- Pallas's Cat
Pallas's Cat Manul at Rotterdam Zoo Conservation status Scientific classification Kingdom: Animalia Phylum: Chordata Class: Mammalia Order: Carnivora Family: Felidae Subfamily: Felinae Genus: Otocolobus Species: O. manul Binomial name Otocolobus manul
Pallas's Cat range
Pallas's Cat (Otocolobus manul syn. Felis manul), also called Manul, is a small wild cat named after German naturalist Peter Simon Pallas, who first described the species in 1776. In 2002, the IUCN classified Pallas's cat as near threatened because of the broad but patchy distribution in the grasslands and montane steppe of Central Asia. The species is negatively affected by habitat degradation, prey base decline, and hunting.
Pallas's cat is about the size of a domestic cat, with a 46 to 65 centimetres (18 to 26 in) long body and a 21 to 31 centimetres (8.3 to 12 in) long tail. It weighs 2.5 to 4.5 kilograms (5.5 to 9.9 lb). The combination of its stocky posture and long, dense fur makes it appear stout and plushy. Its fur is ochre with dark vertical bars on the torso and forelegs. The winter coat is greyer and less patterned than the summer coat. There are clear black rings on the tail and dark spots on the forehead. The cheeks are white with narrow black stripes running from the corners of the eyes. The chin and throat are also white, merging into the greyish silky fur of the underparts. Concentric white and black rims around the eyes accentuate their rounded shape. The legs are proportionately shorter than those of other cats, the ears are set very low and wide apart, and it has unusually short claws. The face is shortened compared with other cats, giving it a flattened face. The shorter jaw has fewer teeth than is usual among felids, with the first pair of upper premolars being absent.
Distribution and habitat
Manuls occur primarily in the central Asian steppe grassland regions of Mongolia, China and the Tibetan Plateau, where an elevational record of 5,050 m (16,570 ft) was reported. They are widely distributed in areas of uplands and intermountain depressions as well as mountain steppe in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. In Russia, they occur sporadically in the Transcaucasus and Transbaikal regions, along the border with north-eastern Kazakhstan, and along the border with Mongolia and China in the Altai, Tyva, Buryatia, and Chita republics. In spring 1997, tracks were found in Eastern Sayan at an altitude of 2,470 m (8,100 ft) in 4.5 cm (1.8 in) deep snow. These tracks were considered the first verifiable facts that manuls inhabit the region. DNA analysis of this individual's scat confirmed the species' presence. Populations in the southwest of its range, viz the Caspian Sea region, Afghanistan and Pakistan, are diminishing, isolated and sparse. In 2008, an individual was camera-trapped in Iran's Khojir National Park for the first time.
Distribution of subspecies
- Otocolobus manul manul (Pallas, 1776) — inhabits the northern part of the range: Jida River, south of Lake Baikal, eastern Siberia;
- Otocolobus manul nigripecta (Hodgson, 1842) — inhabits Tibet and Kashmir;
- Otocolobus manul ferruginea(Ognev, 1928) — inhabits the south-western part of the range: the mountain ridge of Missanev, Kopet-Dag Mountains, Transcapia, northern Iran, south-western Turkestan, Afghanistan, Baluchistan.
Ecology and behaviour
Pallas's cats are solitary. Both males and females scent mark their territory. They spend the day in caves, rock crevices, or marmot burrows, and emerge in the late afternoon to begin hunting. They are not fast runners, and hunt primarily by ambush or stalking, using low vegetation and rocky terrain for cover. They feed largely on diurnally active prey species such as gerbils, pikas, voles and Chukar partridges, and sometimes catch young marmots.
The breeding season is relatively short due to the extreme climate in the cat's native range. Oestrus lasts between 26 and 42 hours, which is also shorter than in many other felids. Pallas's cats give birth to a litter of around two to six kittens after a gestation period of 66 to 75 days, typically in April or May. Such large litters may compensate for a high rate of infant mortality in the harsh environment. The young are born in sheltered dens, lined with dried vegetation, feathers, and fur. The kittens weigh around 90 grams (3.2 oz) at birth, and have a thick coat of fuzzy fur, which is replaced by the adult coat after around two months. They are able to begin hunting at four months, and reach adult size at six months. Pallas's cats have been reported to live up to eleven years in captivity.
The manul has long been hunted for its fur in relatively large numbers in China, Mongolia and Russia, although international trade in manul pelts has largely ceased since the late 1980s. There are approximately 1,000 hunters of Pallas's cats in Mongolia, with a mean estimated harvest of two cats per year. They are also shot because they can be mistaken for marmots, which are commonly hunted, and trapped incidentally in leghold traps set for wolves and foxes and snares set for marmot and hares. Their fat and organs are used as medicine in Mongolia and Russia, and they are killed by domestic dogs. While Mongolia has not recorded any trophy exports, skin exports have grown since 2000, with 143 reported exported in 2007.
Otocolobus manul is listed in CITES Appendix II. Hunting of this felid is prohibited in all range countries except Mongolia, where it has no legal protection despite being classified as Near Threatened in the country. Since 2009, the felid is legally protected in Afghanistan, banning all hunting and trade in its parts within the country.
Captive-breeding of Pallas's cat is difficult. Although it breeds well, survival rates are low owing to infection. This has been attributed to an under-developed immune system, as its natural habitat is isolated and it would not normally be exposed to infection. A female was artificially inseminated for the time at Cincinnati Zoo and gave birth to three kittens in June 2011.
Pallas's cat was initially placed in the genus Felis. In 1858, the Russian explorer and naturalist Nikolai Severtzov proposed the name Otocolobus for the species. The British zoologist Reginald Innes Pocock recognized the taxonomic classification of Otocolobus in 1907, described several skulls in detail, and considered the manul being an aberrant form of Felis.
Following genetic studies, the monotypic genus Otocolobus has been proposed to be placed with the genera Felis and Prionailurus in the tribe Felini, because of a close phylogenetic relationship. It is estimated that Otocolobus manul diverged from a leopard cat ancestor approximately 5.19 million years ago.
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