobus. If they ever change the cat species some more, the cat would become a nomad.
Prosecuted and hunted for years for its fur, it reached the point of extinction danger. In Russia and Mongolia, they used its organs and fat for medicines. Fortunately, this has changed, and it’s now considered a protected species since 2002 to be exact.
Nowadays, Pallas’s cats are considered beneficial for their environment as they help to keep track of pests in agriculture, especially of the rodent population. However, the poisoning of rodents and the traps for foxes and wolves have affected their survival.
There are three recognized Manul subspecies: Manul, Ferruginea, and Nigripecta. We can find them in some coastal areas of the Caspian Sea, North of Iran, India, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan and Pakistan.
Also in China and the Siberian steppes, Mongolia and Tibet, in heights of up to 5000 meters of altitude, since they tend to live in cold areas with scarce vegetation.
Pallas’s cats features
“What’s that? A groundhog?” some would say if they saw a Pallas’s cat running for the first time. Having a similar look to that animal in the eyes of those unaccustomed to their physiology, we could say that their main feature and the one that gives them away are their eyes. So expressive and creepy as human eyes and so hypnotic and enigmatic as the owls.
Their eyes, together with their round aspect and their more than incredible facial expressions, can stir a laugh as well as paralyze us like a prey trapped in its claws.
Pallas’s cats have round pupils, unlike the rest of felines.
They possess around and stocky body covered by long and thick hair that helps to protect them from the cold and the winds in the heights.
Their skin is thicker than in most felines. Their tail is hairy and long, matching the rest of his body, with a series of black rings.
Their body is 46-65 cm long, and their tail is around 21-31 cm long. Their color can vary between red and ash gray. Their weight oscillates between 3 and 5 kilograms.
They have shorter legs and claws than the other cats. With a flattened nose, their ears are minuscule and wide apart. They have fewer teeth than other cats, and these are almost three times larger than domestic cats.
They are homeless cats that prefer to live in dark places that they also use to shelter from the cold. They usually remain hidden during the day, although at times they have been spotted under the sun. They spend most of their time hiding in old dens, caves or even in the crevices between rocks.
They are very active animals, especially at dawn and dusk, the times they go hunting. Their diet consists mainly of small mammals such as little hares, rodents, gerbils, and bulrushes. Ambush is their primary hunting method that they use to surprise their prey. The reason for this is that they are not great runners and they rather crouch behind some vegetation or rocks to stun their prey.
Although they are not good athletes, they are considered excellent climbers.
Their place is far from what we believe a home. They are not made to be man’s companion, and although not very aggressive, they can attack a person if they get too close or invade its space.
Let’s leave these kitties alone and let’s respect their wild nature. This is primarily targeted to all those who think cross-fertilization and the breeding of the species are feasible. Please, stop playing God.
As this is a homeless cat, it only mingles with other Pallas’s cats during the breeding season. Both males and females are territorial, and they tend to scare their enemies with a characteristic gesture: lifting their upper lip and showing their long canine teeth.
They normally have 3-6 kittens per litter, although there have been cases of 8, after a
66-75 gestation period. Normally between April and May, a very short breeding season due to extreme climatic conditions.
Their cycle, much shorter than in other cats, lasts between 26 and 42 hours. They can hunt when they are just four months old and are considered adults by the time they reach their sixth month.
They are difficult to breed in captivity because of its high mortality rate when they suffer from common cat diseases. They have been isolated from the world for so long that a “common cold” can do away with them. They have a weak immune system and are prone to infections.
We leave you with a brief video where you will be able to see two playful Pallas kittens just under three months old.
Other interesting data
Their life expectancy in captivity is known to be between 13 and 15 years.
In Chinese they are called Tu sun.
Specimens in captivity can be seen at zoos in Zurich (Germany) or Rotterdam (Holland). Just between you and me, the more you can avoid zoos altogether, the better. Animals were not born to be caged.
We understand that some are taken away to heal them and then return them to their habitat but, how many will never be returning home or be born in captivity?
Zoos and circuses are nothing but money-making schemes at the expense of animals. Let’s be responsible and respect our wildlife.
And this is as far as we go with our particular vision of Pallas’s cats, funny cats that we have grown fond of and that have awakened some familiar memories in us.
Are those large eyes to blame? What about you? Don’t they remind you of someone close?