Species Fact: The Pallas cat/Manul

This adorable little feline has an impressive scientific alter ego: Otocolobus manul.

Despite such a metal-sounding name, Pallas cats aren’t superheroes – they are little cats that have carved out their own niche in an enormous, unfriendly world.

“Manul” is their name in Mongolia, and “Otocolobus” is just another way to say that they have small ears.

Here is a Pallas cat starting its day in Russia’s Daursky nature reserve:

Who’s this?

Pallas cats only weigh 7-10 pounds and can’t run very far on their stubby legs. (Cat Specialist Group) In the wild, life for such a small animal is full of emergencies.

Manul avoids large predatory birds, as well as wolves, red foxes, and domestic dogs by staying close to a hideout or crouching on the ground, flat and very still. Its fur blends in well with the rocky landscape. (Ross and others)

Its ears are small, rounded, and set wide apart. They help make that little curve of a head, with its speckled facial camouflage, almost invisible as Manul peeks out from a rock or bush. (Cat Specialist Group)

Pallas cats are thinly spread across Central Asia’s steppe lands and rocky terrain. Their core population is in Mongolia and China. Russian Pallas cats are usually found near the border with Mongolia – this border region is where the Daursky Reserve sits – and China. (Ross and others)

When did it evolve?

The little Pallas cat is quite a challenge for scientists.

  • It has round pupils like many big cats, but it’s the size of a house cat.
  • It doesn’t look anything like the other small cats of Eurasia, which are either wildcats (the Felis lineage) or related to leopard cats (the Prionailurus lineage).
  • It even has an extra eyelid for protection against the dust storms and icy winds of the Central Asian high country!

Experts are still working on this, but many of them put Manul into the leopard-cat group. Others suspect that it’s closer to Felis. (Kitchener and others)

The Cool Factor:

Just look at it!

Also, this cat’s combination of cuteness, killing efficiency, and ability to survive in some of the harshest land on Earth is amazing.

Why is it on the IUCN Red List?

People are moving into Pallas cat country.  

Livestock change the environment and they are accompanied by dogs, this cat’s natural enemy. Human activities that range from the fur trade to mineral exploration and exploitation also directly affect Manul. (Ross and others)

Researchers say that it’s very difficult to get an accurate count of wild Pallas cats, but from what they’ve learned so far, the species does appear to be in decline, especially in the southwestern part of its range.

That’s why they have listed Manul as near threatened and may upgrade that to vulnerable fairly soon. (Ross and others)

Featured image: Pallas cat by Nick Jewell on Flickr. CC BY 2.0.


Cat Specialist Group: Pallas cat. http://www.catsg.org/index.php?id=103 Last accessed September 20, 2017.

ISEC: Pallas cat. https://wildcatconservation.org/wild-cats/eurasia/pallas-cat/ Last accessed September 20, 2017.

Kitchener, A. C.; Breitenmoser-Würsten, Ch.; Eizirik, E.; Gentry, A.; and others. 2017. A revised taxonomy of the Felidae. The final report of the Cat. Classification Task Force of the IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group. Cat News Special Issue 11, 80 pp.

Ross, S.; Barashkova, A.; Farhadina, M. S.; Appel, A.; and others. 2016. Otocolobus manul. The IUCR Red List of Threatened Species 2016:e.T15640A87840229

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